Mostly, the poor and the deprived are at the receiving end of the rough and ready methods of the police. Though oneÔÇÖs heart goes out to them, the mind does not permit one to outrightly condemn the police officers taking recourse to such methods because for most of them there are no other effective investigative tools available within reach, says Anil Kaushik
It appears that in the infamous case of rape and murder of a minor girl in Shimla, IG Zahur H Zaidi has been arrested along with seven other police personnel for the alleged crime of causing custodial death of an accused through torture. Whether the arrest was due to direct involvement in the alleged crime or because of vicarious/supervisory responsibility or was it merely an expedient action on the part of the CBI, the arrest clearly indicates even to a gullible police officer that an investigator may cut corners at his own risk.
All police officers and knowledgeable citizens are well aware of it by now that those controlling the pillars of the State do not lose their nightÔÇÖs sleep over providing proper wherewithal to the police department for its effective functioning. To begin with, there is an acute shortage of human resource. In addition, professional capabilities of a large number of members of the force are suspect. As for transportation, most of the staff of the police stations either use unfit police vehicles or case property vehicles. At times, they may even coerce the complainant to provide the transport or commandeer a conveyance to chase a suspect. To add to the lack of resources, human, material and infrastructural, are the monetary ones; the money spent on the arrested personÔÇÖs meals and similar needs may not be reimbursed in years to come. Thanks to the telecom revolution in the country, connectivity of the key field functionaries is primarily being maintained through personal mobile phones. More often than not, the forensic laboratories are under-staffed with meagre funds at their disposal. The reports from forensic medicine experts can take months to arrive to carry the investigation forward. Any informal consultations with them are strictly dependent on goodwill maintained by the investigators. The next link in the chain of investigation and prosecution, the District Attorney offices, are reeling under staff shortage to the extent of facing difficulties in presenting their cases in the court. So where is the question of an investigator seeking and obtaining legal guidance during the stage of collection of evidence?
If the above scenario is not chaotic enough to send the police investigative machinery into disarray, there are other road blocks waiting for a well meaning investigator. There are times when some suspects may have to be kept under surveillance. Legal provisions in this regard are complicated and at the police station level, no infrastructure is provided for the purpose. At times, a key witness may have to be assured of protection in future for the successful prosecution of the case but sadly enough no institutional arrangements exist for the protection or rehabilitation of such a witness or victim. Thanks to the propensity of the police to avoid registration of cases, just a rudimentary data bank of crime and criminals exists and even the access to this bank may throw up challenges. Think of a facility required for investigation and it can be missing or be in a near miss state. Instructions exist for issues such as, no handcuffs on the accused, his medical examination, legal access to him, video recording of his interrogation, etc, which are reiterated to investigators from time to time, but no provisions for human and material resources have been provided in most of the police stations. The investigator is expected to exercise his innovative skills for jugad in order to carry out the investigations, and not depend on the run of the mill kinds of professional techniques. And all these worries, added to the customary stresses of a police officerÔÇÖs life!
For a successful investigation to be executed, willing cooperation from the general public should be a given. But the police culture of considering a complainant an intruder in their comfort zone ensures that a victim of crime, or even a citizen seeking legitimate police cooperation finds interaction with them extremely distressing. More often than not the investigators may find themselves working in splendid isolation or in the company of their cronies, informers, touts and stock witnesses.
Those who control the destiny of the department and its officers deserve the credit, at least for one fact: if they are not concerned about making the police a fully functional and professional force, they are also not much bothered about the quality of results the force delivers. They may essentially want their whims and fancies catered to and their political and personal interests protected and promoted. However, at times, when the public pressure mounts in reference to a particular case to an uncomfortable extent, or if a rival is caught on the wrong foot, they expect the same, so far neglected, much abused and maligned force to instantly turn professional and produce results overnight. There is a general feeling amongst the police that they are used as instruments of structured as well as un-structured violence against people and even made the scapegoats, if the situation becomes too hot to handle for those at the higher echelons of power.
