Sunday, December 28, 2008

Police Reforms: for Their Own Sake!

Look around, there's a lot happening around your locality these days, makes you want to bury your head and say, "Oh God! We were never this way!" Petty crimes, breaking up families, increasing rapes, atrocities against minorities, etc. You have this secure cocoon in which you feel sort of safe and suddenly something breaks the complacency. When it hits you, it hits with the force of unpreparedness, with the surprise of "orkapurathu oru adi" which Malayalam saying means "A slap on the back when least expected." These are just examples, one of which was brought to me last week which I mentioned in this post. The robber entered, stole two laptops from the office, the hi-tech cameras caught him (its so sensitive, it can catch every sound, every movement, but the robber was smarter, he wore a mask), but no headway was made in the investigation. Petty robberies upset our rhythm just as terror acts spread, well, terror.

Next step, the police came, asked who they suspected and the poor office boy got called to the station and beaten up. Yes, it happened in this day and age, which makes me wonder if we are in some kind of police raj where medieval torture tactics are still employed. Then, serendipitously, I think of the policemen caught unawares with only wooden sticks in front of killing machines line the AK-47. Have we failed to modernise our law and order mechanism, is it still lagging in the days of the British where the cruel racist masters' trained dogs unleashed terror upon the people the kind I read in the "Last Mughal" and "Sea of Poppies." When will we Indians realise our constitutional right to justice and peace. After all doesn't our constitution state:

"WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a 1[SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC] and to secure to all its citizens:

JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the [unity and integrity of the Nation];"

And, what's more, it happened on Christmas Day the day that is supposed to be a day of peace and goodwill to everyone on earth. I got very upset, but was told to ignore it because it was their method of investigation. But in this day and age? What are we if we look down upon a fellow citizen of our country (the office boy who got tortured) because of his poverty and economic need and subject him to all sort of suspicion just because he happens to be poor? Don't they know about forensics, the sort of gadgetry you see in serials like 'CID' which can nail the culprit? Can't the police investigate without resorting to third degree? When things like this happen so close to you, and you see the pain in his eyes, his stoic silence, his holding back of tears, you feel that tug inside you. Yes, we have heard of this before, but never seen it from this close. When it happens at a distance it is okay, it's not our pain, its their pain, but when it happens to someone who you have learnt to trust, who brings you much-needed food when you are hungry and returns the exact change, who willingly does everything he is asked to do, who just was blessed with a baby girl, and whose wife broke down when she heard that he was beaten, you feel like nothing is worth it anymore.

It seems the torture treatment was crude and went on for three hours (4 p.m. to 7 p.m.), because he was pointed out as the prime suspect by someone. Whipping with a belt (the sort used in a flour mill, he says), hammering the palms on the floor for hours, jumping on the floor repeatedly to break the subject down. Heard the joke how the police caught five suspects and after this treatment all the five admitted to crimes they hadn't committed at all? But, shhhhhhh, this isn't the time for your droll jokes, is it? He cried, he swore on his new-born child's name that he didn't do it, but the torture went on, just because someone suspected him. As usual the hurt was inflicted on the palms and the heels which do not show any marks or wounds. He said his hands and feet were swollen.

The policemen for whom I adapted Elton John's song "Emtpy Garden," after the recent terror attacks are a brave lot, but they need training in interrogation methods, they need to trust people more and not resort to third degree to break down suspects. They need to be treated humanely so that they also treat others in the same fashion. Most of all they need to be paid well, offered counselling to deal with their tough jobs or this is what will happen.

As an aside, Salman Rushdie says in this interview with SAJA and Asia Society, "Well, first of all, I think, it is very difficult, as you said in the beginning, to articulate exactly how deeply we were affected by what we saw. I think there were many days when it was almost impossible to think, let alone to speak about what was happening, specially I think to those of us who grew up on those streets. And by the way, I think we have all agreed before hand that we are going to call the city by its proper name, which is Bombay. It is Bombay that was attacked and not Mumbai. And, by the way, I cannot say, and this is the only time I will say it, the words "Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus". This railway station is and always will be VT. And so, because these are the names of love, the others are the artificial names imposed by the politicians. But these are the names of the city that we love."

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