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This article is written by Aditya Singh, from Symbiosis Law School, Noida. This article deals with the subject of Policing in India by analysing the background of the police services in India through the ancient, medieval and contemporary periods. It also takes into account the policing structure present in India and the influence of past police systems on the same.


Any society needs peace of mind and conducive circumstances to progress. Disturbed and anarchic societies exhaust all their potential in unworthy things. On the other hand, if they have a sense of safety, security and order they can develop and prosper. This is where the role of police becomes important in society. At all times, in some form or the other, this system existed with varied responsibilities and duties.

The term police have been derived from the Latin word ‘politia’ which means the condition of a State. The term means, a system of regulation for the preservation of order and regulation of law. It broadly refers to the purposeful maintenance of public order and protection of persons and property from the commission of unlawful acts towards them. It also refers to the civil functionaries charged with the duty of maintaining public order safety and enforcing the law including the prevention and detection of crime. This task becomes all the more arduous in a multicultural, multi-ethnic, and vast country like India with a big population.

Policing is the science of maintaining peace and order in an ever-changing society. Therefore, policing philosophy, policing methods, and attitudes of those responsible for policing cannot remain the same. Thus, it becomes important to see how it has evolved through the various phases of history and how it has acquired its present form. But before that, a look at the reasons and situations that have led to the police system of the present time, its structure and functions would be more relevant.

Background to the police services in India 

History of Indian police on modern lines dates back to the dawn of the 19th century. The idea of a separate regular police force as it exists today was never in consideration before the British period and for a considerable time even after the commencement of the rule. It was only in 1774 that Warren Hastings introduced for the first time under the Company’s rule several measures for police reforms, which later culminated in the Police Act of 1861. Sir Charles Napier was made in-charge of the administration of the newly annexed territory of Sind (now in Pakistan). To tackle this crime-ridden and difficult area he reorganized the native police system so that it could function properly and produce desired results.

This system was based on two principles:

  1. the police must be completely separated from the military; 
  2. they must act as an independent body, 
  3. assisting the Collectors in the discharge of law and order responsibilities. 

The system provided for an Inspector General of Police who was responsible for the law and order of the entire province. Provinces were divided into districts that were controlled by Superintendents of Police who headed the police administration under the control of the Magistrates. The main principles were not altered even by the Police Commission of 1860, which is responsible for the current police system in India. Recommendations of the Police Commission of 1902-03 further improved the system to some extent.

In 1917, Islington Commission Report referred to it as the Indian Police Service for the first time. After independence Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the first Union Home Minister saw the importance of organizing the Civil Services on an all-India basis. In 1949, in the Constituent Assembly, he emphasized the importance of having a ring of services to help the country remain intact under a federal constitution, saying “…the Union will go, you will not have a united India if you do not have a good All India Service, which has the independence to speak out its mind…”. And thus the Indian Police Service was born as an All India Service.

Police system during ancient India 

Origin of police can be traced to the early Vedic period as the Rig and the Atharva Veda mentions certain kinds of crimes known to the Vedic people. In fact, evidence indicates the existence of security forces even in the Harappan period. Though the exact reference of the criminal justice organization during the Vedic period is not available, the Mauryan period exhibits important features of the same. Kautilya’s Arthashastra (310 BC) is a treatise on the criminal justice system. It reads like a manual for police in modern times. There is a reference to DANVARIKA, ANTEVANSIKA, PRADESIKAS, MAHAMATRAS, RAJJUKAS, and so on. There were 3 types of police—dandpal, durgapal, and antpal.

Magasthenese, the GREEK Ambassador, and Fa Hein, the Chinese traveller have written detailed accounts of the Gupta administration. Dandikas were the highest officers then. Others like Nagar Shreshthi, Rabasika, also find mention. The criminal justice system developed during this period continued for five to six hundred years. The only difference between the two periods being that the Mauryan system was centralized whereas the Gupta system was decentralized. But the basic structure of the police system of village police, city police, and palace police was the same, suitably altered by various kings.

Police system during medieval India 

There is no mention of police organizations found anywhere. It may be so because more focus was on conquests and military occupation without any serious attempt to consolidate or run civil administration. The Muslim conquerors did try to implant the police system in line with one prevailing in their homeland trying to fit it with the Indian social setting. The system of administering justice, punishment, and policing was, however, Islamic and was based on the Holy Quran. During the Sultanate period, the Hindu population was subjected to a different law and the Pandits were associated to interpret the Hindu law and to give their opinion on it. Muhtasibs, Muqaddams, were ranks of officials in charge of administration. 

Punishments were very harsh, following the Islamic law, such as flaying alive, cutting of nose, ears, or forearms, trampling by elephants, and mutilation. All this must have led to the generation of deep-rooted hatred for the police functionaries.

During this period the center of power and political activity was the Sultan, Faujdar being the head of the criminal justice delivery system at the provincial level entrusted to maintain its peace and security. Kotwal was magistrate, head of the police, and municipal officer, all rolled into one. Chaukidar was responsible for the village administration. The government under the Mughals was autocratic and military in nature. Justice delivery system and police organizations both were weak during this period.

Police system in modern India

British India Phase

After the British victory in 1757 at Plassey and the decline of the Mughal Empire, whatever police system was then in vogue became further corrupted in the area.

