The brutal rape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit girl in Hathras on September 14 and her death in Delhi’s Safdarjang Hospital, two weeks later, has again brought into sharp focus the callous attitude of Uttar Pradesh Police, which has been under the scanner in the last few years for its inept handing of crime. Though the brother of the victim took her to the police station, the station in-charge allegedly showed no serious concern and asked him to take her to a hospital, and she was referred to the Aligarh Medical College Hospital. She was then shifted to the Safdarjung Hospital where she succumbed, leading to protests by various political parties. The FIR initially lodged made no mention of gang-rape till September 23, when the victim barely managed to reveal the names of the perpetrators. The officer in-charge of the police station has been transferred.
While granting bail to an accused on August 13 in a case of robbery, Justice Arun Kumar Tyagi of the Punjab and Haryana High Court observed, “The police is expected to take prompt action for registration of FIR and investigation on the basis of complaint disclosing cognisable offence. Any inaction on the part of the police not only leads to erosion of the faith of people in efficacy of the entire machinery devised for administration of criminal justice, but also weakens the rule of law which is the very foundation of democracy.”
A complaint lodged with the Sirsa police on October 31 last year turned into an FIR only on February 11 this year, that too after the complaint was lodged through the “chief minister’s window.” The comment of Justice Tyagi was in response to the petitioner’s contention that the FIR was registered after an inexplicable delay of over three months.
A mother-daughter duo who approached the Amethi police to lodge a complaint against their neighbour for sexual harassment were turned back and no action was taken against the culprits. Frustrated and dejected by police inaction, the duo attempted self-immolation in front of the chief minister’s residence on July 11. While the 55-year-old mother succumbed to burn injuries, the daughter is recuperating. The Superintendent of Police was transferred for inaction.
A complaint of sexual harassment of his niece was lodged by a journalist, Vikram Joshi, in Vijay Nagar police station of Ghaziabad district on July 16. No action was taken by the police on the complaint. Joshi was attacked and fired on four days later, while he was returning home with his two daughters. He succumbed to his injuries on July 22. The complaint was formally turned into a FIR on the day following the attack. The sub-inspector and the SHO of Vijay Nagar police station were suspended.
When a lab assistant Sanjit Yadav in Kanpur went missing, a complaint was lodged on June 22. It was modified to kidnapping after a ransom call. No serious action to get Yadav released was taken despite payment of Rs 30 lakh on the advice of police. By the time, the police got activated, he had been killed and his body thrown into a river. The Additional Superintendent of Police, the Deputy Superintendent of Police and eight others were suspended and the Senior Superintendent of Police transferred.
The spurt in crime in recent years in the country is a pointer to the fact that all is not well with the police administration. The UP Police has gained notoriety for its penchant for brutality and fake encounters and, of late, for its indolence in crime control. According to the latest NCRB data, UP tops in crime against women and against Dalits. While the figure of crime against women was 59,853, the number of cases of crime against the Dalits was 11,829 cases — which is 14.7 per cent and 25.8 per cent of cases in the country, respectively.
Most policemen tend to ignore complaints or attend to them in a lackadaisical manner – they perhaps believe that no action will be taken against them. They do not get into action till there is a media uproar.
In a 2006 judgment relating to police reforms, the apex court asked all states to set up a Police Complaints Authority (PCA). The Uttar Pradesh Police has ignored this directive. Just 16 states and Union territories have, so far, partially implemented the directives of the Supreme Court for police reforms. Unfortunately, with the kind of notoriety it has gained in recent years with record fake encounters and custodial deaths, UP Police should have taken steps to abide by the court’s directives.
Between March 2017 and mid-July 2020, the UP police was involved in 6,326 encounters in which 123 “accused” were shot dead while 2,337 sustained injuries. Thirteen police personnel were killed in these encounters, including the eight who were killed in Kanpur on July 3, and 957 sustained injuries.
Though no serious efforts have been made by most states and Union territories to seriously implement the directive of the apex court to set up the PCA, a few states have made perfunctory efforts. They are, however, not strictly as per the guidelines recommended by the Soli Sorabjee committee which was tasked to draft a Model Police Act to replace the Police Act 1861.
States and UTs have to get down to seriously implementing the directives of the Supreme Court by not only setting up PCAs in accordance with the guidelines but also create public awareness about the existence of PCAs in every district. The method of lodging complaints against the police personnel needs to be prominently displayed in every police station in the local language, along with names and mobile numbers of PCA members who can be contacted in case the police refuse to file an FIR. That the non-registration of FIRs could lead to two years imprisonment for the erring policemen should also be displayed on the boards in every police station to instill a sense of fear among the policemen.
Severe disciplinary action also needs to be taken against the District Police Superintendents — they can in no way be absolved of their responsibilities when crimes show an upward graph. Mere transfers are no solutions and nor are suspensions which seem to be done to pacify the public ire.
The writer is retired Inspector-General of Police, CRPF
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