Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka make up Commonwealth South Asia. Policing in this particular region contends with diverse societies, violent crime, protracted conflict, poverty, and political unrest. The police must be equipped to meet these challenges in support of democratic norms and human rights. Alarmingly, across the region, neither the advent of independence nor democracy has changed colonial policing laws and structures. Bangladesh, India and Pakistan are still governed by the Police Act of 1861. All of the countries of Commonwealth South Asia have initiated efforts toward police reform, some led by international donor agencies and others by national governments. In this way, the region offers varied examples of policing problems as well as insights into police reform. But it is very much a case of two steps forward, and another step back, as good laws are repealed, or important accountability mechanisms diluted or rendered ineffective in implementation.
CHRI’s South Asia program is designed to catalyse greater demand for, and understanding of, democratic policing and ways in which it can be achieved across the subcontinent. It started in 2007 with an analysis of the state of policing in the subcontinent and reform initiatives. This was published as a regional report titled Feudal Forces: Reform Delayed which has since become a biennial series. Gradually, the program began holding workshops with key stakeholders including the police, civil society, lawyers, media and oversight bodies in each country by way of promoting dialogue on taking forward reform agendas. Our focus was, and remains, to enable civil society play a greater role in demanding better policing. Since 2013 in particular, our regional work has expanded significantly. Across the region, our principal civil society partners include Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust, Dhaka, Center for Peace and Development Initiative, Islamabad, Individualland, Islamabad, and Maldivian Democracy Network, Male.