In 1862, the Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code came into force. The Evidence Act was enforced in 1872 and thus the Qazis, the Muftis, the Pandits along with the Islamic law and the Hindu law got replaced. Though changes were made in the administrative functioning by the Britishers yet the Mughal framework for policing was retained. Ranks such as Kotwals, Thanedar, Pargana, Darogah, continued. However, changes slowly came in the Perso-Arabic model and the British way of policing was adopted.

Pre Independence Era 

By the early 19th century the Mughal empire started disintegrating and till the middle of the 19th century, there was no satisfactory police system primarily because of British inexperience and lack of knowledge about the country. Zamindars retained policing till 1792 when Cornwallis was sent to India as Governor-General. He abolished the zamindari system and made Thanedars responsible for the maintenance of law and order. Some other reforms were also introduced. Later, a model of policing developed by Napier culminated into the Indian Police Act of 1861, on which the current police system is also based.

Indian Police Act of 1860

After the revolt of 1857, the British realized the threat of losing power and were determined to ensure complete suzerainty and suppression of all challenges to their power. Thus, a Police Commission was appointed in 1860, to make police an efficient instrument for the prevention and detection of crime.

However, the system so designed was sharply opposite to that of the Britishers, celebrated in the whole world as a symbol of democratic policing. The primary objective was to meet the exigencies of trade and company profit and to ensure that the trade route was safe, exploitation of resources continued unhindered. This system was based on the structure developed by the Mughals in the 17th century incorporating many features and names of officials like Daroga, Faujdar, and Kotwal. The Act imposed in the whole country a uniform police system. It relieved the District Magistrate of his duty to keep a check over the local police and made it more professional, organized, and disciplined in nature. The system of policing instituted by the Act is still in force and brought uniformity in administration. However, the general conditions of crime control remained unsatisfactory probably due to poverty, famine, and other adverse conditions like shortage of force. The second All India Police Commission was formed in 1902 to conduct a comprehensive inquiry and recommend improvement in various aspects of the organization. But nothing concrete was done according to the recommendations to improve the forces till independence.

After 1920, the imperial forces were open for the Indians through entrance examinations. Indianisation of the services remained very slow despite pronouncements and recommendations. Due to the unavailability of Europeans, more Indians started getting appointed to the services later. After independence, India adopted the 1861 system unaltered in any basic respect.

The current structure of the police system in India 

After 1860 recruitment of senior police officers was done in two ways- first, by the appointment of officers from the British Army, and second, by nomination from amongst younger sons of landed gentry in the UK. Both of these ways were abolished in 1893. Recruitment of officers now was done through a combined competitive exam held in London which only Europeans could take. Later it was opened for Indians too. Today recruitment made through Combined Civil Services Examination is conducted annually by the Union Public Service Commission. Article 312 of the Constitution of India mentions about the All India Services. Probationers recruited undergo very tough basic training in physical academics, arms, and other activities.

According to the Constitution, the police force is a state subject. States draw rules, regulations and guidelines for the police in the state police manual. The organization structure of police forces in India is fairly uniform in all the states throughout the country.  The head of the police force in a state is called the Director-General of Police (DGP). A state is further divided into several zones, ranges, and districts. The district force is headed by an officer of the rank of Superintendent of Police(SP). Group of districts forms a range which is headed by an officer of the rank Deputy Inspector General of Police(DIG). Zones are composed of two or more ranges headed by an officer of the rank Inspector General of Police(IG). Districts are further subdivided into sub-divisions like circles and police stations which are headed by officers of different ranks. The district police are also divided into two branches—the civil police and the armed police, where the former primarily controls crime, and the latter deals with law and order situations and is also the reserved police of the district kept to meet an emergency situation.

Influence of past police system on the present

The Indian Police system and structure as presently organized are essentially based on an Act 131 years old, the Police Act of 1861. The working of the police has been analyzed twice at an All India level within a period of 90 years. First was the Indian Commission of 1902-03 during the British regime and second was in 1977 by the National Police Commission. They found police far from efficient, defective in training and organization, lacking in public relations, welfare measures, machinery for redressal of grievances, etc. and that it was generally regarded as corrupt and oppressive. Even after independence, we were devoid of a better police administration system. There is still a requirement for a reorientation of attitude and approach on the part of the police.


The literature on the Indian police system is meagre. The role of the police has evolved continuously and still needs change. There is an urgent need to transform it into a professional service rather than one who is simply following the orders of the authority unmindfully. The training, ethics, conduct in public, public dealing mannerisms, criminal procedure codes, power, and freedom of police are certain aspects of the police department that need a complete overhaul. The image that has been carried by the police from the British era of a paan chewing, discourteous, rude, aggressive and bully figure in khaki needs to be changed. In fact, the real situation of the police needs to be mended, like that of being underpaid, understaffed, overworked, stressed, demoralized, inadequately trained and equipped, subjected to political interference, and so on.

Also, in a free society people have a right to know how they are being protected by the police. The cooperation of the public is very important for the police to work effectively which is determined by the degree of trust and respect enjoyed by the police. Police must realize that with changing times its role in society has undergone a sea of changes. Conflict resolution and rendering assistance to distress are demanding their time and attention more than dealing with crime and criminals. If the duty has changed, so should the working and conduct of police to garner the lost faith, trust, and cooperation of the very people for whom the police always stand determined and dedicated to protecting. 


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