How Can We Rethink Police Accountability in India?

Use of force by the police is a substantial problem in India. To a large extent, the measures so far have focused on police’s functional autonomy and independence from political pressures. Yet, this also merits the question of whether fixing the political–police relationship alone will lead to more accountable police. While such top-down reforms have been pending since the time of independence, they have overlooked the simultaneous need for bottom-up approaches focusing on police empowerment. To rethink police accountability in India, we must focus on two core areas—community policing, and better training. These structural measures focus on changing the police–public power equation and mark the shift from a colonial police force to one that is true to the spirit of democratic policing.


Police killing of George Floyd led to political pressure to "defund the police" which played a significant role in the US presidential elections. Exactly a month after that incident, people staged protests in Sathankulam, a town in Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu, over the custodial death of Jayaraj and Fenix. This was followed by the death of Vikas Dubey in an encounter and, most recently, the handling of the Hathras gang rape case. In the last few months of 2019, the conduct of police during the nationwide Citizenship (Amendment) Act–National Register of Citizens protests and the encounter deaths of the four accused in the case involving the rape and murder of a veterinarian in Hyderabad, brought further attention to human rights violations by police. 

The use of force by the police is as substantial a problem in India as it is in the United States (US), perhaps more so. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem. Since the Indian government’s strategy focused heavily on lockdowns in the initial phases of the pandemic, use of force by the police to enforce them has been widespread. We examine existing accountability measures and the reasons for their failing to achieve desired outcomes against this backdrop. To rethink police accountability in India, we must focus on two core areas—community policing and better training.

Political Pressure and the Failure of Accountability Mechanisms 

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