India’s police are overstretched, poorly trained and politicised

Feb 06, 2020

THE PUPILS at Shaheen School in Bidar, a big country town in the state of Karnataka, are learning some unusual lessons. In recent days a group of police inspectors has taken over a classroom. They are not there for educational outreach. Rather, the officers have been interrogating dozens of 9- to 12-year-olds. The focus of their inquiries is no grisly crime, but a play that the students wrote and performed on January 21st.

The trouble started when a proud parent posted a recording of the performance on Facebook. In one part, about a controversial new law on citizenship, a nine-year-old girl draws applause by waving a slipper and declaring she will hit anyone who asks for her identity papers. This scene angered a Hindu nationalist, who tipped off police, who raided the school. They have arrested both the head teacher and the girl’s mother, an illiterate widow, charging them with sedition, endangering social harmony and insulting Narendra Modi, the prime minister. The women remain in jail. The slipper has been held as evidence.

The story is symptomatic. India’s police, despite being woefully stretched—recent surveys suggest the average officer’s workday is 14 hours, and that the national force is 23% understaffed—nevertheless devote inordinate energy to tasks far removed from their core duties. All too often, as in...

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