Provisional Authority: Police, Order, And Security In India

Author: Beatrice Jauregui
Publisher: Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. 240p.
Reviewer: John Tahiliani | July 2017

Beatrice Jauregui in her book Provisional Authority: police, order, and security in India makes the case of identifying the police of India as an agency rife with complex red tape, poor funding and staffing, and policing amongst a dizzying array of social-political cues.

The book begins with a well presented example of illustrative methodology that highlights the street level leviathan that is modern policing in India. Jauregui takes us on the journey of life as a patrol level officer in India. Along the way, the author weaves contemporary theories, some of which apply and some of which are in contradiction to the reality of policing in India.

Chapters 2 and 3 deal with ethical issues. Specifically, the author focuses on the concept of jugaad, which roughly translates to “getting things done”. Given the social, institutional and political pressures, jugaad acts as a powerful value guiding the police. What should be routine police work is complicated greatly, given the pressure that multiple competing politicians and bureaucrats place on individual officers. The patrol officer, for purposes of survival, acts to satisfy these interests in order to “get things done” (jugaad).

Chapters 4, 5 and 6 deal with the officer perceived necessity to use force in order to gain compliance. Jauregui makes the case that the lowly status of police, coupled with the poor if not absent police leadership, is to blame for some of the illicit acts that make headlines in India. The author ends with an unpacking of India’s complex narrative of law enforcement, and offers an alternative viewpoint to what has been previously presented in the literature; a viewpoint that comes from the perspective of the street level officer.

In spite of India being the world’s largest democracy, law enforcement in India has been little researched compared to other countries. The literature on policing in India is generally littered with first-hand accounts of former administrators pining about the adopted and dated colonial law enforcement system, the poor quality of subordinates, and the poor funding that they claim contributes to the modern-day problems seen plaguing policing in that country. Much of the literature that exists lacks any sort of reference to theory, and essentially amounts to a collection of memoirs of law enforcement bureaucrats.

This is what makes Jauregui’s approach to the topic unique. The author’s sound methodology unpacks a policing environment that is not so straightforward, and not so easily understood; and, it gives the reader no quarter in finding immediate comfort in the form of simple solutions. This unraveling, coupled with reference to Western ideas of policing and politics makes for a compelling read.

The question I initially had reading this book was “who is going to read it”? The study of policing in India is niche research at best. Those few of us who study this area should certainly make this part of our literature on the subject. As mentioned earlier, this perspective, harvested through years of hard earned qualitative research, offers a perspective hardly seen in an area that one might say is desolate to begin with. However, upon further consideration, I began to think about other audiences for this work. It came to me that this book offers itself up as a wonderful reader for a class in qualitative methods. The author presents, in a very illustrative manner, how difficult researching in this manner can be. One comes away understanding the complexity of navigating gatekeepers, unearthing perspectives, and finding definitions for concepts that are not easily defined. This book is an admirable example of field research presented in commendable fashion to an audience that goes beyond those of us who study policing in India.

Dr. John R. Tahiliani, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, Worcester State University

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