ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Role of Police in Containing Mob Violence

Group violence is a common phenomenon in India. The large number of riotous situations faced by the police are simply staggering and perhaps among the highest in the world. Politics, poor governance, inability to meet rising expectations and absence of standard conflict resolution mechanisms explain much of this group violence. Yet, the role of the police and its leadership in handling and diffusing violent situations remains largely unexamined. In this paper, two cases of group violence in Bihar are presented to assess the role of local and senior police officials. The anti-Sikh riots at Palamau in 1984 and the anti-Muslim riots at Bhagalpur in 1989 provide insight into the organisational dynamics of the Indian police and help explain police performance in handling group violence. It is argued that apart from the well-known factor of political control that affects police functions in the country, organisational matters of training, resources, communications and leadership are also significant factors. The implications of the 2002 Gujarat riots are also discussed.

An earlier version of the paper was presented at Group Violence, Terrorism and Impunity: Challenges to Secularism and Rule of Law in India: A Workshop (Boston: MIT), 9-10 April 2010. The author has benefi ted from the comments of an anonymous referee.

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