Sadhvi Pragya has been in the news recently. In a highly controversial statement, she claimed to have cursed Hemant Karkare, chief of Mumbai’s Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), and, according to her, that led to his death. “Tera sarvanash hoga” (you will be destroyed) is the shrap (curse) she is said to have given to Karkare for allegedly torturing her while she was in custody. Karkare, as is known, was one of the senior police officers killed by terrorists on 26/11in Mumbai. He sacrificed his life while engaging the terrorists who had unleashed mayhem in India’s biggest commercial hub. Karkare was later awarded Ashok Chakra, India’s highest peace-time gallantry medal.
Sadhvi’s statement was outrageous, to say the least. Firstly, is she at all capable of invoking the curse of gods, as she boasted? Only a spiritually evolved person has such powers. Judging by her past record and present conduct, she is anything but that. If she had such powers, why did she not use those to destroy Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the mastermind behind the terrorist attack in Mumbai or Masood Azhar, whose Jaish-e-Mohammed was responsible for the attack on CRPF convoy in Pulwama? The country could perhaps dispense with the services of RAW if we had a couple of sadhvis like her. It is indeed unfortunate that a number of persons masquerading as sadhus and sadhvis are bringing disrepute to the saffron cadre by their acts of omission and commission.
Faced with strong reactions to her statement, Sadhvi retracted it and apologised, though she prefaced her apology by stating that she was taking back her statement because the “enemies of the country were being benefited from it”. It was thus a conditional apology and she continues to spew venom. One may not question her credentials for a parliamentary ticket, considering that all the parties are guilty of fielding disreputable characters who should be in jails rather than given an opportunity to enter Parliament. According to the National Election Watch and Association of Democratic Reforms, of the 4,450 candidates in the first three phases of the poll, whose affidavits could be analysed, 804 (18 per cent) have criminal cases against them while 543 (12 per cent) have serious criminal cases registered against them. It is a matter of concern that political parties continue to give tickets to persons of questionable — even criminal — background. The democratic structure is gradually getting eroded in the process.
The question of torture raised by Sadhvi is, however, relevant. Policemen are in the habit of using third degree methods on persons in their custody. What is the truth in this allegation? Sadhvi Pragya, an accused in the Malegaon blast case, was in jail for almost nine years from October 2008 to April 2017. In August 2014, the National Human Rights Commission ordered a probe into Sadhvi’s allegations of torture. The Commission, while closing the case in 2015, noted that the charges were “not substantiated by facts or evidence collected by the inquiry commission from the prison, courts, and the hospital where Pragya was admitted”. Earlier, the Supreme Court had also remarked in 2011 that Pragya had been examined by doctors at two hospitals and that they did not find any injury marks on her. So, the allegation of torture is not substantiated. It is unfair that a person who is no longer alive to defend himself is being faulted on this count.
The storm over Pragya’s vituperative comments on a celebrated police officer would blow over after some time, but it raises the larger question of not only politicians’ but even society’s attitude towards policemen who are working under extremely hazardous conditions in the disturbed theatres of the country 24×7. State police and central armed police forces’ personnel operating in the Northeast, Jammu and Kashmir, central India against the Maoists and against various shades of lawless elements in different parts of the country are putting their lives at risk day in and day out, while maintaining law and order. They are actually defending the country against terrorists and insurgents of different shades. It is estimated that more than 35,000 policemen have sacrificed their lives since Independence. In no other country of the world, policemen die in the performance of their duties in such large numbers. And yet, an average policeman finds that he is getting brickbats, proverbially and physically, most of the time. Bouquets are reserved for the privileged few.
Not that the policemen are keen to get bouquets. What causes them anguish is that they do not get the kind of respect and recognition which their sacrifices entitle them to. What is worse, as happened in Sadhvi’s outburst against Karkare, even their sacrifice is trivialised. The political class needs to realise that candidates with such sharp tongues would alienate large sections of people.
Let us, for a moment, forget about respect and recognition also. Give policemen at least the necessary resources, equipment and the working environment so that they are able to deliver services. There are huge deficiencies of manpower. Infrastructure is pathetic. Forensic support is inadequate. And, on top of all that, the politicians and the bureaucrats are breathing down their necks all the time, asking them to arrest X, exonerate Y, not pursue disproportionate case against Z, and so on. In the process, we are confronted with the reductio ad absurdum of a person charge-sheeted yesterday and given a clean chit today. Why can’t we rise above parochial considerations and allow the investigating agencies to pursue cases without any extraneous pressures? Why can’t we enforce even the directions given by the Supreme Court?
If the present façade continues, we may in the not too distant future see the death of democracy in the country. Already, people are beginning to wonder whether we have genuine or fraudulent democracy. Politics has become murky. Language is abusive. Cash and liquor are in abundant supply to bribe the voters. Election Commission is effective only by fits and starts in performing its mandated functions. In such an atmosphere, when the Rule of Law tends to get substituted by the Law of Rulers, the policemen do not know what to do and whom to look up to. And then, there are people ready to rub salt into their wounds.
This article first appeared in the print edition on April 26, 2019, under the title ‘The curse on the cops’. The writer is chairman, Indian Police Foundation.