Who is afraid of the law?

It is not only our economy that is in the doldrums. The law and order scenario is equally bad. Even after public outcry in the December 16 Delhi gang rape, tales of molestations and rape pour in every day from different parts of the country.

The recent case of a photojournalist being raped in a deserted building near Mahalaxmi railway station is a manifestation of the steady loss of fear in the minds of evildoers who have no internal sanctions left to restrain them from committing such crimes. The culprits are mostly young men with no roots in the city, who revel in the anonymity that big cities offer and who need external sanctions like certain retribution to keep them on the straight and narrow path. And when they move in gangs or groups of young men they have an added feeling of power that comes with numbers.

External sanctions become crucial in such circumstances. It is not the severity of the punishment but the certainty of it, that is important. When the judicial process system works at well below the optimal level and at an abysmally slow pace as in the present external sanctions are made to disappear. When signals are weak reckless individuals moving in groups lose all fear of the law. The only solution available is to put the judicial system back on the rails by drastic measures.

The judicial system is set in motion when the investigation agency —the police — registers the offence. It is passed on to the prosecutors who are now independent of the police and the defending lawyers who do not hesitate to use unethical methods instead of forensic skills to free their clients. The judiciary is the last cog in the wheel and there too perpetual delays are a cause for great concern.

There was a time not too long ago when the police investigator harboured pride in his work. Those days are behind us. Now there are complaints of station house officers asking for money to register cases and then some more to trace the culprits. Even thereafter one cannot be sure that he will not compromise the investigation if the culprits are in a position to keep him happy! The accent today is on money and not on a job well-done. The supervising officers could have set this right if they themselves were honest and just. Unfortunately, the rot has crept upwards and today it is becoming increasingly difficult to find senior officers who are not swayed by greed. And when we do find such men or women they are sidelined by the political leadership which is the final arbiter of their careers!

The prosecution agency is even worse off. It is now free of the control of the police hierarchy and revels in its new-found independence. But this has only made matters worse. When formerly the police and the prosecutors ventured out together to the scenes of crime and had a mutual stake in the success of their cases they now end up blaming each other for their failures. The conviction rate has fallen drastically to, I am told, a measly 8 per cent, a sure recipe for disaster.

It is time for the top leadership of all the four segments of the judicial process to come together and find solutions. The police needs to be professional and that can only happen if they have good leaders who are given operational independence and control over their own subordinates. You cannot put the fear of the law in the minds of potential rapists and murderers through the instrument of a politicised police force.

-- The author is former Commissioner of Police, MumbaiĀ 

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