Edit & Opinion

Rakshak ya Katil? Law unto themselves

Last week tore to tatters the slogan: With you, for you, always. The sordid tale has it genesis in a father-son duo keeping their mobile shop open 15 minutes into curfew hours in Tamil Nadu’s Santhakulam, being arrested and brutally tortured by the police who hit their private parts and buttocks leaving deep wounds followed by death. Worse, they tried to cover-up but for timely intervention of the Madras High Court which ordered a CBI-CDI enquiry. Earning the ignominy of rakshak nahi, katil.

Predictably, the public disgust has sparked rage nationwide even as courts continue to receive complaints and physical evidence of police torture of over a dozen victims. In fact, the heinous cold-blooded custodial murders of Jeyraj and Beniks are a chilling reality of the police becoming all powerful wreaking havoc with horrifying impunity. An environment, wherein the men in khaki behave like bloodthirsty katils with the State maintaining a deafening silence.

Turn to any mohalla, district, city or State the story is tragically the same. Be it a minor offence or major crime, brutality and bestiality have become synonymous with the police. Want to get rid of somebody? Call up the “Policewala Katil” From bride-burning to road rage, out-of-court “settlements”, fake encounters and torture deaths it has trapped all with bullet-proof precision. Sending petrified shivers down one’s spine.

Two cases in point: It is not incidental that umpteen complaints of police rancorousness in Covid 19 times are rampant whereby the pandemic has become a pretext to short-circuit the rule of law.

Thrashing and abusing migrant workers, shop-keepers and hawkers for not paying hafta, people forced to hop like frogs for being on the road during curfew.

A complainant goes to file an FIR. The SHO refuses to record it if it pertains to the rich and powerful or demands money, threatens and shoos him away. A woman complainant is molested and raped, specially in notorious UP and Bihar. If the FIR is against a corrupt policeman, God help. Who will investigate it? How will evidence be collected? None of his colleagues will oblige, to protect their own. Leaving the petitioner with limited options: Go to the media, write to higher authority and hope to hell that somebody pays heed.

Less said the better of our polity. All know what is happening. Umpteen Police Commissions have been constituted and over 8 reports presented. Only to be dumped in raddi and forgotten. Why? At the crux: Who should control the police?  The State Government or an independent body?  A Catch-22 question, for our power-greedy netas to honestly answer and us to stupidly expect.

Experience shows how over the years the police has not only misused but also grossly abused its powers. Scandalously, it defies logic and acc­ountability with impunity thanks to protection from their political mai baaps in power who use them as an instrument of partisan agendas against rivals, businessmen, hoi polloi etc.

Questionably, is the police more sinned against than sinning? Are the main culprits politicians? The truth is midway. Both are two sides of the same coin’ enjoying bonhomie when it suits them. Both work in tandem in furthering their own self-interest wherein the police has been politicised over a period of time by the misuse of power over appointments and transfers. Consequentially, the system becomes self-perpetuating.

Politicians appoint police leaders who are pliable and even, sometimes, iniquitous. Chief Ministers use transfers as a danda to get cops to do their bidding. Both khakiwallahs and Ministers scratch each others’ back with no concern for public good and for upholding the law. Hence, criminalization of politics has given way to politicization of crime and political criminals. Resulting in complete brutalization and dehumanisation of the polity and police.

Yet, can the ‘upar se order aaya tha’ excuse isolate the police from blame when in the garb of maintaining law and order it thrusts a reign of terror? Is it true that a deeper rot in our policing mechanism has crept in?

Think. ‘Encounters” have become a common phenomenon in policing across the country. Public approval of this blatantly illegal practice follows the steady breakdown of the judicial system over the last few decades. This practice has resulted in making criminals of policemen. Remember the public’s gleeful joy when the Telangana police gunned down four rapists. Unless the judicial process comes back fast on track public pressure will succeed in perpetuating this uncivilized practice.

As things stand, frustrated officers with nothing to lose engage in abusive behavior which is compounded by unskilled junior and low ranking officials going along to please their bosses, earn their confidence and become partners in crime. Those who refuse are humiliated and given punishment postings. In UP the average tenure of DSPs is an abominable three months. Punjab, too, has a poor track record.

Of course, police is notorious for highhandedness and third-degree torture methods. Senior officers call it a normalised practice from the British era. Officers thrive by releasing photos of accused in police custody with fractured arms and legs. “Slippery toilets” at the station are cited as reason for their fractures to the magistrate. Notwithstanding, it is ‘normalised’ extra-judicial punishment “to criminal elements.” In every State there are often a handful of senior officers who endorse such extra-judicial practices for their flawed understanding about criminals and their origins.

Said a senior police officer, “compromises have become more a routine than an exception. This encourages corruption, which is an all pervasive phenomenon.” The problem is “hafta” and “chai pani” are considered a policeman’s birthright who get away by hiding behind netas for their venality. Recently, a Delhi Police DCP stood accused of amassing disproportionate assets worth a few hundred crores while a UP Police DG disclosed an Inspector General was under investigations for releasing a criminal involved in the Nabha jailbreak.

Where do we go from here? The Government needs to equivocally spell out that police excess will not be tolerated under any circumstances. It must not only end the prevalent culture of impunity but also impress upon the force that due process must be upheld and that it is not a privilege but the citizen’s right.

Time to enact laws against torture wherein Parliament should ratify the UN Convention Against Torture and amend the Indian Evidence Act to make inadmissible any evidence obtained on the basis of police interrogations that involve the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or other illegal coercion.

Alongside, create a system of effective independent investigations into complaints of police abuse and misconduct. This is paramount against the backdrop there is no independent and effective investigations into complaints against the police. To reduce impunity Central and State Governments should undertake independent investigations and comply with the Supreme Court’s order in the Prakash Singh case mandating the establishment of a Police Complaints Authorities and provide such bodies sufficient resources and independence to carry out their duties in a way that creates public confidence.

Simultaneously, the Government should provide incentives for better police behaviour. Fill more senior and junior positions by promotions, not direct recruitment. Senior police officers should actively encourage juniors to innovate police station procedures and publicly appreciate them. The Centre should bolster the capacity of the National and State Human Rights Commissions and create a culture that rewards respect for human rights and professional conduct.

Clearly, the police will have to change radically in order to become people-friendly. The goal should be to reinforce the Rule of Law along-with the ethos shifting from enforcement to enablement. Law and Order should be divided into two separate departments. With a separate police force for each.

As Herman Goldstein succinctly said: “The strength of democracy and quality of life enjoyed by citizens is determined by the police’s ability to discharge duties.” Will the aam aadmi continue to rot behind iron cages at the hands of the policewala katil? A time to ponder and introspect: Kiska danda, kiski lathi aur kiski bhains?

 

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