The history of Independent India is replete with violent protests, agitations and riots. At the forefront of dealing with these incidents are the police, who are the first responders, and security forces. Time and again, an important question comes to the forefront.
Under Article 246 of the constitution, matters pertaining to ‘public order’ and ‘police’ are under the direct jurisdiction of State governments. However, the constitution also empowers the Centre to provide necessary assistance when the state apparatus is overwhelmed. The Ministry of Home Affairs deploys units of the Central Armed Police Forces to aid the State police in imposing peace in the affected areas.
Among other variables, information about the nature of the incident, the reason why it is happening, and the grievances that drive it is critical. A clear assessment allows the police to formulate a coherent policy depending on the nature of the incident (whether it’s a political agitation, communal riots or even caste-related violence).
Efficient logistics, including the availability of necessary riot gear, controlling traffic routes to ensure the provision of timely medical emergency service, and the presence of adequate personnel at strategic points, among others require necessary due diligence. Finally, the police must establish a constant line of communication with the general public driven by a continuous stream of media briefings and press releases.
With the advent of social media, pernicious rumours are disseminated at a much quicker pace. Constant communication between the government, senior police officials and public will make it easier to develop trust and quell such rumours. In times of civil strife, the government often blocks internet services, which studies have shown aren’t useful.
There are provisions within the law that allow police to undertake preventive or punitive measures, including arrest, against those planning an unlawful assembly of people. Besides Section 141 to 190 of the Indian Penal Code, the State police also have the option of exercising Section 149 to 151 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in dealing with critical instigators of violent protest. Success in employing all these measures depend on the speed at which the State responds.
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