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.