Kerala police ditch British era lathi drill, set new protocol for crowd control

The age-old drill involved jabbing protestors in the gut and hitting their heads hard with lathis.
Kerala police ditch British era lathi drill, set new protocol for crowd control
Kerala police ditch British era lathi drill, set new protocol for crowd control

Ten years after first proposing the revised protocol, the Kerala police have finally shelved the age-old, British era lathi drill that was being followed by its officers and, in its place, introduced a brand new routine.

The new lathi drills which insist on soft use of force, were prepared by Deputy Inspector General K Sethu Raman. It was approved by state police chief Loknath Behera on March 3.

“The British era drill was violent and outdated. It was designed to hurt people. The new drill focuses more on arresting people and hitting, if required, in body parts which consists of muscle, such as arms and legs. This way, we do not hurt protestors,” DIG Sethu Raman tells TNM.

It was during the 1931 Civil Disobedience movement that the British Raj, in its Madras Presidential Manual, first introduced the lathi drill. The drills, which were used to disperse freedom fighters, are still being followed in several states in India and until very recently, in Kerala.

“Protestors during the Civil Disobedience movement followed Gandhian values. They were non-violent and engaged in peaceful resistance. Despite hitting protestors with lathis, the colonial officers got away unscathed as the mob was non-violent by nature. In case the mob turned violence, open firing was done by the officers,” Sethu Raman says.

The British era drill consisted of commands such as ‘jabbing’ - which involved punching protestors in the gut, ‘lynching’ - beating mob members with sticks while on horseback and ‘cutting’ - hitting people with lathis on the neck and head. Not only were they violent, they also prove to be ineffective in today’s times as the mob reacts with violence, Sethu Raman adds.

“Today’s mobs comprise more of angry, violent youth. They come in bigger groups and they also hurl petrol bombs and pelt stones. As a result, a large number of officers get injured,” Sethu Raman adds.

The increasing number of injuries suffered by police officers during agitations led to drills being revised. However, while the rules for the revised drill were submitted back in 2009, it was only ten years later that the revision was ratified and finally introduced.

New drills 

The new set of drills have been inspired by crowd management techniques used by the German and South Korean police force. It insists on use of protective gear such as helmets, shields and shin guards. Besides this, segregation of mobs is also advocated, the DIG adds.

“In case of violent agitations, we will first take the leaders into police custody. Then we will round up 5-6 protestors who engage in violence. Usually, most protestors are non-violent barring a small section which begins pelting stones. We call this Subject Control Tactics,” he says.

Unlearning old ways 

Despite the change in the routine, the DIG adds that it would take a good five years for the police force to unlearn its old ways and switch to the new drill. Trainers will be deployed in each district to train officers in the new drill.

“For several decades now, our officers were being trained in the British era drill which is conducted every Friday. Last week, we did a trial round of the new drill. However, it will take a few years for the cops to unlearn the old ways and embrace the new routine,” he says. 

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