Deeply seated bigotry, poor working conditions and lack of training are some of the disquieting findings of a recently published study on the police in India. The study, conducted across 21 states, centered on interviews with nearly 12,000 police personnel and over 10,000 adult family members to gauge the status of policing.

The results, starting with bigotry, are disturbing and shocking.

A key finding of the study carried out by researchers from two non-profit organizations was that 50% of the 11,843 police personnel interviewed felt that Muslims were “naturally prone towards committing crimes” either “somewhat” (36%) or “ery much” (14%). Similar biases against other minorities and historically-oppressed caste groups were also found among those interviewed.

The study conducted by the non-profit Common Cause and the Center for the Study of Developing Societies clearly shows that the standards of policing remain abysmally low. Besides being biased, the police are ill-equipped and ill-trained – really more of a problem than a solution.

There are other revelations in the study that are also deeply worrying. About 19% of the interviewed felt that killing a “hardened criminal” was a better option than going through a trial. In dealing with “petty crimes,” 37% felt that police should be able to summarily punish the accused without going to court.

Lynching cow killers

As for dealing with cases of cow slaughter, a very polarizing subject in India, 35% felt that mob justice was perfectly justified.

India has seen a spate of mob lynchings in which the victims, primarily Muslims, have been beaten or burned to death when they were found transporting cattle. In some cases, the accused were pronounced not guilty of murder despite video footage that clearly showed their guilt.

Outdated and outgunned

Policing in India has always suffered from a severe lack of resources and training and from political interference. “If you see the police commission report of 1901, you will find the same concerns being articulated then,” says Prakash Singh, who retired as a director general of police said. “Nothing has changed in India even after 118 years.”

Tables showing bias against Muslims and marginalized groups among Indian police personnel across the countryIn retirement Singh has made it his mission to push for swift reform of the Indian police. In 1996 he went to the Supreme Court in a public interest lawsuit seeking a new model police law to update the archaic India Police act, 1861, and a string of other measures that would lead to a modern police force.

This was a tricky issue, because under the Indian constitution, law and order is a state subject with very limited powers for the federal government to intervene. It was necessary to make all the states and union territories parties to the case.

Singh fought the case along with public interest lawyer Prashant Bhushan and in 2006 they won a major victory. The Supreme Court passed a historic judgment directing all the states to pass new police laws, and to take steps in recruitment, training and postings to minimize political interference and improve professional standards of policing.

“The Supreme Court was clear that until the states passed a new law, its orders would be binding on them. So states hurriedly passed acts, not to follow the directions of the court but to circumvent them,” Singh said. The study now finds that there are some improvements in some areas, but political interference in investigations remains very high.

Earlier studies revealed that nearly 37% of the senior police officers would be transferred after less than two years in a  post despite a Supreme Court mandate giving them a minimum two-year tenure. That was to deal with a pattern in which senior police officers would be transferred arbitrarily when investigations supervised by them displeased their political bosses. This year, the study found that the number of premature transfers had come down from 37% to 13%.

But the police continue to work under very trying circumstances. An astounding 24% of those interviewed across 20 states were found to be working 18 hour shifts. Another 44% were working over 12 hours a day.

The study also revealed that 224 police stations had no telephones, 24 stations had no water connections and around 240 stations had no vehicles. It found that 18% of the police stations did not even have toilets.

In-service training to refresh old courses on policing seems to be abysmally low. This impacts police personnel’s ability to deal with new kinds of crimes and weakens the use of forensics in investigations, the study says. While it found that 64% of the police were sent for re-training of some nature, it says they were ill-prepared for tackling cyber crimes and their forensic training remained archaic.