26 December 2009

Ten reasons why criminals in khaki get away

Behind every man like S.P.S. Rathore who abuses his authority stand the generals and footsoldiers who help and support him. We need to take them all down...

26 December 2009
The Hindu

Ten reasons why criminals in khaki get away

Siddharth Varadarajan

S.P.S. Rathore, the criminal former top cop of Haryana, may appear alone today but we must never forget that he was able to get away with the sexual molestation of a young child and the illegal harassment of her family for 19 years because he had hundreds of men who supported him in his effort to evade justice.

The fact that these men – fellow police officers, bureaucrats, politicians, lawyers, judges, school administrators – were willing to bend the system to accommodate a man accused of molesting a minor speaks volumes for the moral impoverishment of our establishment and country. Decent societies shun those involved in sexual offences against children. Even criminals jailed for ‘ordinary’ crimes like murder treat those serving time for molesting children as beyond the pale. But in India, men like Rathore have their uses for their masters, so the system circles its wagons and protects them.

The CBI’s appeal may lead to the enhancement of Rathore’s sentence and perhaps even the slapping of abetment to suicide charges, since his young victim killed herself to put an end to the criminal intimidation her family was being subjected to by Rathore and his men. But the systemic rot which the case has exposed will not be remedied unless sustained public pressure is put on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, two men who have it in their power to push for simple remedies in the way the Indian law enforcement and justice delivery system works.

First, abolish the need for official, i.e. political sanction to prosecute bureaucrats, policemen and security forces personnel when they are accused of committing crimes. The original intent behind this built-in stay-out-of-jail card was to protect state functionaries from acts done in the course of discharging their duties in good faith. Somewhere along the line, this has come to mean protecting our custodians of law and order when they murder innocent civilians (eg. the infamous Panchalthan case in Kashmir where the trial of army men indicted by the CBI for murdering five villagers in 2000 still cannot take place because the Central government will not grant permission), or assault or molest women and children. No civilised, democratic society grants such impunity. It is disgusting to see former officials and bureaucrats from Haryana saying how they had wanted Rathore prosecuted but were prevented from doing so because of pressure. Such officials should either be made formally to testify in a criminal case against the politicians who so pressured them or they should themselves be hauled up for perverting the course of justice.

Second, stop talking about how making the police and army answerable to the law will somehow demoralise their morale. Does anybody care about the morale of ordinary citizens any more? Or the morale of upright police and army officers, who do not think it is right for their colleagues to be able to get away with criminal acts?

Third, bring an end to the cosy relationship between the police and politicians. Rathore was protected by four chief ministers of Haryana. He served them and they served him by ensuring his unfettered rise. It is absurd that the Indian Police is still governed by a colonial-era Act dating back to 1861. A number of commissions have made recommendations for reforming the police over the years; but no government or political party wants to give up its ability to use and misuse the police for their own benefit.

Fourth, ensure that police officers who abuse their authority and engage in mala fide prosecutions are dismissed from service and sentenced to jail for a long period of time. Mr. Chidambaram should use the considerable resources at his command to find out who were the policemen involved in filing 11 bogus cases against the teenaged brother of the young girl Rathore molested. He should then make sure criminal proceedings are initiated against all of them. The message must go out to every policeman in the country: If you abuse the law at the behest of a superior, you will suffer legal consequences.

Fifth, ensure that criminal charges against law enforcement personnel are fast-tracked as a matter of routine so that a powerful defendant is not able to use his position to delay proceedings the way Rathore did for years on end. The destruction or disappearance of material evidence in such cases must be treated as a grave offence with strict criminal liability imposed on the individual responsible for breaking the chain of custody.

Sixth, empower the National Human Rights Commission with teeth so that police departments and state governments cannot brush aside their orders as happened in the Rathore case. This would also require appointing to the NHRC women and men who have a proven record of defending human rights in their professional life, something that is done today only in the breach. The attitude of the Manmohan Singh government to this commission and others like the National Commission for Women (NCW) and National Commission for Minorities is shocking. Vacancies are not filled for months on end.

Seventh, ensure the early enactment of pending legislation broadening the ambit of sexual crimes, including sexual crimes against children. Between rape, defined as forced penetrative sex, and the vague, Victorian-era crime of ‘outraging the modesty of a woman’, the Indian Penal Code recognises no other form of sexual violence. As a result, all forms of sexual molestation and assault short of rape attract fairly lenient punishment, of the kind Rathore got. In his case, the judge did not even hand down the maximum sentence, citing concerns for the criminal’s age. Sadly, he did not take into account the age of the victim and neither does the IPC, which fails to distinguish between ‘outraging the modesty’ of an adult woman and a young child.

