Counter Terror Policing and Community Engagement in the Indian Metropolis

Kamala Kanta Dash

Once again Indian cities are under terrorist radar and vulnerable to lethal attacks. In a matter of 24-hours two big cities -Bangalore, in the south and Ahmadabad, in the western part of the country were targeted. This shows the entrenched capability of the terrorists to carry out attacks on the urban centers and create mayhem by killing innocent people.

The counter terror strategy of the government has proved to be ineffective so far. The target has been the large and top cities of the country. Be it Mumbai, Hyderabad, Delhi, Jaipur, or recently Bangalore and Ahmadabad. There is a missing link in dealing with terror strategy when it comes to protect the Indian cities.

The counter terror strategy of the government has been more towards response and recovery than to prevent the attack. Prevention of terrorism has been neglected in the counter-terror discourse at least in India which has been suffering from last two decades. More importantly the police force which is the key in managing law and order in the mega cities lacks a coordinated and sustained citizen engagement programme. It has not been possible on the part of the police leaders of the country to engage people and let the citizens feel police as the part of the community.

The attacks on western cities of New York, Washington, London and Madrid have shown that how the cities are the main targets of the terrorists. In India the major metropolis like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad have been targeted in the past and there is no stopping for them unless there is serious intervention from the government in reshaping the counter terror policy and involving the police and training them in counter terror policing coupled with community engagement. Police became a symbol for ruthlessness over the years and not a part of the community. This perception has to change through involvement and continuous engagement. In order to achieve that there has to be encouragement and a framework from the Union government.

The cities are increasingly becoming multi-cultural and multi-lingual and multi-ethnic with more migrants coming in and hence becoming a real tough task for effective policing. The police is inadequately equipped and trained to understand the cause and effect of terrorism. The entire focus on use of force in dealing with terrorism has created more fear and isolation in the community. The culture of alienation among the people to stay away from the law and order incidents has been growing in cities. This also talks about the need of structural change in the witness system and a legal framework in witness protection. So far, the police- community engagement exists and used for intelligence gathering instead of actual and real engagement. 6.

A real engagement would enable both community and police to be complimentary to each other at the time of crises. As it has been proved that the perpetrators of violence are a minuscule and isolated minority but still why the entire community does not come forward and inform the police on this? It is perhaps because of the fear and distrust. Police in last sixty years has not been able to engage itself with the community, rather has played as agents of political power and have harassed the poor and powerless.

With the inputs coming from experts and analysts that terrorists are functioning through local people has once again proved that isolated home grown elements are there and the police have failed in anyway to check the menace. Though this home grown terrorist phenomenon raises a few questions on the political system and the injustice done to them, still this is no justification on the part of the police being unprepared and unprofessional in dealing with grave and serious crimes like terrorism. Police being the eye and ear of the government has been seen as feudal and unfriendly. In fact they don’t help people, rather create troubles which literally alienates the mass.

The narratives in the public memory of the colonial police and the post-colonial police are strikingly similar in regard to repression, corruption and human rights violation. Then if this is so, will there be anyone to come to the police to inform and give intelligence inputs? This is a grave situation which requires strong measures from the police leaders in inculcation of fresh thinking in the constabulary and encouragement of citizen friendly policing.

Given the fact that terrorist have successfully targeted the economic hubs of the country, the police task is to understand the design and ensure that the community develops ‘zero tolerance’ for such miscreants. The objective of the police- community engagement programme is not only for the information and intelligence inputs but to prevent the isolation of any community and intervene before any radicalization and complete isolation takes place.

Policing diverse societies such as cosmopolitan cities are a major challenge today. However in being with the community and being responsive and humane, the police will do a greater service to the community and to the nation. This way the police will not only win the trust of people it will also be treated as part of the community.

Author Note
The author is working on Police-Community engagement at Monash Asia Institute, University, Australia.