Purge the police force

Last Updated 05 January 2013, 19:05 IST

No law will be implemented since the pivot of the criminal justice system is the police

The police repression of the young protesters against the gang-rape in Delhi was only one such in a series of incidents where the law protectors have turned brutal. Holding demonstration is the fundamental right of the people under the Constitution in this country. However, in India we always have a situation where this is interfered with by the government through clamping of prohibitory orders under Section 144.

Be it trampling on the chest of a protester fallen on the ground with his boot by a policeman in Bihar, or pulling activist Medha Patkar by hair in West Bengal, or midnight armed swoop on followers of Baba Ramdev, this has been going on for a long time. Unfortunately courts have not taken much initiative in this regard.

Police brutality happening in front of demonstrators is there for all to see. Media has carried pictures/video of police firing from the back of the farmers who were protesting on the Pune-Mumbai highway (August 9, 2011; three farmers died in the firing.) The farmers were protesting against diversion of agricultural water away from their land. Newspapers have often carried pictures of policeman beating up protesters fallen on the ground, of police circling the demonstrators and assaulting them. These are clear criminal acts and clear abuse of power by the police. One of the recent phenomena is the throwing of stones by the police on the protesters. There is no provision in the law to do this.

These acts are taken for granted by the police. You don’t find this kind of force used by police to tackle protesters in any country. The police should be punished for the criminal acts. Since it is almost absent, they become bolder. This has become habitual for them.

I have filed a case before the Supreme Court on how the police should deal with the demonstrators. This was done after the police atrocity on the villagers from Rampur and Bhajanpur of Forbesganj block of Bihar on June 13, 2011, who were protesting against blockade of a road connecting these two villages to facilitate construction of a private factory (in the brutality that followed, four people were shot dead by police, who forcibly entered the homes of the villagers. Police also triumphantly trampled the dead bodies.)

Here in Delhi, the anti-rape agitators refused to recognise the illegal, reckless and overbroad imposition of Section 144 and it was marvellous to see them battle the water cannons and pull down the barricades. It is this breaking of the rules of “normal” behaviour that has shaken the political establishment much in the way in which Arvind Kejriwal  (activist and politician) and his followers have refused to play by the rules.

Following the Delhi gang-rape, which exhibited the police inefficiency, several suggestions have been made. First came the suggestion for Fast Track Courts not realising that these courts which were started with fanfare many years ago are now being shut down across the country because the central and state governments do not want to spend money on these institutions.

Therefore, while the Fast Track Courts are being abolished, a token gesture is being made at Delhi to create an illusion that the state is responding to the cries of the people. Nothing could be further from the truth.

People’s manifesto

A study of the Law Day speeches of successive Chief Justices of India will show that India has one-fifth the number of judges that it needs – 12 per million population as against 60. Why is this? Because the central government refuses to provide adequate funds for additional judges in the annual budgets. 

If the judges’ strength increases five times, not only rape cases but all cases in the country would be completed in six months’ time. Dalit atrocity cases, family law matters, tribal displacement petitions, domestic violence cases, labour disputes, tenancy matters would then all be fast tracked.

However, pretence and tokenism is the order of the day. Delay is inbuilt in government priorities.

The Delhi gang-rape and subsequent demonstrations and overall police failure call for a “people’s manifesto.” What would be a people’s manifesto? First, the sacking of the police commissioner not for any other reason but because the head of a failed institution must resign. In our country, however, from the top the message has gone down that no matter how pervasive the failing, persons at the top will cling on to power. For the havaldar this means that no matter how he behaves with women, no punishment will ensue.

Second, since no law, not even the newly proposed stronger law on rape will be implemented since the pivot of the criminal justice system is the police and the force is today widely recognised as full of criminal elements with sexist, communal and casteist attitudes, the large- scale purge of the police force is the most important task to be completed.

Finally, the recruitment of tens of thousands of qualified and idealistic young women particularly from dalits, tribals and Muslims would turn this force around.

This is all wishful thinking. The focus has shifted to the law, while the enforcer of the law – the criminalized police force – is left untouched.

(The writer is a senior advocate in Supreme Court.)

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(Published 05 January 2013, 18:50 IST)

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