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India: Suffers further indignity from ineffective policing

AHRC-STM-019-2014
January 20, 2014

A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission

India: Country suffers further indignity from ineffective policing

The rape of a foreigner in the national capital, New Delhi, has placed India in disrepute, internationally. This incident comes just a year after a similar one shook the nation. The rape of a physiotherapy student had resulted in a nation-wide mass protest, provoked by the state’s incapacity to make the capital a safe place for women. Delhi state elections have come and gone; the national election is looming; but there has not been an inch of progress in the way the capital is policed. Inefficiency and ineffectiveness is the hallmark of policing in the capital, symptoms of the malady afflicting the nation.

The scandalous situation of a foreigner being raped in the capital should have provoked indignation and outrage equal to that which erupted following the rape of the Indian medical student. However, no such street protest or media outrage has resulted.

The Delhi law minister has pointed a finger at the police for their inefficiency. Unfortunately, in the process, he has also named the victim, and this has been a focal point of discussion for the Indian media. The rape itself and police incapacity to prevent such incidents have been given short shrift.

There is unanimous agreement that the police is a failed institution in India. However, public debate never centres on removing the fundamental and formidable obstacle to prevention of crime. Media usually uses events to inflate or deflate personalities.

The Delhi law minister of the recently elected Delhi state government, in what appears to be an attempt at being publicly pro-active, tried to launch action against human trafficking cartels in the wake of the rape of the foreign national. The media discussion that resulted, however, concentrated only on trying to underline the inexperience of the law minister -- whether the minister followed protocol in insisting that the police should act rapidly and efficiently after premises of alleged traffickers were pointed out.

The minister was exasperated that the police failed to make arrests. The excuse of the police officers for their inaction was that they needed search warrants for investigating premises at which a cognizable offence is taking place, even on a credible tip-off.

Before addressing the flawed logic of the police, the fact that the Delhi police is under the union and not the state should also be noted here. This is unique to Delhi, which is at once both the national capital and a state. As policing is a state subject under the Constitution, there is a direct conflict of interest between the state and the union administration; the police, is answerable not to the public that elect the Delhi state government, but to the bureaucracy that runs the Union Home Ministry and the minister that heads it. Police in India continues to be antagonist to the general population in India as it is. But, this conflict of interest makes police in Delhi, at a fundamental level, even more unaccountable to the majority residing in Delhi precincts.

The Delhi police refusing to act on the directions of the state law minister, in full public view, may be viewed as an example illustrating who the Delhi police considers its master. The only remedy for the state minister was to request that the Union Government take action against the erring officers, something promptly refused by the Union Government.

That said, the logic of the police officers, in refusing to follow the lead of the state law minister is itself flawed on two counts. On one hand, the police do not need search warrants, when dealing with a cognizable offence. On the other, what prevents the police officers from obtaining a search warrant expeditiouslyñ

Delay in action is a form of passing information to offenders. Delayed police response -- a norm, buried deep enough in public psyche to have become a cliché in films across South Asia -- allows time for offenders to remove traces of crime. When the ensuing delayed raid produces no results, police can blame complainants. This is an old trick. Everywhere the police aid and abet crimes, such tricks are in use.

Where wisdom prevails, legislators have found ways to reduce the possibility of such leakage of information and prevent other forms of abuse of the process of law by the police. The rationale for such wisdom is that the police, like other public institutions, must have the capacity and will to complete their assigned task efficiently and successfully. The task in this instance is to prevent rape and abuse of women.

In the 19th century, the British committed themselves to the philosophy of enabling their public institutions to deliver services for which these institutions were created. Much of the police reform in 19th century England was made on this basis. The creation of the London Metropolitan Police was a response to the social frustration with the policing that existed in London.

Why does India not commit itself to the creation of public institutions that are efficient and can deliver the services essential for the safety of everyone, including womenñ Why is there no commitment by India’s legislators to rapidly bring about the needed legislations and provide the required resources to create an efficient police service, capable of functioning within the framework of the rule of lawñ

Anyone riding a sick horse must face the costs, including delays, and its consequences. India’s police is sick at its core, and this is not to mention its inability to investigate or prevent crime. The legislators who ride on this sick horse are either blind or hypocritical about their claims of creating a law abiding law-enforcement agency. The Indian civil society, including the media, should concentrate on the fundamental danger rather than criticise personalities or insist on protocols to try and dress-up a sick institution.

ENDS

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