Tuesday, September 6, 2011



The Tottenham riots (early August) took the British police by surprise. They fumbled initially for apparent lack of contingency plans. They lost more face when the trouble engulfed not only the city of London but much of the British urban landscape (surprising why these. did not spread to Scotland, Wales and North Ireland) exposing lack of coordination among the different city police forces. The London Bobby has long been viewed as a role model for police forces the world over and the Scotland Yard as icon among the detective agencies. Post-riots tongues started wagging that foreign police agencies might think twice before turning to London for advice on public order. There was a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that Prime Minister David Cameron might be calling in experts from New York and Los Angeles police on tackling gangs.
Whatever might have been felt and said in the heat of the moment one should not be too harsh in judging the police. The Metropolitan Police had been headless for some time denying the police the benefit of a centralised command. Not having been exposed to a serious riot since the Broadwater Farm riots 26 years ago they seem to have forgotten their riot drill. They were grossly under equipped and under strength They rose to the occasion like one man once the reinforcements came with sufficient riot gear. The London cops, with their strength gone up from 6000 to 16000, effected 1700 arrests; of the 700 charged two-thirds were remanded to custody. Within hours they were tried and those found guilty were sentenced. (Contrast this with India where there is virtually no conviction following a major riot.) Going by a media poll, despite the initial setback the public (at least the majority of the whites) continue to view their police as professionally competent, fair and impartial. In their view the riots were the outcome of the skewed policies of the government over a period of time.
Britain has been a divided society for the last few decades and the hiatus is only growing. The country has had a problem with its youth, a generation that is functionally illiterate, unemployable, demotivated and criminalised from early childhood, stuck in a vicious cycle of generational poverty. They have no jobs, no prospects, and no future except living on dole in dwellings built out of public money. Hate and anger had been building up over a period of time. The super rich bankers in the Square Mile and the rioters next door in Hackney may be next door neighbours but there is little in common between them besides their fondness for the same gizmos. Walking down the trashed streets one found the items looted were electronics, designer clothes, phones, perfumes, cosmetics and jewellery. It is therefore being said that the riots were a consumerist uprising of the have-nots against the haves.
The native white population has reason to feel threatened by the size and relative prosperity of the non-white immigrant communities. Police will have to remain on guard against the rise of right (white) extremism of the kind that was responsible for the Norway carnage last month. According to his own admission the suspect in the Norwegian attacks, Anders Behring Breivik was only trying to draw attention to the imminent danger of ‘black’ immigrants engulfing the whites if the tide was not arrested.
Leave aside the government police too failed to read the writing on the wall. When the society was static the beat constable knew his charge by name and face. He bore on his person nothing more than a truncheon, more as a symbol of authority than as a weapon of assault. If police was unarmed, so was the criminal and so the cycle went. Law and order problems were few and far between. Lately police have largely abandoned visits to racially sensitive areas. Any law enforcement in these areas is treated with a simmering resentment which quickly erupts into violence. The easy option for the police has been to designate them as "no-go areas", effectively abandoning the silent majority to a life of misery under the threat of violence and crime. Cuts to policing are evident in the mere fact that visible, proactive patrols don't exist any more.
It is time for police to introspect and to answer a few questions. Was there enough provocation to open fire at Tottenham? It looks like not having had to handle anything so serious for a long time police had become complacent. Fire power was used where other methods such as parleying, baton charge, water cannon and tear smoke might have done the job. Police have to answer the charge of intelligence failure and not having a contingency plan ready. Why did they not activate their ‘sleeper cells’? The deteriorating socio-economic scenario and the near total alienation of the youth were bound to result in an outburst sooner than later. Police failed to feel their pulse. Once the trouble started there was obvious lack of coordination between the police forces of different cities. Why could the conflagration not be prevented from spreading to other cities? If the looters could coordinate their actions through Facebook, Tweeter and other social network sites the police could also have responded in kind and intercepted or jammed them? Perhaps they could not under the law. After all, United Kingdom prides herself on being a free, liberal society.
What complicated matter for police was that the victim in Tottenham was an Asian immigrant. Police, nearly all white, have not been able to shake off allegations of racial prejudice. Considering the large immigrant segment of British population a fresh dose of sensitization is called for. The United States is trying to deal with this problem by inducting a sizeable number of Afro-Americans in their police force.
Having lambasted the autocratic regimes in the Arab world all these years for human rights violation spy glasses are constantly turned on UK for any signs of similar transgression. With the sword of human rights violation hanging over their head British police law enforcement has become lax. In coming years law enforcement without compromising on human rights is going to pose a challenge for them.
The British police are still one of the best in the world. Let them treat the riots as a wake up call, fine tune their strategy and tactics, and take stock of what they have and what they need. Equally or more so, government must take note of the changed environment. With latent hostility at home and international terrorism staring country in the face days of the unarmed beat constable have to end. Police need latest equipment and gadgetry, mobility and, most of all, manifold increase in numbers. Policing, proactive as well as reactive, is going to cost the exchequer a packet, budget cut or no budget cut, and there is no running away from it.

