On December 6, in a sensational encounter, the four alleged rapists involved in the gangrape and murder in Cyberabad. The incident evoked extreme reactions. While the advocates of human rights are crying foul, many police officers and larger sections of the people, including politicians and celebrities, have hailed the Cyberabad police as heroes.
The protection of women and children in a burgeoning urban India has posed a huge challenge to law enforcement agencies in the last three or four decades.
Women and children are extremely vulnerable as a group and face violence both at home as well as in public spaces.
While many social, cultural and psychological factors, including patriarchy, individual depravity and a sense of anonymity, couple with poor urban infrastructure, contribute to the crimes, the problem ultimately lands at the doorstep of the police, with good reason. No amount of explanations and excuses, including inadequate manpower and resources, however genuine these might be, will be accepted by society if police fail to prevent crime.
The outrage caused by cases like Nirbhaya or the one at Cyberabad have had the potential to shake even elected governments. Thus, when a crime of rape with murder occurs, there is a great deal of pressure on the police to perform – and fast. This is something only a police officer can truly understand.
Apprehension of the accused and even securing a conviction becomes secondary. Instead, society wants to know how such a crime could have taken place at all. It demands its answer from the police. This expectation is fully justified – every citizen has the right to expect safety from the state and the police happen to be the only visible symbol of law enforcement.
Some of this frustration is directed at the criminal justice system (CJS), for its failure to deliver justice and with some degree of speed. However, the general public perceives the police as representing all limbs of the CJS and holds it accountable for all these aspects of the process too. The apathy of the CJS and the resultant frustration are evident in the mass approval of using torture as a means to elicit a confession during the police interrogation and in the widespread celebration of encounters as a means to liquidate criminals.
The public approval of these methods doesn’t just encourage police, it also provides an illusion of legitimacy to those use these methods. As far as the Cyberabad encounter is concerned, the jury is still out, although sections of civil society have been vocal in raising questions about ‘rule of law’ and human rights.
Let’s recall the situations in which the police can or does resort to force:
When the law allows it, to maintain law and order or curb communal violence, for instance
A genuine encounter
which happens when the police is forced to open fire as retaliation and / or in self defence. These situations normally occur in anti-dacoity, anti-Naxal, anti-insurgency or anti-terrorist operations, or when faced with a serious crime.
A fake encounter
In Cyberbad, an enquiry will be ordered into the alleged encounter. This will establish whether it falls under the second or third category. Every profession has a code of ethics and the police department is certainly no exception. The police force is sworn to the Constitution of India, in which are embedded principles like the ‘rule of law’ and ‘human rights’. It is best that the leadership adheres to these ethical principles in order to build and maintain its credibility, image and reputation. It must also demand that its rank and file comply also. Admittedly, this path is hard and long, it calls for sound professionalism and a great deal of patience.
Another distressing fact is that police departments across the country haven’t utilised the ‘Nirbhaya funds’ allocated by the Government of India. As per reports, Karnataka has spent a mere Rs 13.6 crore out of the Rs 191 crores allotted for women’s safety – a paltry seven percent. Such an abysmal record becomes hard to defence in the face of serious crimes against women, as ‘inadequate budget and resources’ are the stock explanations for poor performance.
Bengaluru has been witness to protests by activists and intellectuals on several issues. The demand for better civic infrastructure, or against schemes like steel bridges are some examples. While civil society is fully justified in criticising the police for its acts of omission and commission and demanding a police force that is effective and capable of protecting its women and children, it’s a pity that scarcely a voice is raised demanding the fair treatment of police and the implementation of police reforms. A well trained police force with adequate numbers and resources comparable to developed countries, whose morale is high, is the only guarantee for a safe society.
(The author is a former Director General and Inspector General of Police, Karnataka)