Can technology solve the lynching problem?

Published Jul 30, 2018, 2:26 am IST
Updated Jul 30, 2018, 2:26 am IST
The reality is that police in India function under pathetic conditions.
Inspector Gagandeep Singh and the Muslim youth he saved from the mob in Ramnagar. (Photo:DC)
 Inspector Gagandeep Singh and the Muslim youth he saved from the mob in Ramnagar. (Photo:DC)

People do not understand the complexities and constraints under which the Indian Police discharge their duties. A deliberate attempt is being made to muddy the waters and shift the blame for lynchings on to the police by alleging that the police at the behest of their political masters are shirking their responsibilities. This is not fully true.

The reality is that police in India function under pathetic conditions. Our country has one of the lowest police population ratios in the world. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, there are 17.2 million police personnel across 36 states and union territories when they should have been 22.6 million police personnel. There should be a police personnel for every 547 Indians as per the sanctioned strength, but the available strength is only one for every 720. The strength of police personnel per unit area in the country i.e., per 100 sq. km was 54.7 in 2013. The average strength in the police stations is extremely meagre too, 19.7 per cent (2,837 out of total 14,394 police stations had strength of 11 - 20 personnel, 16.9 per cent police stations had strength of 21 - 30 personnel and 6.1 per cent police stations had strength of police personnel less than 10.Nearly 90% of police station staff, across the states and across various police station types, presently work for more than eight hours a day.


 When I was working as a Superintendent of Police in districts, the average manpower sanctioned to a rural police station was no more than 20, but the list of duties to be attended to was endless. After distribution of essential duties by the SHO during the roll call, there would be none left to attend to emergent duties, in case they erupted all of a sudden. Each rural police station on an average had jurisdiction over 15 to 20 villages with innumerable hamlets, and it normally policed a population which was anything between 50,000 to 1,00,000 people. In India, to this day several rural police stations lack even a single vehicle, or a phone or a wireless set.

According to Bureau of Police Research and Development, New Delhi, there are 188 Police Stations without a vehicle, 402 without telephone and 134 without wireless sets. Under the circumstances, does it appear right to blame the police in rural settings for not taking swift action in lynching cases? The urban police stations, on the other hand, have better strength, smaller jurisdictions and good infrastructure, therefore they do a good job when lynchings happen in their jurisdiction.

For instance, when Maruti Suzuki’s HR Manager was lynched by the factory workers in July 2012, the police were able to swing into action in no time and arrest all the 148 workers and charge them under murder. Improving the strength and infrastructure in the police stations cannot happen overnight. Neither can a new law magically eradicate lynching. But policing can be made more efficient and effective at a fraction of a cost by the adoption of new technologies.

Deploying technology, therefore, would greatly help in developing cost-effective solutions that will help get a firm grip on the factors responsible for lynching. This would not only enhance the efficiency of the police, but also help restore the faith and confidence of the public in the police.

Possession of bovine meat was one of the factors recently responsible for the lynching of many individuals. A simple solution that could have saved people could have been the deployment of a simple DNA technology called Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) in Police Forensic Laboratory or the State Food Safety Laboratories. This DNA amplification and sequencing method have been applied all over the world for accurate identification of food components and precise detection of contaminants. Advances in this technique over the last decade have made it possible to identify ingredients at a molecular level from a combination of meats. This technique can easily help in establishing whether the meat or the cooked food being possessed by any suspected person contains beef or not.

Another important factor for lynching has been the inability on the part of police to reach the scene and establish the identity of the accused. UAVs (Unmanned aerial vehicles) can be powerful surveillance tools as they can reach the scene of lynching especially in rural areas with difficult terrains and inaccessible roads, swiftly by carrying camera systems as well as radio equipment and other sensors. Drones can also chase down criminals and vehicle although legal privacy concerns exist regarding the use of drones. Unmanned aerial vehicles have been used for domestic police work in Canada and the United States. Rajasthan police under the modernisation scheme have purchased ten drones and have proposed to buy 30 more soon.

Tamil Nadu police have also been deploying drones with face recognition software to maintain law and order during Thevar festival in Ramnad district and during Diwali festival season in Chennai City. Drones could immensely help the police by transmitting video graphic evidence of the accused involved in lynching directly from the scene, which could eventually lead to successful prosecution. To identify missing persons, DNA identification tests are being used all over the world for nearly 30 years. They are also being used to confirm family relationships and identify biological traces in criminal cases.

In this connection, in 2012 Lokniti, an NGO filed a public interest litigation in Supreme Court of India requesting the establishment of a DNA database, basing their argument that right to be identified was also a part of the right to dignity. This case is still pending in the apex court. The government of Maharashtra has already proposed to carry out DNA tests on children and establish an online DNA database to reunite the children with their families. A careful and responsible use of biometric data, as well as DNA test reports, can address the issue of missing children.

Police in Delhi was able to identify nearly 3,000 missing children within just four days of launching a new facial recognition system.  Once the public comes to know that this technology can be used to trace missing children, they would feel less helpless and not resort to mobocracy.

Crippling rumours and curbing misinformation is the next big challenge to the police when it comes to lynching. India is one of the few countries which falls prey to viral messages on social media. The recent incidents have exposed the lack of intelligence machinery in some states that caught the police napping despite the spread of rumours for hours and in some cases for days before an attack on unsuspecting victim took place. Monitoring of Facebook and Twitter has not been much of a problem but the penetration of WhatsApp has been a cause of serious concern.  Police could also do their bit by creating Whatsapp helplines to bust rumours in real time, to avert messages going viral.

During the Jallikattu agitation in Tamilnadu, a software called “ Social Media Monitoring Software “ to monitor the social media was contemplated to be developed in collaboration with the IIT, Madras. Expeditious implementation of this project could prove valuable in effectively dealing with rumours in future.  It’s possible that the multiplier effect of technology will tremendously enhance the effectiveness of the police - and lynching would soon become a thing of the past

(The author Dr K.Jayanth Murali, an IPS officer, is Director DVAC, Chennai)