Infernal affairs

It’s no use making the relevant laws stringent if crimes against women are investigated by the police in the way they have been doing so far

Somewhat surprisingly there has been a plethora of criticism of the government’s super-prompt promulgation of an ordinance to give effect to the J.S. Verma report — also submitted in record 29 days — to strengthen the laws against sexual crimes against women. Never before has a report been given effect to so rapidly. Some, such as the Sarkaria Commission report on Centre-state relations, have been gathering mounds of dust for decades.

Obviously, the powerful reason behind the speedy action this time around is the massive, angry agitation across the country against the horrific gangrape and murder in a Delhi bus on December 16, 2012. The powers that be are conscious that unless they are seen to be acting fast they will forfeit the support of the increasingly important educated middle class in the run up to the 2014 general election.
Yet so furious were the critics of the “inadequate” ordinance that a number of women activists appealed to President Pranab Mukherjee “not to sign the ordinance” — an advice he has understandably ignored. However, there is no denying that there are serious gaps in the ordinance apart from those recommendations of the committee of three eminent jurists that the Cabinet has rejected.
In my view the Congress-led government’s worst, crass and deplorable default is its utter disregard for long-delayed police reforms, the critical importance of which the Verma Committee had underscored without dilating the point.
It is clear to even the meanest intelligence that it would be pointless to make the relevant laws as stringent as possible if crimes against women are to be investigated by the police in the way they have been doing so far. It is no accident that police stations usually refuse to register FIRs in rape cases. And when cases are registered, investigation and prosecutions are often deliberately mishandled, and the culprits walk free. When the kidnappers and rapists are people with political clout, as is the case on many occasions, the police sit on their hands. Shockingly, even after the outrage over the Delhi gangrape police officers in some places, especially in Punjab, told the rape victims not to “make a fuss” but settle the matter with the rapists. In short, without reforming the police, on the lines on which the Supreme Court finally directed way back in 2006, directions which all governments have defied with virtual impunity, any strengthening of laws would be an essay in futility.
The problem has deep roots. In the first place, two-thirds of a century after the tryst with destiny, Indian police continue to be governed by the Indian Police Act of 1861 and remain as colonial as in the heyday of the British Raj. This should explain why people are scared of the policeman rather than look upon him as friend.
The worst that has happened to the police in India after Independence is that they have been politicised relentlessly and remorselessly. In a TV discussion some days ago, a super-cop and a former commissioner of Delhi police, Ved Marwah, bluntly stated that the police have now become an “armed militia of the politicians in power for the time being”. He wasn’t exaggerating one bit.
The tragedy is that all political parties, groups and splinters are responsible for this scandalous state of affairs. A strange drama takes place in the states and at the Centre almost all the time. The parties in Opposition blame the party in power for misusing, even abusing, the police and even the Central Bureau of Investigation, whose credibility is relatively higher than that of the police in the states but seldom beyond question. Anyone who knows how the highly tainted, self-styled “godman” Chandraswami was acquitted many years ago knows how culpable the premier investigative agency was. In more recent times, the CBI has attracted much opprobrium for coming to the aid of Ottavio Quattrocchi suspected to be one of the recipients of the Bofors bribes.
Nearly half a century ago when the respected Gandhian, Vinoba Bhave, was persuading dacoits to give up their cruelty and crimes and surrender to him, rather than the police, he used to tell the people: “The police might save you from the dacoits, but who will save you from the police?” An outstanding civil servant used to say that there was no mafia more menacing than the combination of “police, criminals and political mentors of both”. It is only fair to acknowledge that politicians inclined to control the police for partisan and personal benefit have it easy because there is no dearth of police officers keen to bend over backwards to do the bidding of their political masters.
Syed Mir Qasim, one of the finest chief ministers Jammu and Kashmir has had, once disclosed publicly that he was horrified to notice that the inspector-general of police (there were no directors-general of police then) and other senior officers in his state used to fawn on a relatively junior office in charge of the chief minister’s security.
In these circumstances, is it any surprise that every time the chief minister changes in any state, even if the same party remains in power, the DGP is the first to be transferred and replaced by some favourite? More worryingly, during every election the Central Election Commission is constrained to transfer several DGPs known to be ultra-loyal to the reigning politicos.
Altogether the situation is horrendous beyond words. The horror of horrors is that Supreme Court’s 2006 directives — issued after hearing all objections during a decade-long litigation — remain on paper because chief ministers refuse to implement them. But what about the Centre that should have enforced these in Union territories, especially in Delhi where it controls the police? Regrettably, it hasn’t done yet. Let the police be liberated from the stranglehold of self-seeking, rule-bending politicians and be made servants of the law, as is the case in all civilised societies.

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