Congratulations to our police force for their new uniform. They don’t necessarily look more stylish but at least they appear to be less shabby. And I cannot begrudge them that luxury. Will that change their state of mind and the deep malaise many of them are suffering from? That is a different story.
I hasten to say that I have had enough interactions with our cops in several departments to come to have a profound respect for them. I really do. Yes, they doggedly carry out the instructions they are given but they somehow manage the impossible task of reconciling the servility with which they do what they are told to do with a touch of humanity and even elegance. And I know they could have traded that inelegant uniform for so many things that are free. Top of the list is giving them their dignity back. A simple wish that would make a huge dent in law and order in this country and in our democracy as a whole.
Dignity starts with allowing them to do what they are paid to do which, in a nutshell, is: fight crime by upholding and enforcing the law impartially, respect civil liberties and build positive relationships with the community based on trust. Naturally, the way our police officers are being instrumentalised doesn’t allow them to do any of that. The Kistnen case has highlighted just how impossible it is for even the well-meaning elements of our police to build that trust. Other incidents like Pravin Kanakiah’s death and other ‘suicides’ have driven the wedge between the police and the citizens to a point of almost no-return.
How can the police be trusted when the politicians are indicating who is guilty and who is innocent? How can they fight crime when they spend their time pushing paper just to waste the time of journalists and other citizens who got on the wrong side of our politicians? Sadly, as you watch their pen move on antic paper placed over carbon paper not seen anywhere else since the last century, you can read a sense of helplessness that is at times heart-breaking. The kind of helplessness that comes from having to do something you know is wrong just to make a living. The kind of living that robs you of the most important ingredient in a job – dignity.
The message that is being sent to the public these days is that the police are not in control of anything. That they are there to serve the government rather than the people. That a bunch of powerful politicians decide on the agenda for them. That impunity can reign supreme. That when those close to power are concerned, a murder – in fact possibly a series of murders – can be turned into a suicide and the case set aside with no further ado. When a police commissioner is made to read a politically charged communiqué to serve the government agenda. When his replacement is given time ‘to prove himself’ before he is instated as a police commissioner or not. When the honest police officers who try to apply the law are punitively transferred and other blue eyed boys and girls are promoted instead. When all these signals are being sent to a tired and demotivated police force, what can a uniform change? But then again, the intention was never to increase their motivation and eagerness to serve the citizenry, was it? That would give them too much dignity!