'Bad Characters, History Sheeters, Budding Goondas and Rowdies': Police Surveillance Files and Intelligence Databases in India
National Law School of India Review, Vol. 23, No. 1, p. 133, 2011
21 Pages Posted: 7 Nov 2010 Last revised: 31 Oct 2011
Date Written: November 6, 2010
In this article, I discuss issues that arise with maintenance of surveillance and intelligence databases by the police in India. I examine the nature of such records maintained by police in colonial India, looking at its impact on three categories of individuals – the ‘criminal tribes,’ the ‘goondas’ and the ‘bad characters.’ My argument is that independence from the British and coming into the force of the Constitution did not change police practices in this regard. In the paper, I highlight the discriminatory nature of these databases and the implications that arise for an individual who finds himself/herself on one of them. I also examine whether, and if so how, surveillance and arrest records impact subsequent arrests, bail and sentencing decisions, and discuss constitutional issues that arise in this context. I argue that police surveillance and intelligence records are based on non-objective and arbitrary factors which end up reinforcing stereotypes, lead to selective application of laws and to discrimination based on caste and socio-economic factors. Consequently, I make a case for doing away with such records. The paper concludes by looking at recent endeavours by the Government of India aimed at strengthening surveillance databases and discusses the implications that this might have on the right to privacy, the presumption of innocence and the right to personal liberty.
Keywords: India, Police Surveillance Databases, Criminal Tribes, Goondas, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, Sentencing, Criminal Procedure
JEL Classification: K14, K19, K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation