India

Policing Ourselves

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An intriguing arbitration system built around neighborhood councils—called panchayats, after the country's village governments—is emerging in India's squatter districts, with the authorities' support. The Chicago Tribune reports:

At the Kaylan Wadi Police Beat 3 in Dharavi, sari-draped local women with yellow police identification cards hanging from their necks operate what is effectively a police station in a one-room community organizing hall that also houses a micro-credit bank. Beneath a huge aerial photo of the slum, the women—backed by a few male colleagues and a single police officer—take complaints, haul in offenders and negotiate resolutions to domestic violence and harassment cases, minor thefts, property disputes and other petty crimes, usually within days.

In a little over two years, their corner of the massive slum has seen crime drop by an estimated 30 percent to 50 percent, [former police commisioner A.N.] Roy said. Violence against women, in particular, has been slashed and police, once stymied in efforts to investigate slum murders and rapes, now have plenty of knowledgeable deputies tracking down clues….

The panchayats, each made up of seven local women and three men, have no formal power to call in, sentence or discipline offenders. What they offer instead, said Arputham Jockin, president of the National Slum Dwellers Federation, is "instant justice"—an alternative to the uncertainties of pushing a case through the country's notoriously slow and overburdened court system.

The Tribune says that there are now "230 panchayats scattered through the slums of Mumbai and nearby Pune, serving a population of between 3.5 million and 4 million slum dwellers." Meanwhile, "Panchayats based on the Mumbai model also have popped up in Sri Lanka and the Philippines, and officials from countries ranging from Thailand to South Africa have visited to take a look at the program, said Roy, who this month was appointed a director general of police."

I can't guarantee that the system really is as decentralized and responsive as it's described here. But it sounds terrific. And for what it's worth, the other reports I've found so far—from The Hindu, the BBC, and the police themselves—are glowing.

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  1. I wonder how the mob feels about this.

  2. My only real concern on this is the equal application of the law. A woman commits adultery, she can be stoned but a man can walk away, regardless of what the law says. Things like that. I would prefer a judge have ultimate oversight on this “instant justice” but otherwise I love the idea of people taking control of their own neighborhoods and being pro-active in resolving disputes before they become real crimes.

  3. My only real concern on this is the equal application of the law.

    Yeah, that’s my concern also. This sounds a bit like a homeowners’ association with guns. And that is a scary thought. That said, I agree that the idea has merit.

  4. I’m confused.

    They have no authority, yet somehow offer “instant justice”?

    Is this a lynchmob?

  5. RTFA.

    They convince people to settle their disputes amicably or a crime report will be filed.

  6. Hindus don’t stone women for adultery.

  7. Kwix | March 27, 2007, 3:33pm | #
    My only real concern on this is the equal application of the law. A woman commits adultery, she can be stoned but a man can walk away, regardless of what the law says. Things like that. I would prefer a judge have ultimate oversight on this “instant justice”

    Let’s see, cops commit blatant crimes (and several other examples), but can walk a way. A woman with serious medical problems is prosecuted for growing a little “medicinal” pot.

    Is this equal application of the law?

    How is our judicial system any better than theirs?

  8. This sounds a bit like a homeowners’ association with guns.

    I’ve never heard of such an organization kicking down someone’s door during a poker game and shooting him in the head.

    But then, there’s lots that goes on I don’t hear about.

  9. I wonder how the mob feels about this.

    This mob
    or
    this one,
    or
    this one?

  10. high#:

    what about This mob?

    Or perhaps this throng…?

  11. The first one, Highnumber. The mob not only runs protection rackets, it also offers protection. When an area is underserved by law enforcement, private organizations arise to enforce commonly understood contract and anti-criminal customs, for a cut of course.

  12. the women – backed by a few male colleagues and a single police officer – take complaints, haul in offenders and negotiate resolutions to domestic violence and harassment cases, minor thefts, property disputes and other petty crimes, usually within days.

    I don’t know about you folks, but if a crime is committed against me I don’t care to “negotiate a resolution”.

    If someone steals $100 from me, what do I do, offer to let him keep $25 with no police report if he returns the other $75?

  13. Honestly, I think the 2nd mob would worry me the most. They look insatiable.

    I can’t decide if I would rather party with mob #3 or VM’s 1st.

  14. mob #3.

    The other one would just serve Natty Light or Beast and no food.

  15. Mob #3 is just TCB, baby.

  16. Yeah, mob #3 would have some good eats, I’ll bet.

  17. If you haven’t taken the Graceland tour, you must. It’s a hoot and a half.

    Also, best kitsch tour EVAR has to be the Precious Moments Chapel. I was kicked out because I couldn’t stop laughing (even though I was really trying to stop. Honest.)