In such an atmosphere, many police officers have started to consider the ÔÇÿthird degreeÔÇÖ method, a reliable and professional investigation tool available with them. With the third degree method as a ÔÇÿlegitimateÔÇÖ weapon in their armoury, many successful investigators have won laurels and medals. The use of this uncalled for tool is not merely considered an investigation aid, it also provides a false sense of power to many a cop. And a few can be tempted to use this halo of power in self interest.
Over a period of time, the story, however, stands more complicated. If custodial violence is winked at, some custodial deaths are inevitable. Such incidents can cause quite a stir, even an uproar and add to the prevalent public dissatisfaction. In fact public dissatisfaction has turned more and more virulent and violent due to multiple factors. In the last few decades, the country has witnessed extremism, militancy and terrorism spreading in different parts of the country. In order to counter their perpetrators, tweaking of laws and strengthening of security forces to an extent have been done but they have not helped much. Violent clashes initiated by members of certain outfits and their encounters with the security forces became a familiar reality in disturbed areas. Along with such encounters came the dubious encounters to eliminate dreaded criminals because the criminal justice system was found to be either inadequate to deal with them through the established procedures or was found to be just too slow. In the given circumstances, certain tough Investigating Officers (IOs) emerged as ÔÇÿencounter specialistsÔÇÖ. Such was the charisma associated with these specialists that all forces involved in internal security operations in the country have their own specialists.
Police brutality against the suspects, and sometimes the general public as well, has been widely prevalent since the British times. In independent India, initially, the leaders of the force,i.e. the IPS officers, like their political masters, could feign ignorance and give mealy-mouthed assurances. By and by, police officers at the cutting edge and the political class realized the otherÔÇÖs worth and began to cultivate each other. Due to the machinations of such officers and also because of the conduct of a few IPS officers, the clout of the cadre over their own force began to diminish and the sheen gradually faded even in the eyes of the public. Some of them accepted their fate and many others started to adopt the ÔÇÿprovenÔÇÖ methods of success in this wide wicked world, including the third degree. As long as the going is good and the protection of the State is available, everything stays fine but as and when the situation explodes, it is realized that making an example of a ÔÇÖbrutalÔÇÖ IPS officer creates a much better story than hanging, say, a ÔÇÿpoorÔÇÖ Sub Inspector.
The prevailing conditions in the police department are not merely the result of a crumbling infrastructure and the attitude of components of the State. Trouble in the system has been brewing for long. Right at the outset, with a third world infrastructure we adopted the first world laws and procedures. In respect to the criminal law, we embraced a system which gives the right to silence to the accused, and ordained upon the state to collect full evidence against the accused. Puncturing a few holes in the chain of evidence was enough for an accused to earn acquittal. When the crime couldnÔÇÖt be controlled, the state revived legislations from the British times for detention without trial. First came the Preventive Detention Act, 1950, then the Maintenance of Internal Security Act, 1971 and last of all to be brought on the books was the National Security Act, 1980. Such Acts have invited the ire of the liberals, but have not achieved desired results on the internal security front. So far, a suitable legal system has eluded us, which satisfies the liberals, ensures internal security and looks after the basic safety needs of all citizens, whether rich or poor.
Mostly, the poor and the deprived are at the receiving end of the rough and ready methods of the police. Though oneÔÇÖs heart goes out to them, the mind does not permit one to outrightly condemn the police officers taking recourse to such methods because for most of them there are no other effective investigative tools available within reach.
Even in the British times half-hearted attempts were made to introduce reforms in the police. After the independence, the Union Government in 1977 appointed the National Police Commission with wide terms of reference for police reforms. A comprehensive study was made by the Commission which made exhaustive recommendations. But the whole issue stayed stuck in the political quagmire and was soon forgotten. In the year 1996 a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court for directions regarding the police reforms. After a decade the court in the year 2006 issued some directions on specific points, which by and large remain unimplemented. The stage for piecemeal, incremental reforms to be pursued in isolation is long over. Though dated, the CommissionÔÇÖs recommendations can be treated as the starting point for a fruitful exercise to chalk out the road map for reforms, provided our pillars of the State show a purposeful involvement, instead of scoring brownie points. Unfortunately, till then, we will be witness to police brutalities and knee jerk responses periodically.
(Anil Kaushik is a retired Punjab Director General of Police. The views expressed in this article are his own.)