The Pradyuman Thakur murder case raises multiple issues. It reflects the inadequacy of security in our schools. Parents, too, are answerable, if the behaviour of their children raises questions for which they don’t have answers and if they fail to share their concerns with teachers and, if necessary, the management. These issues need to be addressed across the school system.
But what this tragic incident also reveals is the sheer callousness with which our investigating agencies deal with such situations. The utter lack of professional competence and insensitivity is clear from the alacrity with which they identified the accused, a school bus conductor. We were informed through the media that the accused had already confessed. Imagine the consequences for the bus conductor and his family if the investigation had not been transferred to the CBI. Had the CCTV footage not been carefully scrutinised, the named accused would never have been enlarged on bail.
After long years of trial, had the accused not got the benefit of doubt, he would not only have languished in jail but might have suffered a life sentence, if not capital punishment. His family would not only be agonised during his incarceration but would have to face the ignominy of being related to an accused in the murder of a child. Societal angst and TV channels baying for blood would have nailed any chance of his acquittal. No one would have shed tears if he stood convicted.
The Pradyuman case shows how important it is to first investigate and only after objectively assessing the evidence, arrest and prosecute the accused. In India, not always but usually, it happens the other way around. The investigation authorities first arrest, then investigate. Where they want to shield someone, they catch hold of innocent victims. Where they are unable to identify the real accused, they implicate someone innocent only to show their investigative prowess. Our investigation agencies are handicapped in several ways. Their knowledge of the law is scant, to say the least.
Agencies also lack professional skills and are not adept at using technology. So it is easy to arrest, extract a confession, then proceed to create evidence and go to trial. Factors of caste and creed have become so important that investigators are hand-picked for particular cases and where the establishment so wishes, the investigation is tailored to achieve a particular result.
Today, the malaise runs deeper. The political class is using investigating agencies as tools for partisan political objectives. Heads of agencies are chosen to do hatchet jobs. The carrot of extension of service is followed by the grant of permanent status to those who oblige. The spectre of terrorism is sometimes used to eliminate people in fake encounters. These encounters, if discovered and proved, are used to polarise society. National fervour is stoked and the spirit of nationalism invoked. Those responsible for fake encounters are regarded as defenders of the faith.
Courts, at times, turn a blind eye to such victimisation. The prosecution looks on unabashedly when each of its witnesses turns hostile. We know that those obliged to uphold the law have turned a blind eye to crimes committed before their eyes. How else does one explain the absence of prosecutions after the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts?
The Supreme Court had to intervene to ensure investigations through SITs in response to complaints of state complicity in dealing with the riots in Gujarat in 2002. Had the investigations by Gujarat police evoked confidence, the SC need not have intervened. In other jurisdictions, too, investigations have been found wanting where criminal acts acquire a political flavour.
Justice, in all its manifestations, is essential if the culture of democracy is to flourish. Unbiased investigations are essential to delivering justice to the victims of crime. Many horrendous stories of people being accused of serious crimes without adequate evidence, suffering incarceration, being acquitted after seven to 10 years in jail, have come to light. The poor and the defenceless, like the bus conductor in the Pradyuman case, are often the victims. This speaks volumes about the cavalier way in which crimes are investigated. Many innocent victims and their families have suffered at the hands of agencies. There is no one to answer or to be held accountable.