Anywhere in the world, when a woman is raped, a child sexually abused, or a person waylaid by thugs, who do victims universally run to? To the local police of course. But with a regularity that is reaching worrying proportions of late, police forces across India, whether in Delhi, Mumbai or Kolkata, are first questioning a woman’s moral values, trying to bribe family members of assaulted children into silence or if all else fails, denying that they were approached at all.
But what happens to these esteemed men in uniform when they are exposed and the wrongdoing brought home to them? First comes a statement painting the said officer or constable as a saint. The cops being accused knew nothing and are being unfairly accused. Then, when photographic or written evidence makes denial impossible, the erring police personnel is suspended and in the “rarest of rare” cases — given a punishment posting. Horror of horrors! How is the poor guy expected to survive in a rural police station or in a desk job?
So what’s the message that you or I get? Don’t go to the cops if you are in trouble. You are just asking for more trouble. Police reforms have been talked about since this writer was in school and Emergency was lifted. They will continue to be talked about for many more years. But meanwhile, will policemen and women continue to get such preferential treatment?
Here’s an idea: when a crime or a grave wrongdoing such as protecting a rapist, harassing a hapless victim, or worse, actually committing a reprehensible act is proved against a police officer or staff, let the person suffer the ignominy of being demoted in the ranks, so he (or she) continues to earn a living but is made to take orders from erstwhile juniors. Or, better still, follow the path taken by armed forces across the world: try them under a court martial and if found guilty, strip the officer of all medals, honours and rank and dismiss him from service.
Come to think of it, when a Lieutenant General in the Indian Army was recently found to have been involved in an illegal land transfer deal, he was stripped of his rank and denied his pension. When one of the world’s most respected corporate consultants was found to be involved in financial fraud, or a leading cricketer exposed in a betting scam, it was not the jail term or the monetary fine that hurt them most; it was the humiliation, the fact that their photographs and names were now known by a billion others, that hit home.
Do exactly that to those who take an oath in the name of their motherland to protect the vulnerable and to uphold the law but end up taking bribes, protecting rapists, harassing sexual assault victims and giving the entire police force a bad name. Resorting to violence, blocking roads, even throwing slippers at them seldom embarrass people with thick skin. Perhaps the best way to reform the police force is to set an example and strip erring officers and men of their dignity.
Recently, days after a five-year-old girl was gang raped in the nation’s capital and one of his men were found to have offered the father of the girl Rs 2000 to keep quiet about the incident, Delhi police commissioner Neeraj Kumar was asked if he believed his force had messed up on several occasions in recent months. “Not at all,” he said. His one word answer when asked if he was satisfied with the city’s law and order situation during his tenure (which ends in July): “absolutely.”
Perhaps if police officers found guilty of crimes and even defending such crimes are demoted or dismissed and their photographs put up on police websites — it will force our police forces to act in a more humane manner. It would also perhaps ensure that Kumar’s succcessor’s learn to give more responsible answers.
The writer is Editor, Sunday MiD DAY and MiD DAY online