Sunday, May 06, 2007

Democracy, or, Encounter State: Dour Thoughts...

Two cases show the state of India’s law and order situation. Today there’s news that the judge trying the Alistair Pereira case has quit.

It happened thusly: Alistair Pereira, in a case of drunken driving killed seven people sleeping on the side of the road in Bandra, a rather posh suburb of Bombay. The case came up for hearing and the judge gave Pereira six months in prison for killing seven people, a rather tame proposition.

Allegations arose in the press that crucial evidence was not presented, and witnesses who were at the scene of the crime were not called to testify, which resulted in a botched case and the easy acquittal. A case of those in authority acting in concert with the accused also came up as he happens to be rather well provided for young fellow. The judge came in for a lot of criticism and had to quit. Poor judge! It speaks unflatteringly of the whole system that is giving off a very foul odour. Yes, some, godforsaken stinking odour.

Another case that has come up is that of the killing of Sohrabuddin and his wife Kauserbi allegedly by the police on charges of being terrorists. The killing was what was called a “Police Encounters” in which the police hunts down the so-called terrorists and guns them down, often, late in the night in lonely spots when there are no one around. There are specialist officers who carry out these encounters, who, by some strange coincidence, have a lot of money to throw around, and invest in properties abroad.

Lately encounters have become so common, that the state of Uttar Pradesh has had 54 such deaths in 2004-2005. Not much action is taken as there aren’t any witnesses and the victims are known felons who have some previous criminal record.

But the above two incidents throw up questions about the moral uprightness of the police machinery in India which has been, on many occasions, found to be intolerant, biased and subject to the manipulations of their political and criminal masters. Are we a democracy that guarantees fundamental rights to even criminals or are we a police state? And what of the common citizens who look up to the police to protect their right and keep law and order?

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