And what a welcome home it was!
It seemed to me that the city was on fire. On one hand, activists forced the courts to re-examine the Priyadarshini Mattoo & Jessica Lall cases, and on the other, the sealing drives pitted the traders against the government, causing havoc in the city.
This is why I came home.
While talking to Kundan, he pointed out that for every Jessica Lall case there are tons still waiting for court dates. Yes, I said, but the ones that are getting attention are Delhi based cases, and because of the activist mechanism in place- compounded by media attention, it’s a start. And smaller cities can follow this example. Look at the Dalit murder case- it’s because the people have objected that the police are launching an investigation and now the Chief Minister expects some results in a month.
But, the real problem we face is trickier. No, it’s not an over-zealous media that seems to try criminals and deem the innocent/guilty (yes, Manu Sharma should have a fair trial; I didn’t think he would get it, but I have to admit, Ram Jethmalani certainly has my attention. His theory that someone else shot her because of reasons other than the fact that she refused to serve alcohol—is intriguing. I want to see what evidence he has.) No, it’s not even the judiciary per se- (and yes, the move to make the judges more accountable is a step in the right direction, but it remains to be seen how effective it will be since the judiciary wants to remain independent and will not allow the legislature to judge it). No, what is worrying me is the state of the police. The guardians of truth, justice, honor (yadayadayada)- and how scary it is that we can totally not depend on them.
First, this is for all of you who may not have come across this very troubling incident in the news. So there was an exam to enter the police, which the 17,000 odd applicants found rather tough. In protest they started rioting- destroyed shops, assaulted women, generally behaved like the sort of hooligans that need to be locked up by the police. Ah, the irony.
On top of that, even in the Dalit murder case- and this is one of many in the country- the police did squat to register a complaint or carry out an investigation till there was uproar amongst the people. On a smaller scale, we have all experienced it, the always bribable traffic cop.
The general lack of faith in the police is troubling me- or rather, the general lack of performance by them. When they need to be efficient, they certainly are. So what it seems to boil down to is that ordinary people who do not have the benefit of the media spotlight or a powerful relative/friends can find police co-operation and efficiency an arduous task.
Let me explain. When a crime is committed and one goes to the police in India, they determine if an incident has taken place. In the case of cognizable crimes (capable of being known as is the dictionary definition) the police are allowed to arrest without a warrant- this happens for theft, burglaries and the like. Now, according to the law the police have to take down a FIR (First Information Report) that is accepted by the law without question. The theory behind it is this: when the police are told of a crime, they do not have any prior information so the statement stands and if the person changes his/her story later, they can be accountable for changing it. Now, a lot of times the police wait to see the scene of the crime, question other people and the like so that the FIR has as much information as possible—however, this is not really what the law envisioned. But, on the flip side, sometimes the police don’t even write a FIR unless they are bribed or forced. This can make it very trying and very difficult for the regular citizen who does not have clout to have faith in the police. For example, as mentioned, this was what happened with the recent Dailt murder case in Nagpur. The police only started to investigate the crime after there were mass protests. It figures, a Dalit family would need a mass based support to get any iota of justice.
It’s the same when it comes to checking corruption within the government- because most Public Service Units have their own Vigilance Commissions that keep a check on the activities. However, this is tricky because to register a complaint, one needs to go through a bureaucratic process, and not surprisingly, many of those in the hot seat look after their own, especially with a little incentive. The CBI does step in to expose many crimes, but they do have a limit on how many investigations they can handle.
So while the media allows power to the people, even more today because of the mushrooming channels that take up causes, the police has not yet stepped up its game. And with the possible inclusion of those horrible hopefuls who went rioting and raping because their entrance exam was too tough- the future appears bleak.
But bringing out these injustices in the open is the only way to change things. The RTI (Right to Information) Act has helped many people find justice because when you demand an official answer to why the law was not carried out, authorities have found it easier to perform their jobs instead of making excuses about it.
The law is on our side. Enforcing it is a whole different ballgame. And we must regain the right to be protected fairly and equally. Its time to take back the night.
‘Dantedownunder’, a fellow blogger, asked me what I plan to do with opinions. It’s a question I have often asked myself. Will participating in a rally make more of a difference than my rants (although, I hope my writing is not construed as ranting) on this blog. Now that I am joining the editorial department of the Indian Express, I know a larger audience means larger responsibility. But as they say the pen is mightier than the sword, and I hope this writing leads to bigger and better things in the future.