In Andhra Pradesh, the intention of the law enforcing and investigating agency ? the police ?is noble, as every where, I suppose. Being a part of the criminal justice system, they have a role to play, haven'tthey?
In the recent case of acid attack on two college girls, there was justifiable public outcry. Whether it is Swapnika of Warangal, Srilakshmi of Vijayawada, Kalpana of Srikakulam or Gayathri of Hindupur?they each had approached the police even as the harassments started. In most cases related to women, complaints are not taken seriously by the police. Even when the cases are registered the relevant and appropriate sections of IPC are not invoked. As a result the cases get watered down and the offenders get emboldened. The crime does not get prevented, notwithstanding the warning signals. The anger and the helplessness felt by the public only highlighted the repeated failure of the system, in protecting women from sadistic marauders on the loose.
In the instant case, the police understood this. The perpetrators were swiftly arrested and presented to the public through the media. Investigation was quickly completed, motive established, the source of the acid traced, motorbike identified, and confessions obtained. The case was laid out as clear as crystal. What then is left out?only delivery of justice. And, why trouble the courts? After all, the public wanted action, firm action, action that can deter any future criminal. They killed the three perpetrators.
The police have taken law into their hands. Killing while in detention is custodial death. The police have short-circuited the process. It is not the job of the police to deliver justice. If it is, have they failed Ayesha of Vijayawada? Whispers tell us that Ayesha'soffenders are well connected. Let'sbe clear: their job is to find and arrest the accused and produce him in a court of law. They should build a tight case for the prosecution to convince the court and obtain the harshest punishment such criminals deserve. Police is mandated for this and only this far. They cannot usurp the powers of the Court.
Crimes against women normally start with teasing. They escalate rapidly ending in tragedy. Thereafter the victim, if alive and her immediate family endure the tragedy throughout their lives ? seeking justice through the courts, which as things stand today is a long drawn and tiring process. In the prevailing circumstance, understandably, the action taken by the AP police in shooting down the three accused, was welcomed by activists, parents and the public. But the objective here is to address the issue from the platform of preventing crime. The objective is also to see if one institution of the State can take upon itself another'sjob, even on noble intentions.
The police in AP are working against heavy odds. It is a state which is struggling to address the naxal problem through all legitimate means. Political leadership has played its role sometime to the moral detriment of the force. The force has lost several of its men and officers in process. Human rights activists are very alert and vocal in the state. Women'sgroups (remember the anti-arrack movement?) are assertive. Police'sgrievance has been that the rights of men in uniform concern nobody. In such an environment through their lightning like action, they can at best, earn a few brownie points from the public. But it has damaged their credibility for a long time to come.
Experience shows that officers are normally sensitive and responsive to the common man on their day-to-day matters of concern. The men as opposed to the officers are the ones we access when in distress. Most often they lack sensitivity. Women constables are no better. They are even judgmental. They counsel women ?to adjust.? In short, they lack professionalism and they make up for it by behaving matronly. Police today play every other role ? a VIP'sman Friday, marriage counselors, arbitrators in local disputes, etc.
It is tempting to conclude the men are not skilled to conduct an investigation. They do not meticulously collect evidences. In many cases witnesses are frightened out as they suspect police'sconnivance with the powers that be. They are patently unable to meet the demands of the court in presenting their side. The prosecution most often starts and plays its role as a loser. It will not be an exaggeration to say that they are suspected rather than trusted by the public.
There are virtues in allowing the system to work. In fact, we have made the conscious decision to allow systems to work when we proclaimed to the world, ?We the people of India?? in giving ourselves the Constitution. During the trial in the Courts, several other links are brought out, which sometimes help in solving similar cases. Both sides get due hearing. The failings of the system are identified. Transparency and right to appeal are imbedded in this process. Conviction has the full backing of Truth. The accused, if exonerated, gets a credible new lease of life. All this was thrown out of the window, with impunity in AP.
There is an urgent need to bring in reforms to the police establishment. We need to separate the investigation and policing wings. The force has to be strengthened with skills and in numbers too. They will have to earn their credibility back by performing their due role rather than ?role play? another.
(The writer is Member, National Executive of Bharatiya Janata Party and former member of National Commission for Women.)