For Chulbul, the uniform is the ticket to unbridled power. The law is remote from his actions and the courts are redundant. Without an iota of doubt, he just knows who the real bad guys are and deals with them as judge and jury in an instant. His superiors are puppets whom he disregards.
Unencumbered by the trappings of a real-life uniform, the powerful magic of Salman Khan warps all conceptions of right and wrong, condoning the manipulation of power and glorifying rotten policing through one man’s vigilantism. He is everyone’s dream policeman precisely because he is a fantasy which, like all fantasies, we create and control. In real life, lawless and brutal Chulbul is the monster we face when we encounter a police force that is not held accountable, with police who can neither prevent crime nor solve it. So worried is the government of Uttar Pradesh that the Chulbul brand may catch on, its recent circular exhorts the constabulary to improve their behaviour while dealing with the public and not be high-handed: “Concerned officers at a police station need to play by the book, registering each case and then addressing the grievances within a specific time”.
Sadly, the kind of policing that Chulbul parodies has long existed in real life. As early as 1903, the brutality and corruption in policing were noted with concern. Post emergency, in 1979, the National Police Commission charted the directions of change in eight voluminous reports. In 2005, the Sorabjee committee designed legislation that could make it a practical reality. In 2006, the Supreme Court gave a series of seven directions that had to be evidenced by institutional changes. But seven years later, much like Chulbul, neither the the police nor the politicians are listening.
Across the country, politicians refuse to delink the police from their own selfish interests. Rather than shake themselves up from the inside, the police leadership cling to the central power source and the privileges attached to it. Ironically, the autocratic, militaristic style more suited to colonialism is defended, even as it is coupled with handwringing. At every crisis point, police spokespersons point to the deprivations of policemen and the shortcomings of society rather than look deeply into the malaise within.
The use of excessive force in Dabangg 2, its disregard for legal process and brazen abuse of office are made palatable by gentle comedy. But in the theatre of the real world, such policing leads to irreparable tragedies, like a 23-year-old being gangraped on a bus while the police loitered.
As more and more cases of crime go unsolved, calls for more severe punishments and Chulbul-type policing grow. But better solutions would be like those the Supreme Court directed — reform policing through mechanisms that ensure a distance between the police and political influence; return all promotions, transfers, deployment and investigation back to the leadership; make the police accountable both for wrongdoing as well as for everyday performance. The vision of policing in a democracy cannot be a continuum of the colonial “law and order model”. It has to be locally controlled, by the CM and not by a distant lieutenant governor. It has to see itself as a service for the people and not as a force ranged against them.
The angry protests after the recent rape in Delhi points to the alienation of people from police. The chasm can only be closed by a radical overhaul of policing to create a force that the public can trust. Without this, people laugh at the fictional Chulbul in packed cinemas while the very real Chulbul Pandeys continue to flout the law and reduce our right to safety, security, and an atmosphere in which we can enjoy all our freedoms, to a Bollywood myth.
The writer is director, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, firstname.lastname@example.org