Criminal Justice

Much-needed police reforms have to begin with accountability

01 February 2013

ANYONE WHO HAS HAD TO DEAL with the police in India knows how exasperating the experience can be. Among the several ills that afflict the Indian police system, the biggest issue is the sheer lack of accountability for acts of omission and commission. Even in the case of the now notorious Delhi gang rape of a 23-year-old student and her subsequent death, despite the huge media scrutiny and public pressure, the names of policemen on duty in the area at the time of the crime were not revealed in two subsequent reports submitted to the court. It took a direct threat from the Delhi High Court for the police to reluctantly reveal the names.

Of the 61,765 complaints received in 2011 against the Indian police, only 913 were sent to trial or chargesheeted and only 47 police personnel were found guilty after trial. Even in these cases, a mere 0.07 percent of the total complaints, the punishments have been very light—reprimands and transfers—compared to the gravity of the police excesses, like death by police firing or rape in police custody.

A colonial British Raj had designed the Indian Police Act of 1861 just after the First War of Independence of 1857 to establish authority over subjects rather than to help citizens access justice. In fact, the Act was designed to excuse, cover up and justify police excesses rather than hold the police accountable. Tragically, 65 years after Independence, the Police Acts enacted by various state governments and the rules laid down in state Police Manuals continue to uphold the British Raj model and have little room for police accountablity.

Ruchira Gupta is the founder of an anti-sex-trafficking organisation, Apne Aap Women Worldwide (

Keywords: police Delhi gang-rape police reform Indian Police Act 1861 Code of Criminal Procedure civil society Justice Verma Committee