    Think Jan Hooks in Peewee’s Big Adventure. Multiply by infinity. Then chug two bottles of Mexican cough syrup.

    There are dead Semitic babies on the left as you enter for the Old Testament and dead Aryan babies on the right. BTW, watch out for the copperheads on the path, y’all, but they’re all God’s creatures too. Don’t even think of taking a picture with a flash!

  18. I thought “Precious Moments” was just a sentimental name for the chapel. Dear lord!
    I can’t go near that place. I’ll get myself arrested.

    “Take me with you, Timmy!”
    Children welcome embrace
    of a dead baby angel.

    Whoa.

  19. If someone steals $100 from me, what do I do, offer to let him keep $25 with no police report if he returns the other $75?

    I don’t know about you folks, but if a crime is committed against me I don’t care to “negotiate a resolution”.

    Another possible negotiated outcome is he gets to give you $200 with no police report.

    I didn’t RTFA so I don’t know which outcome is more likely (if it says), but why assume a victim can only negotiate an outcome that leaves him worse off than before the crime was committed? Anyway, getting even $75 back is better than what victims often get in the US.

  20. miche | March 27, 2007, 4:11pm | #
    Hindus don’t stone women for adultery.

    You are correct. I was taking the idea of community “courts” out of its existing locale and seeing how it would work elsewhere, say a fundamentalist Jewish community, or Muslim Pakistan where the punishment of stoning for a certain offense may not technically be legal but widely practiced and tolerated.

    As for traditional Indian(Hindu) gender roles, in many rural areas, women are still considered “lesser” and are afforded fewer rights than men. Perhaps not as great a disparity as a fundamentalist Islamic community, but the disparity is there and hence the chance that the community court will mete it’s justice unequally.

    JimmyDaGeek | March 27, 2007, 4:17pm | #

    Let’s see, cops commit blatant crimes (and several other examples), but can walk a way. A woman with serious medical problems is prosecuted for growing a little “medicinal” pot.

    Is this equal application of the law?

    How is our judicial system any better than theirs?

    Of the former, it is obviously not equal application of the law. It is one group taking advantage of the special exemption given it by the government. This is obviously wrong, but it is not impromptu rule-making either.

    In the latter, it is either the federal/state government upholding it’s laws (no conflict, upholding laws regardless of how egregious the law may be) or the state agents breaking the state’s laws (great conflict but no imbalance as they are busting all pot growers equally).

    Now, a better example would have been a powerful and influential person having his case swept under the rug while a powerless individual goes to jail for committing the same offense.

    Who said ours was better? Not I. I really like the idea of having (a largish group of) citizens handle the day to day BS (noise levels, petty theft, attractive nuisances, etc.) acting as arbitrators and leaving the police to real crime. My only real concern is the lack of oversight a “community court” may have in applying the laws equally. The fewer the laws and more clearly defined the laws and the power invested in the community court are the more likely for this process and it’s application to remain transparent and equitable.

  21. As for traditional Indian(Hindu) gender roles, in many rural areas, women are still considered “lesser” and are afforded fewer rights than men. Perhaps not as great a disparity as a fundamentalist Islamic community, but the disparity is there and hence the chance that the community court will mete it’s justice unequally.

    But the council is 7 women and 3 men. It seems that it may be a woman’s best bet.

    FWIW, my husband is Indian/Hindu. If I cheated, I wouldn’t be stoned but he would make me wish I was. ;o)

  22. This is a slight bit off topic. But statists seem to forget that along with the welfare state came less of a focus on community, yet they complain about the lack of ‘real’ communities anymore. On that level, most cops don’t even live in the neighborhood they patrol and don’t spend much time on foot getting to know the community.

    Gee, what do you think happens when a cop lives in the same neighborhood as the people he persecutes? Cops aren’t about protecting the community, but enforcing the will of the state.

    You are correct. I was taking the idea of community “courts” out of its existing locale and seeing how it would work elsewhere, say a fundamentalist Jewish community, or Muslim Pakistan where the punishment of stoning for a certain offense may not technically be legal but widely practiced and tolerated.

    How is this any different than Saudi Arabia or North Korea? Culture has a lot to do with it. I’m sure we all know what community justice was when a black was accused of a crime in the pre-civil rights South.

  23. I believe this is what Senator Clinton meant when she wrote, It Takes a Village.

  24. Am I the only geekertarian that immediately thought of the judicial system in Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”?

    And if I coined that word I want credit.

  25. And if I coined that word I want credit.

    Is? No, not “is”. You wouldn’t get vary far in life not saying “is”.

  26. BladeDoc:

    I found geekatarian in the wild. Sorry.

    Kevin

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