Hans Kelsen theorises that laws are a set of norms directed to officials concerned with the administration of justice, to apply a sanction upon disobedience of such norms. It’s intriguing to see that most of the Police force in Punjab and especially in the rural expanses have taken Kelsen’s theory far too seriously and follow it quite religiously. Just like H.L.A Hart’s critique on Kelsen’s theory, the Thana culture validates application of the law in a manner which largely does not meet the fundamental function of the law, namely social control for the cause of justice.
The Police, according to my meek understanding, is a set of personnel working in the ambit of strict rules and accountability set by the constitution itself, subservient to a result oriented hierarchy, to prevent infringement of civic rights of the masses through meritocratic application of the law. Rather, the Police of the Punjab province in general and the rural areas in particular, is an institution that reeks of ultra vires power and relentless corruption. A set of personnel working for either their personal agendas or for agendas of the affluent, subservient to a self-indulgent hierarchy to infringe upon rights of the masses through a subjective, non-meritocratic application of the law. Analogous to a bad application of Kelsen’s theory, the Thana culture in the status quo gives the Police and Thana too much power making them the main player in the society, having the power to bend the law to their own will and interpretation and applying it not for social but personal gain and power.
The situation in the rural areas as of this day is nothing short of depressing. The majority of the rural population is struggling to make ends meet due to a lack of infrastructure, an outrageously meagre literacy rate, disheartening attention of the state, spiralling input costs, soaring inflation rates, insignificant employment opportunities, crippling power outages and gut wrenching poverty. On top of that, legal mechanisms are hardly employed in rural areas due to the fact that most disputes are resolved out of court through other alternate methods of dispute resolution, namely the “Jirga” or “Panchayat”. The reins of justice for the destitute are in the hands of the resourceful and affluent, since the judge, jury and executioner in these alternate systems is someone in a position of influence. Usually the person heading these Jirgas or Panchayats is a feudal lord (Wadera), landlord, politician or cleric, none of whom have the requisite credentials for adjudicating upon legal matters and end up authorising orders like the Mukhtaran bibi case and many others to the same illiterate and inhumane effect. Apart from justice, the affluent also control water, raw materials, lands, employment opportunities, the bureaucracy and pretty much all facets of life in a rural setting.
Don’t get me wrong, not all influential people are villainous entities and there do exist god-fearing, patriotic philanthropists who do use their influence in order to retain order, attain justice, maintain peace and protect the rights of/for the masses. However, why should anyone have to force influence for the provision of justice and rights, why do majority of the cries fall on deaf ears and are disregarded?
A major role played in enslaving the majority of the rural people to this system is played by the Police. A popular statement thrown around by the resourceful in rural gatherings is that in order for one to be a successful Sardaar (leader) or politician one has to be well connected with the Police and should be well informed regarding the procedure of the kachehris (lower courts). The rationale behind this is that the law enforcement agencies or institutions are the only accountability and checks against the overwhelming authority that the few affluent hold in rural areas, and for the conservation of such authority, these agencies / institution have to be kept in correlation with.
It would not be the slightest exaggeration to say that the rural masses fear and loathe the upholders, enforcers and preservers of the law as much as the breakers and defilers of it, and their judgement as to which is which has most definitely been clouded. The local Police have most pertinently been used to enforce hegemony of the affluent rather than the law through inescapable coercion but that’s not all; the Police have also been used as plunderers, extortionists and guns for hire that have been armed and trained by the state and funded through the taxes of these very people. Corruption reigns from top to bottom, from the filing of the First Investigation Report (FIR) to the last stages in the penal process; bribery typically gets the job done. The cognizance, truthfulness or maintainability of the matter is hardly a consideration, for the right amount any unmerited case becomes cognizable and any just case can be snubbed, any plunderer can be given protection and any law-abiding citizen can be thrown in the Thanas to rot until and unless the envisaged outcome has been achieved. State infrastructure such as the thanas are employed to this cause in order to manipulate locals into serving the political and pecuniary purposes of the affluent or well endowed.
Unlike metropolitans, the rural masses are mostly oblivious to today’s very lively social media, print media and human rights related organisations because of a widespread lack of education and have no effective outreach in terms of presenting their problems to the people or entities that might be able to bring about a difference, making them extremely easy to manipulate and influence. The rural masses have been unable to escape since the inception of the country and the way things are shaping up, seems like it will be another life time before any effective reforms are made. There is no writ of the state in rural areas, and the social contract theory has truly been shredded apart. Publicising the issues faced by the rural masses is just not commercially viable and is unlikely to provide a kick to the media ratings as marketing the private or romantic life of a celebrity would. Our rural areas are still as regressive as medieval hamlets and the concerns, mentality and conventions as orthodox as medieval mythology, hence the title and hence the longing for evolution.