OPINION: Let’s look beyond the favourite whipping boy
It is easy to point fingers at the police force and its perceived ineffectiveness for every law and order problem that crops up. But the political class and the society which it leads are as much to blame.
The public, the media and the common man are terribly upset with the gang rape of a 23-year-old girl by six persons on December 16, 2012. The victim died several days later, leaving the country to ask itself many questions.
For example, rape, which is one of the most ghastliest of crimes, does not attract capital punishment in India. Yet, it is the number of rapes that has seen the maximum rise among all cognizable crimes in the country recorded under the Indian Penal Code between 1953 and 2011. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, in 2011 there were 24,206 rape cases, while only 2,043 cases were filed in 1971. The NCRB also records other crimes against women; as per its national database, in 2011 alone there were 42,968 cases of molestation, 8,570 cases of sexual harassment 35,565 cases of kidnapping and abduction, 99,135 cases of importation of girls and 80 cases of cruelty by husbands and relatives. Even minor girls were not spared — 9,398 cases of rape involving children were registered in 2011. But given how many such crimes are never reported, I can safely say that even doubling the above figures would not bring us close to the actual figure.
The Supreme Court had ordered police reforms all over the country on September 22, 2006, with a direction to implement them by December 31, 2006. When no State carried out the reforms as ordered, the Supreme Court set up a committee under retired Justice KT Thomas in 2010. The committee, in its report, concluded that practically no State had fully complied with the directives so far, in letter and spirit, despite the lapse of almost four years since the date of the original judgement.
But then again, it is the police force which is almost always the most convenient whipping boy, even though the actual problem may lie elsewhere. For instance, Delhi Police is under the scanner now after the protests against the December 16 gang rape incident. But it will be worthwhile to examine the situation on the ground even as the people and the Government look for a scapegoat.
Delhi Police is the world’s biggest metropolitan police force with a sanctioned strength of about 83,762 personnel. However, on the ground, only about 30 per cent of that number is available for actual policing. In other words, there are about 27,921 policemen overall, or 9,306 policemen per eight hour shift, to provide security to 1.67 crore Delhiites. Of this number, 8,558 policemen are on control room duty, which includes those manning the Police Control Room Vehicles as well.
Now, as per orders from the Union Government, Delhi Police provides 7,315 policemen to 416 VIPs in this city. This comes to roughly about 18 policemen per VIP. Now take into consideration the fact that at any given time, 25 per cent to 35 per cent of any police force is not available either because there are positions that have not been filled or because personnel are on leave or on training etc. This further reduces the number of police personnel that are available for actual policing.
The Indian judiciary is no better. Against the total number of 895 Supreme Court and High Court judges, there are 282 vacancies. The situation is worse in the lower judiciary. As against the need of 77,000 judges, according to an estimate of a former Chief Justice of India, there are only 18,000 sanctioned posts — and less than 14,000 positions are actually occupied. No progress or development in the country is possible unless our laws framed back in 1863 are updated and modernised.
The Union Government must take the initiative in modernising India’s criminal justice system. This includes not only reforming the laws but also providing infrastructure that allows criminals to be effectively apprehended and prosecuted. Also, the Union Government can no longer hide behind the excuse that law and order is a State subject, especially since laws that need be passed are its own responsibility. Furthermore, there is something to be said about the fact that the country spends a whopping Rs1,65,00,000 on subsidies and social welfare schemes, but not even a pittance on the criminal justice system. The country’s apex court has more than once observed that the criminal justice system is on the verge of collapse.
The Delhi Chief Minister has demanded the resignation of the Police Commissioner — incidentally, one of the best police officers in the country — as the horrific December 16 gang rape happened under his watch. But the Delhi Government is also to be blamed. It had not take any action against the bus which was plying illegally and had been impounded six times in the past two years for not having a valid permit or even a fitness certificate. Instead, each time the bus was released after a meagre fine was paid. In other words, all the problems of the system do not lie with the Police Commissioner alone, but also stem from the indifference of the powers-that-be.
Dilly-dallying in modernising the laws is a game played by all Governments. It is not a big deal to change the laws, especially the ones that relate to crimes against women, including rape. For example, with the country now in favour of a death sentence for rapists, the Government can issue an ordinance to amend the Indian Evidence Act, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Indian Penal Code today itself. But this is, of course, only if the Government has the political will to bring about change.
It must also be borne in mind that, if the Government does not show the initiative, soon the time will come when people will begin passing judgements and execute the punishment for rape. In fact, it’s already happening. On December 22, 2012, four boys between the ages of 17 and 22, along with a middle-aged man, were stoned to death by an angry mob in Jharkhand’s tribal-dominated Khunti district. Local police admitted that those killed by the mob were in the habit of going around Manho village teasing women and misbehaving with them.
Yet, having said this, it is also important to focus on the other side of the story. In India at least, all rights have been given to the accused and not to the victim, and the so-called social-activists and the human rights-wallahs are quite silent on this issue.
Ultimately, every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. It is also true is that every community gets the kind of law-enforcement it insists on. Leniency is neither desirable nor is it something that criminals deserve. In fact, punishing mischief-makers will certainly act as a deterrent for others.
For now, the anger of the people is spilling on the streets and Government should be in no doubt about the fact that even a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. The Government still has time to deliver results.
But the million dollar question is: Will it?