Medieval Delhi, safer Delhi
R. V. SMITH
IT IS a fact that Delhi was much safer 30 years ago, better still in British times and equally secure during the days of the Great Moghuls. A police medical authority, which carried out a survey in the 1960s, concluded that most murders in Delhi were not premeditated, but were committed in the heat of the moment. It showed that uneducated people were more prone to committing such murders which ruled out the complicity of accomplices. In the rural areas mob murders were more common. A crowd suddenly infuriated and united to carry out rough justice. Things have changed now and we have gangs carrying out pre-meditated supari killings, just for the sake of making money.
Equally alarming are the vendetta killings involving families at enmity. "Kangaroo justice" still prevails when caste murders are committed, generally of couples that have inter-caste affairs , often resulting in marriage that incurs the wrath of relatives of both the boy and girl.
The policeare just as helpless as the victims in preventing crimes. A flashback to medieval times provides a big contrast vis-à-vis this handwritten note found in the private papers of my late father: Police administration in India has undergone a sea change over the centuries. It existed in primitive form in ancient times, but became more elaborate during the medieval period. The advent of the British saw a well-knit network that continues to be followed by and large even in the present times. A paper by history scholar J.C. Madan, of the Delhi University throws interesting light on police administration in medieval India.
"In the days of the Delhi sultanate, the Sultan was the fountainhead of justice and source of all authority. He appointed Cadis to perform police and municipal duties in important towns. The provincial governors were required to help the Cadis (Alauddin Khilji built the Char Minar to punish thieves, thugs and dacoits).
"The Amir-i-dad was an official who was appointed by the Governor and he exercised both executive and judicial functions. The city gates and walls were in his charge as also the Muhtasib - the Kotwal and the police. The former was entrusted with duties such as religious, conventional, municipal and police. He prevented gambling, prohibited the use of liquor and other intoxicants and detected frauds and apprehended cheats. For this purpose the Muhtasib employed spies and the police. The Kotwal was subordinate to the Muhtasib and was incharge of the police in the cities," adds Madan.
"The police system during the Moghul period was organised. The Governor or Subedar was assisted by the Faujdars in the maintenance of law and order. The Faujdar was the chief police officer and administrative head of the Sarkar (district). He was appointed by the emperor but was subordinate to the Subedar. The Faujdar was assisted by Shikadars who looked after the Thanadars (in-charge of thanas or police stations) in the pargana. The Thanadar was assisted by armed guards called barkandaz".
The Ain-i-Akbari gives a further insight into the system. It says: "The Kotwals of cities, Kushabs, towns and villages in conjunction with the royal clerks, shall prepare a register of the houses and buildings, which registers shall include a particular description of the residents of each habitation. One house shall become security for another so that they shall all be reciprocally pledged and bound each for the other. They shall be divided into districts, each having a chief or prefect, to whose superintendence the district shall be subject. Secret intelligences or spies shall be appointed to each district, which shall keep a journal of local occurrences, arrivals and departures."
The Moghuls tried to ensure high standards by making the Kotwal personally responsible for the property and the security of the people. Akbar, like Sher Shah, had decreed the fixing of responsibility of village chiefs for highway robberies in their territories, that the Kotwal was to either recover the stolen goods or be held responsible for their loss.
In the reign of Shah Jahan a corrupt Kotwal was tortured and executed. Jahangir had appointed public news writers in each province and their reference sent to the court. Secret news reporters were also appointed. The efficacy of police is evident from the fact that crimes were uncommon. Concludes T.S. in his surprisingly well-preserved 1974 note.
The poor state of law and order these days must be making even the Great Moghuls turn in their graves. What to say of Sher Shah, who made the husband of a Hindu woman, grieved by the voyeurism of his son, ride a huge elephant past the royal palace in Delhi, so that the man too could (in retaliation) throw a bida or paan at the prince's wife bathing nude in the courtyard!
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