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Policing – After Hathras

By EMN Updated: Oct 07, 2020 11:30 pm

Looking Forward

I have travelled quite a lot both within the country and abroad. While within the country, our media readily gives us the daily dose, the dose is forthcoming in subtler variations when we are abroad.

Dent in International Image

I distinctly remember my days in Vietnam when the Nirbhaya incident happened and the outrage and public outcry in its wake. Even in tight-lipped Vietnam, people would walk up and ask – Is India very unsafe for women? Why is your police so inefficient and inhuman? Why can boys and girls not marry of their own choice or volition? Do you still have child marriages? Inter-caste marriages? Inter-religion and inter-ethnic unions?

Sure enough India is an enigma for some and chaotic, bordering on under-developed and unequal for others.

Subtler versions of queries would include – is India still deeply divided along caste lines? Is it possible to travel in the night, safely? If we travel to India, what clothes and attire one needs to take/wear? Do you have bars, pubs, discos and massage parlours? What are the avenues of entertainment, after work?

A discerning NRI friend attributed slow FDIs to absence of bars, pubs, discos etc,. Expats work hard and enjoy even harder, was his logic.

After the Nirbhaya and the over-doze which the media maintained, some from the Indian expatriate community, especially the ladies, were very apprehensive about their own safety and that of their daughters, were they to return home. There is fear, a definite fear, which starts yielding to phobia sooner than later.

Other incidents (other than sex-based crimes) against the under-privileged sections (who have still been denied access to institutions) which get highlighted in the public eye deal a deathly blow to our perceptions of safety and security. People start questioning the capability and the intent of the State to be fair.    

Once a consensus on a statistics based appreciation of ‘crime and law and order’ being incorrect is addressed, we could move to other measures.

[C] A number of amendments have been made in the CrPC/IPC to ensure that FIRs are registered by the police promptly. Even non-registration has been made punishable for certain crimes. However, the desired results have not been forthcoming – crime and L&O situations have erupted too often and the public trust and confidence in police (in particular) and the criminal justice system in general has remained low. To rectify things, some simple suggestions are as below:

(i) Political parties, leaving aside politics, should agree that statistical crime control is not desirable and that merely crime statistics won’t be the sole parameter for judging the ‘L&O’ scenario – it is much more;

(ii) Increased crime rates are a reflection of the public trust in the police, that police is friendly and wants to resolve issues rather than that of fear and that public respects its neutrality, professionalism and efficiency;

(iii) It should be made open for public to report all crimes that they want to. It should be made mandatory for police to register all crimes reported to it, whether cognisable or non-cognisable. There should not be any discretion to deny registration.

This can be done by enabling electronic reporting and integrating the same with the police stations in such a manner that the interface automatically generates a GDE number and FIR for the informant to follow-up on the progress of the case.

This would help build up a data base of crimes taking place, would help in free registration, enable non face-to-face registration, and also enable better supervision by the superior officers in the hierarchy.

This would also take-away the element of perceived fear from the minds of the deprived sections and remove their misapprehensions about going to the police or police station and being treated shoddily.

(iv) Currently there is a discretion to the police officers and O/C to deny registration of a report. This is where crime figures are brought down.

If mandatory registration is instituted, the police, could still be given the power not to investigate further (as it has already) for whatever reasons it deems fit as per law.

However, in this case, it should be made mandatory for the SHO or O/C or the police officer to assign reasons why he has chosen not to investigate the matter.

Further if the police and executive magistrates have taken action to prevent escalation by taking recourse to Security For Keeping The Peace And For Good Behaviour, that could also be reflected in the records. Other INCREPS where police has dealt with minor infractions by arrest and release on PR Bonds can also be reflected easily in that case and records maintained.

(v) To change our mind-set, we need to start using a more open ended term INCREP (INCident REPort) rather than an FIR (First Information). Despite the change of terminology, the evidentiary value accorded to the first report could be maintained.

All INCREPS should be registered, inevitably – whether they are oral or in writing or whether the INCREPS disclose commission of cognizable offences or non-cognisable ones (in which case, after the report, the police could re-direct the informant to the magistrate), whether these reports are through electronic means (email, telephone calls, social media messages/posts etc).

The reporting and recording of such reports would definitely increase the workload at the police stations in the investigation wings (wherever such wings exist) but would also ultimately help in quickly building up a vast database of incidents and also the suspects/accused persons, new modus operandi, lists of stolen articles – vehicles, arms and ammunition, passports, counterfeit currencies, stolen documents etc. These could result in numerous other advantages across the board;

(vi) Where the informant or complainant is literate or educated, they may be allowed to make report entries in the Station diaries or General Diaries on their own – whether handwritten or in electronic form. This will again take away the element of negative police intervention to dissuade the public from registering INCREPS.

The ideal situation is development of a central interface facilitating public to file/report INCREPS electronically, online – whether by typing in text format or by scanning and uploading documents or image files.

(vii) Separation of investigation from L&O functions has been mandated by the Supreme Court of India throughout the country and this needs to be speeded up. More staff would have to be allocated for investigation wings because it is through investigation of crimes and time-bound prosecution that the fear of law can be inculcated in the society, not through the traditional ‘danda’ alone.

(viii) The rural areas are largely unpoliced. There is hardly any police presence in rural areas throughout the country and it is there that small time criminals hone their skills and develop into ‘mafiosi’ before graduating into the urban stage where the spoils are bigger and the proportion of risk and the gains to be made are favourable.

Criminals with strong rural roots develop a strong following in the rural areas wherefrom they keep drawing their cadres, who, after committing the ‘urban crimes’ melt into the unpoliced surrounds easily. Besides this, these ‘mafiosi’ or ‘gangsters’ assume a larger than life image in their areas of influence and set wrong examples for others to follow.

Therefore the rural policing needs a concerted focus – a plan and backed up with adequate resources, legal backing, linkages and objective target setting – in prevention and detection of crimes as well as in intelligence collection/community policing. These areas are the black spots from where the most horrendous stories about crimes, crime suppression and inaction by police and law enforcement come from.

In the Indian context, mobility of people from their roots to urban centres or semi-urban centres – away from their villages has ensured an accelerated breakdown of the traditional caste-system and discriminatory practices. Urban centres are less likely to witness caste based discrimination due to relative anonymity which obtains.

In rural areas and villages, the discriminatory caste system and the associated stigmatisation is still quite strong, which further pushes the Dalits, down-trodden, under-privileged sections into the darker domains. Under such circumstances, the under-privileged sections find it difficult to come out of the clutches of the system which is predatory and keep them away from the institutions which could provide relief.  It is a classic case where the well cannot be taken near the thirsty. However, we surely can serve portable water – through effective rural beat policing.

The thrust of this piece is not on the entire criminal justice system but more on policing. However, unless adequate efforts are undertaken to improve forensic facilities and the judicial interface, things will not start looking up. For one, the perceived lack of justice delivery by the judicial authorities puts additional pressure on police to arrest the suspects and criminals, which brings its own set of problems, difficulties and hazards – for one, the pressure to deliver results propels arrests and use of extra-legal means, which ultimately lead to the police being labelled as inhumane and devil – unapproachable and unfriendly.

This unfriendly image, then completes the vicious circle taking us, in turn to the first step – lesser crimes being reported. That is where we need to address the issue to restore the public confidence in policing and police.  

I hope a beginning is made somewhere – probably in Nagaland, which because of the advantages of size and diversity could prove to be an excellent laboratory for introducing some forward-looking measures.

By EMN Updated: Oct 07, 2020 11:30:21 pm