Doing Away with the 1861 Police Act

by Fida Muhammad Khan

While teaching I once asked my students what comes to their mind when they see a police officer or constable. There were different answers but the majority of them replied “fear” or “power”. I wasn’t shocked because I found their replies in agreement with the literature on post-colonial police. Police as an institution has remained a controversial subject due to the close ties that it has with the politics of this country. It does not enjoy popularity among the citizens, rather it is notorious and infamous for being a tool in the hand of the rich and powerful. But if we look deeper, it is not just our police, but post-colonial police forces are often viewed the same way.

The Pakistani Police is not something that came into being out of nowhere in the year 1947. It had remained a part of the Indian Police, which was modeled on the pattern of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). The RIC was originally introduced in Ireland to suppress the Irish rebellions and to maintain law and order. The RIC had a chain of command that is very similar to today’s Pakistan police. At the top there was the Inspector General (IG), a Deputy IG reported him. The DIG had an Assistant IG under his command, and so the chain went down until the rank of the corporal, each junior rank was answerable to the immediately senior rank with the IG being answerable to the Lord Lieutenant stationed in London.

The purpose of this Force was to suppress any rebellion/freedom struggle in Ireland.  They had to do what Westminster desired and there was accountability or checks. In fact, originally it was called the Irish constabulary, it was awarded the title of Royal Irish Constabulary in 1867 after the brutal tactics that it employed in controlling the Irish people during the Fenian Uprising… the Constabulary was totally military in character. It was disbanded in 1922 after mutual agreement between Britain and Ireland. But other than its atrocities, it also gave us something else to remember and that was the application of RIC model in India and other colonies of Britain. As soon as Britain annexed Sindh, it needed a Police Force. The architect of the Indian Police Force was Sir Charles Napier who designed the Sindh police exactly on the model of the RIC. It is even said that the RIC model was perfected in India and as far as tactics are concerned the Indian Police was more brutal. Later on, after the failure of the war of independence, this model was adopted all over India.

The Indian police was designed as a public frightening force rather than a public friendly force. It was supposed to intimidate the people and instill fear of the Raj in their hearts and minds.  The purpose behind the creation of the Indian Police was never the prevention of crime rather it was to make the people fear the Raj. To achieve this end, Napier saw it fit to go with this model even though in London the metropolitan police act had been passed. The policing of foreign colonies had to be different from the policing of home countries. The distinguishing feature about the RIC style Indian police was its military character. The insignia, the chain of command the training all were in para-military style and the commanders were all British military officers. Moreover, the troops were insulated from the public in barracks along with their families.

It was shortly after the 1857 war that the police act of 1861 was passed. As a result of the act, a police force was created. The aim was to create a force which would follow orders without hesitation[1]. This force was raised by recruiting illiterate or semi-literate men, trained in paramilitary fashion, and underpaid in salary. The recruits came from the poor classes of the society. The sole objective was to make the Police a symbol of fear for the law abiding citizen so that order in the Raj was maintained.[2] This led to the perfection of RIC model in India and what made Indian colonial police more brutal than the RIC.

Upon independence Pakistan inherited a Police that was designed to be a public frightening institution. And the 100 years old act which in now even older was still in place. There have been no changes in the act since 1947.  Police order was introduced in 2002 but up until 2009, it was implemented only partially without any seriousness [1]. The order however got some attention in the KP 2017 police act. In the rest of the country the police order 2002 has not been given due importance and still awaits serious implementation.[2]

The Police order of 2002 offers a police system that is inclusive, efficient and free from political pressures. It outlines the tenure, transfer and promotion mechanisms and criterion; under the 2002 order the police commander is free to act and his/her tenure will be for a fixed period of three years.  A Public Safety Commission will be constituted and it will address complaints against the police. Similarly, there is a committee which will decide the selection of police commander. This further liberates the police from political control. But due purely to political reasons the order still awaits implementation.

To reform the police, we need to replace the 1861 Act completely. Our police will continue to function and behave as the colonial police did, until the century-old Police Act is removed. The 2002 police order and the KP police act 2017 are positive steps that need to be extended to the entire country. Repeal of the 1861 act will open the way for meaningful reforms to actually take place. The simple fact of the matter is that if the act that governs police recruitment, training and most importantly its objective and design is not changed, no reforms will ever work, no matter how much time, energy and money we invest in it. Removing the act of 1861 is therefore a pre-requisite for police reforms.

[1] Das, D. K., & Verma, A. (1998). The armed police in the British colonial tradition: The Indian perspective. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management21(2), 354-367

[2] PILDAT position paper on police system of Pakistan by dr.  Suddle.



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