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Towards A Nuanced Discourse

Ajay K. Mehra

By T.K. Vinod Kumar
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 319, Rs. 850.00


No other public institution in any po- litical system has public interface with an identifiable visibility than the police. Circumstances are almost entirely regulatory that seldom create a positive image of the institution. Obviously, in cases of maintenance of public order, the only face of the police that catches the public eye and attention is that of a strong arm of the government regulating their activity, enforcing ‘don’ts’ and being harsh on occasions in this process. Resentment that it can fuel has the capacity to snowball into protest in a democracy. Thus, police response to what T.K. Vinod Kumar characterizes as ‘public events’ (protests, events, demonstrations, et al), acquires critical significance in a democratic polity.   T.K. Vinod Kumar, a serving police officer, emphasizes the significance of policing, both generally as well as in the specific context of public events in democratic India. Kumar maps the organizational mechanism and event based response mechanism to underline two kinds of responses the police have to maintain public order. He uses case studies from Kerala, the state cadre to which he belongs, to relate assertions and expression of democratic rights to manifestations in public space both in terms of events and discourse and their impact on police response. Political meetings, mass mobilization, violent political conflicts are the features of democratic India, which on one hand reflect the nature of democracy and on the other, determine popular evaluations of police response that are dependent upon ‘use of force and sanctions’, or they ‘depend on cooperation and legitimacy.’ Kumar also rightly highlights that despite a federal structure, there is ‘a high degree of uniformity across districts, states, and the country, due to the similar organizational structure and legal framework’ in police. Therefore, organizational mechanism available to the police to address public order and steps taken too has similarity.   Kumar focuses on public protests, public disorder events and conflicts to discuss theories on public events, which according to him bring out ‘tension in the interaction between two important values of rights and freedom of individuals and need for order in society’ (p. 12). In the Indian context, he classifies public disorder into three categories—individual level disorders (drunkenness, vagrancy, etc.), organized public protests by organizations and groups and clashes on ethnic lines (caste, religion, language, etc.). The first set are daily, routine and part of regular policing. The latter two could be complex events and ...

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