COVID-19 and Policing Norms: How has the new normal changed the role of police

One of the issues that has been time and again highlighted in the past few months, especially after the menace of the Corona Virus Pandemic, is policing and the norms of policing. With a lot of countries worldwide adopting strict lockdowns and complete hauling of any movements in an attempt to curtail the spread of the virus, policing has been a widely debated modus operandi to ensure maximum adherence to the rules put in place. This has been further criticized heavily in the United States where the fight against police brutality had triggered one of the biggest mass protests and demonstrations we have seen ever. So with multiple social and societal angles to the issue, it has become imperative to discuss and come up with creative and long term solutions to the problem. With that in mind, a two-day eITEC (Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation) programme from 11th August to 12th August on “Policing during Pandemic Times” was inaugurated by the minister of State for Home Affairs, Mr G. Kishan Reddy on the 10 of August.

What is eITEC?

The eITEC is a flagship programme designed and developed by the Indian Government as a part of its capacity-building efforts with other developing countries around the globe. Established in 1964, it is a platform for the exchange and sharing of the results of various economic, social and technological achievements as well as the latest development ideas with other developing countries. Various institutes, both private and public partnership with the programme to host events and other forms of discussion on the forum with other countries. The most recent was the “Policing during Pandemic times” programme which was hosted by Bureau of Policy and Research Development and witnessed a participation of around 90 developing countries from around the globe including Argentina, Benin, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Bhutan, Kenya, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Myanmar, Vietnam and various other ITEC partner countries. While usually the summit is held offline at the centre of the host institute, this time the online mode was adopted given the social distancing norms and regulations. Earlier, the eITEC programme has successfully organised 11 courses which garnered great participation and turned out to be a productive learning experience for more than 1000 people.

Protests and Police

Police surveillance during COVID times has come under strict scrutiny from people in almost every other country of the world today. Not only are police forces being used to monitor the compliance of social distancing norms and other rules laid down by the government to prevent Corona Virus from spreading, but even for controlling and clearing out protests by people. From the US, to India to Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Hong Kong and the latest in Lebanon, people have taken to the streets to strongly oppose the ruling regime and their mishandling of the virus and the mishap that has been caused due to this. Most of the people in these countries are facing high unemployment rates, dried up savings and no substantial assistance from the government. Apart from that, people are also seen protesting for various other human rights issues like racism and femicide that has been on the rising end for quite some time. With police being used as a tool to curb the citizens from their right to express dissatisfaction for their leaders, the only excuse that is being offered is that with these many people gathering at one place, the risk of the virus spreading is dangerously high. And hence, people need to get back to their homes to be safe. Countries like China have spread an aura of terror and life-threatening punishments through the police in order to control the virus as well as do away with any form of criticism it faced regarding the issue. China is still an autocratic country. But what about the US, Belgium, India and other democratic countries?

Policing norms in the contemporary world

Police has always been considered an important tool in upholding the constitution and enforce peace and harmony among people. Today, on one hand, it is more than agreeable that the police force is important to ensure that rules are being followed by people for their own safety, and rightly so. Otherwise in countries like India and Nigeria, the high population makes it much easier for the virus to infect the maximum number of people if not kept in check. But to the extent of providing police with the freedom to take any action as they deem necessary to punish people for disobeying the rules, it gives them a big room to exploit their rights and misuse their powers. We recently saw this with the case of Jayaraj and his son Phenix, who lost their lives because the police abused their powers for their personal vengeance. Or the case of George Floyd, who was brutally murdered for a crime he had not even committed. Today more than anything, police has become a political tool to serve the ideology of the people in power. In situations of dissent and displeasure, it is simply used to curb the voices in the name of “maintaining law and order”. The pandemic has only strengthened their autonomy and given them more leeway to use their powers at their discretion without being questioned at all. This is exactly why a complete transformation in the policing norms should be initiated and brought into place to fight the injustices which go unaccounted for.

Policing in a New Normal

With different cities within India and around the world following different methods in a decentralised fashion. With heavily restricted lockdowns in place and imposition of section 144 to prevent gatherings, the police has been at the forefront to implement these rules. Though it is commendable to acknowledge their efforts to work round the clock in spite of the heavy risks, there has been more harm than good. Unaccounted fines, brutality against the migrant workers and fatal crackdown on protestors have all been witnessed. In difficult times like these, the need of the hour is to have more debates and discussions on the subject and formulate an effective and an unbiased strategy that not only helps in preventing the virus to spread but also not become unapologetically unfair to the general people. The eITEC discussion which will be held in the next two days will hopefully result in a fruitful outcome for everyone, and that even in stressful times like these, our democratic rights are not compromised.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Sejal Babel

Sejal Babel is a Former Journalism Intern at The Kootneeti

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