A draft law changing these provisions and bringing India into line with the rest of the modern world has been pending with the NCW and Law Ministry for years. Perhaps the government may now be shamed into pushing it through Parliament at the earliest.

Eighth, take steps to introduce a system of protection of witnesses and complainants. The fate that the family of Rathore’s young victim had to endure is testament to the fact that people who seek justice in India do so at their own peril.

Ninth, ensure that robust interrogation techniques like narco-analysis, which are routinely used against other alleged criminals, are also employed against police officers accused of crimes.

Tenth, the media and the higher judiciary must also turn the light inward and ask themselves whether they were also derelict in their duty. The Rathore case did not attract the kind of constant media attention it deserved, nor do other cases involving serving police officers accused of crimes against women, workers, peasants and minorities. As for the upper courts, their record is too patchy to inspire confidence. It was, after all, the high court which chose to disregard the CBI’s request for including abetment to suicide charges.


Ravi G. said...

Excellent article. Thank you for the lucidity. It almost seems that the entire system has become rotten with corruption of all types.

How many Ruchikas would it take for the Govt to wake up and toughen up the laws and implementation?

Dhavala said...

As always, Sid, you hit the issue right on target. What riles us to the core, more than actions of people like Rathore do, is the fact that the system shields them and the long drawn out process saps the energy out of most people who want justice. Most of the media currently, rightly so, is focused on this case, but will forget it soon when the next event comes along, only to wake up when another such injustice comes to light.

To this extent, editors of major dailies, must at a meeting chalk out the demands to fix the system (like you did) in a time bound verifiable manner, and be the voice of the people to demand the change (not just voice a criticism). Serve notice on the administration and give an ultimatum if so required and mobilize people if the response is less than satisfactory. In short don’t let the focus slip. Success in this instance will serve as a blue print to action for more such fundamental repairs badly needed for our country, for which there is broad demand from people cutting across political lines.

Anonymous said...

While I mostly agree, I beg to differ on point #9. Narco-analysis is not a "robust interrogation technique". It barely even works.

अफ़लातून said...

क्या सीबीआई ने आत्महत्या के लिए मजबूर करने वाली धारा आरोप पत्र में लगाई थी ?
इसी पवित्र गाय ने बनारस के संरक्षण गृह में प्रभावशाली लोगों द्वारा यौनाचार के मामले को खत्म किया।
मीडिया के सहयोगी रुख के बावजूद मऊ की महिलाओं के शराबखाना विरोधी आन्दोलन में पुलिस द्वारा यौन अत्याचार का मामला NHRC के जांच कर्ता (जो मऊ के एसपी के प्रान्त का था)ने खारिज कर दिया था।
महिला उत्पीड़न की जांच में महिला जांचकर्ता रखनी होंगी।
NCW तो नख-दन्त विहीन है । पहले उसे मजबूत करना होगा।

Sudhir said...

Superb piece. You have rightly analysed the role of all stakeholders in ensuring that such scumbags get let off.

It just pains to see the debate on the urgent need for police reforms is going on and on with no tangible breakthrough in sight. Sometimes I wonder if it is the police that is scuttling the reforms and not the politicians...

- Sudhir

sds said...

Kudos for your article; excellent piece. In the meantime let us remind ourselves that:

1. This Rathore is a [deleted]...

2. Systemic police persecution points to a greater system failure. A Police reform is 60 years overdue. In 2004 Dr Singh spoke of administrative reforms. Where is a scent of that? This case will die down in a few weeks. Then what? No one knows what is happening to the Rizwanoor case in Kolkata,for example.

3. Reading of almost daily scandals or corruption cases one wonders if the state/law is already defeated in India, especially against people of influence. I would like to know out of every complaint what %-age are charged; out of that in how many the courts take cognizance of and out of that in how many the authorities secure conviction! As cases take 30/40 years, the government may have 1960s data, if we are lucky.

3. My point is the law needs to be effective and must seen to be effective. For that if we need to reduce the burden of proof, so be it.

4. It is shameful how even a school did the bidding of the powerful. It is actually scary to think of the degree of persecution, the crudeness, brazenness and with seeming impunity with which all the acts were done!

5. It's an outrage. The tragedy is in India it is common.