(Dr. Sudhir Kumar Jha)
(The author is a former Director General of Police, Bihar)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


“He being dead yet speaketh”
Showing respect to the dead is common to societies all over the world. ‘Speak not ill of the dead’, is what we are taught from our childhood. ‘Let them rest in peace’ comes instantly to mind as we pass a grave. Encroaching and vandalising their final resting place can therefore be viewed as sacrilege. Shakespeare sounded a grim warning in the epitaph inscribed in his gravestone at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon in England:
"Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare,To dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones,And cursed be he that moves my bones."Shakespeare supposedly wrote it himself because in his time old bodies were dug up and burned to make room for new burials. Many British men and women of the Raj era would have aspired to borrow from Shakespeare's epitaph and wished their final resting places to remain untouched by the encroaching, marauding hand.
There are few well kept graveyards, such as the Bhowanipore Cemetery in Kolkata, Viceroy Lord Elgin's memorial at McLeodgunj in Himachal Pradesh, the Nuns' cemetery near St Bedes College for Women in Simla, and the War cemeteries at Kohima, Delhi, Pune and Comilla in Bangladesh. Most, however, have fallen prey to encroachment, vandalism and pilferage. Some have disappeared due to the vagaries of nature or to the greed for land. It is the same story from Peshawar to Chittagong, Baramula to Trivandrum. Peshawar’s Gora Qabristan, witness to the Afghan Wars, and the cantonment cemetery in Meerut, where the Indian Uprising of 1857 began, are typical of the decay now facing old British graves. As a result, it is nearly impossible to put an exact number, far less to decipher the inscriptions on them. Criminals take away headstones making it difficult to identify the tombs.
Non-British cemeteries have fared no better. The Jewish cemetery, located off Lloyd's Road in Madras, now Chennai, is adjacent to the Chinese cemetery and both cemeteries have clusters of vendors and squatters with vegetables displayed on the road itself at the entrances. Portuguese, Spanish and French tombs have all but disappeared from the Indian soil.
Whereas most of the inscriptions on the grave stones speak of the survivor’s grief and loss, some speak of the vanity of their occupants ignoring Thomas Gray’s famous Elegy “… The paths of glory lead but to the grave.” In most cases, the tombstones are not of Viceroys and other high and mighty of the British Raj but of the countless British civil servants, soldiers, merchants, missionaries, townspeople and teachers, their spouses and children most of whom succumbed not to sword but to summer heat and tropical diseases. They are all part of India’s past. If some headstones contain doggerels we also come across some fine quotes and original compositions. At least some of the tombs can claim to be fair representatives of Indo-European architecture. Much has been lost but not all. If properly maintained these cemeteries can become virtual 'al-fresco museums'.
The care of these graves has become no body’s baby. Lack of interest and resources lie behind this callous neglect. But it is more a question of mindset. Local sensitivities have of course to be taken care of. The Indian public and their representatives in parliament and government have to be sensitised to the fact that conservation of the Raj era cemeteries is not meant to glorify and perpetuate British imperial history but to give us a valuable perspective on India’s heritage. We have to look at these graveyards as ‘little pockets of history’, a who’s who of the British Raj. However much we may resent the British rule in India we cannot wish it away.
The conservation of these tombs and cemeteries is simply beyond the capacity of local church committees. A concerted effort is called for lest this valuable source of history is lost for ever. Sadly, in India the Central and State Minority Commissions and the nominated Anglo-Indian members of state assemblies have been indifferent. The least they can do is to pressurise the government to have pucca boundary walls erected to prevent further encroachment as the hunger for land can drive people to any length. The British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia (BACSA), a London-based charity, has done a great job in listing out a large number of graves and even pays for the upkeep of some. Lately, Lt. Col. Lake has launched a trust in UK with an ambitious target to raise £700,000 a year from corporate donors such as HSBC, Rothschild, Lloyds and other major foundations so that these places can be maintained in perpetuity throughout the erstwhile British empire. India-based NGOs and public authorities may also pitch in and play a coordinating role.
An estimated two million graves of the Raj era, lying in isolation or in clusters in designated cemeteries, dot the Indian sub continent. If the government can catalogue and put them on the net many of the present generation Britain may want to visit India to connect with their ancestors and put a wreath on their tombs. In the process they will be unwittingly promoting what can be crudely termed as "graveyard tourism". Most of all, we must create public awareness to defer to the dignity of the dead for, to borrow from the epitaph on Viceroy Lord Elgin’s grave, “He being dead yet speaketh”.
Dr. Sudhir Kumar Jha
NIRVANA’ Buddha Colony
Patna 800 001
(The author is a former Director General of Police, Bihar and a free-lance researcher. He can be contacted at sudhirjhapatna@gmail.com)