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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Now that the candle light vigils are over

To understand the evil that flourished in Nithari, look at its thana, or any thana across the country. That’s where it all begins. And where it still continues

Written by Abhinav Kumar |
February 16, 2007 11:57:23 pm

Dear Parul: I am writing to say, sorry for having failed you. Not just as a police officer but also as a citizen who still nurses the hope that even as spectacular achievements of IT and BPO contribute to record economic growth, we will find the time and inclination to grapple with the Leviathan, originally a beast of Biblical legend and used to describe the state in a book of the same name by the philosopher Hobbes in the 17th century, lovingly brought to life in post-Independence India.

I honestly don’t know which was the bigger crime. Your senseless rape and murder or the denial and delay of the justice due to you by the agents of the Leviathan.

As a parent I share the terror and horror of the residents of Nithari. The deranged actions of the two accused are no more or less perverse than other serial killers. What is sickening is the institutional rot that allowed the systematic abduction, assault and murder of children and young women to go undetected for so long.

Nithari is yet another damning indictment of the farce that passes for policing in India. The alleged cannibalism of Mohinder Singh Pandher and his accomplice is an apt metaphor for the brutal relationship between the Indian state and its weakest citizens, with the men in khaki the most visible instrument of this monster, this Leviathan that shames and fails us, citizen and cop alike, every day.

In a civilised society, three institutions are charged with the responsibility to ensure accountability of both the state and individual citizens in their public and private actions — the judiciary, police and media. The manner in which your rape and murder was treated was because all three institutions have struck Faustian bargains to become instruments of the Leviathan.

Let me start with the police. They remain primarily an instrument of asserting state authority against whosoever is perceived by the Leviathan to be the most immediate threat. In return for servility and acceptance of the beast’s priorities, they are permitted to prey on the weakest and most helpless sections of society. A police station in India is a sordid monument to the worst in human nature. The squalor, the pressures, the often thankless nature of police work would all be bearable if one felt that the police were genuinely enabled to enforce the law and protect the weak and helpless.

At the level of the thana, the rot that led to Nithari is not hard to comprehend. Ensure that recruitment is skewed in favour of thugs loyal to the ruling party; ensure that postings in areas with greater potential for illegal gratification are earmarked for officers who are willing to buy them for money or for other forms of adjustment, such as the right to decide whose complaints would be lodged and investigated, who will be arrested and who will be let off, who will be protected and who will be left at the mercy of gangsters; ensure that upright officers are hounded by frequent transfers and threat of suspension; ensure that the local cadres of the ruling party will take over the day-to-day decisions at the thana and the picture that will emerge will bear a striking resemblance to Nithari.

A simple thing such as the registration of an FIR is regarded as proof, not of the urgency of distress of a common citizen, but of political clout. Sadly, the law imposes no obligations on the police under the IPC to investigate a case of a missing person unless prima facie a case of abduction is made out in the FIR. Under the CrPC the police are duty bound to record the complaint but that is usually done as a simple entry in the General Diary with a district-wide wireless message as a follow-up measure. In the daily calculus of operational priorities at the thana level, this does not accord much importance to such cases.

People often complain about the colonial approach of the Indian police. The truth is that it is not just the relationship between the police and the citizen that bears a colonial imprint. The relationship between the state and the police remains colonial. The state at its highest levels regards the police as simply an instrument of state authority and not as an institution whose primary responsibility is to uphold the law without fear or favour. The Police Act of 1861 and the Police Regulations that emanate from it reflect this mindset.

What also needs to change is the sheer neglect of police infrastructure. A nation that can afford its nukes and submarines, new metros and airports and expressways can surely devote resources for systematic investment in improving police infrastructure. A federal structure cannot be held as a justification for allowing the state governments to get away with simultaneous impoverishment and abuse of the police machinery.

What also needs to be re-examined is the hold of two powerful trade unions, namely the IAS and the IPS, over the Indian state and their internal struggles for supremacy over the cutting edge police apparatus. For many in the IAS, the police are another tool of state patronage in their control. For the IPS the police are a fiefdom created for their personal comfort whose favours they share on a give and take basis with other powerful players in the state. In many states police reform is a forgotten footnote in the saga of IAS-IPS rivalry.

I used to think that living in India, the brutality and human suffering that one learns to ignore in everyday life is simply due to the immense poverty of the vast majority of its citizens. As this country’s economy creates more wealth for its poorer citizens, we would also become a more caring, more moral society. But looking at the last fifteen years of economic growth accompanied by many brazen crimes, large-scale loot of the public exchequer, frauds, scams and murders such as yours and of countless others that have gone unpunished, I am sadly confident that this is not the case. The very nature of the Leviathan, its ability to reduce men and women blessed with intellect and imagination to their base nature, has ensured that murders such as yours and the other young ones of Nithari will continue to be media events that will horrify but will not lead to any meaningful change in how the Leviathan engages with its citizens.

After the barrage of chest-beating in all forms of media has been exhausted, I hope your family and residents of Nithari understand that there is no shortage of candles and good intentions in our country. Justice for a raped and murdered young woman is quite another matter.

The writer is SSP Haridwar

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