It is one year since the Nirbhaya gangrape shook the capital and disturbed the conscience of the nation. The Government constituted a committee headed by Justice J S Verma to suggest such amendments in laws as would ensure quicker trial and enhanced punishment to criminals committing sexual assault against women. The recommendations made by the committee led to passage of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013. Fast-track courts were set up to deal exclusively with cases relating to offences against women.
Not much seems to have changed, however, and there are daily reports of sexual assaults. The only significant change has been that now there are instances of the victims aggressively coming forward to lodge their complaints. The arrests of Asaram Bapu and Tarun Tejpal are positive indications.
One important reason why the environment has not significantly improved is that government has not paid serious attention to the subject of police reforms, the importance of which was highlighted by Justice Verma. One full chapter running into 28 pages was devoted by the Verma Committee to police reforms. It was clearly stated therein that “full compliance with this judgment across all of India is of utmost priority to national welfare, including the welfare of women and children and towards the weaker sections of the community”. The committee urged upon all the states “to fully comply with all six Supreme Court directives in order to tackle systemic problems in policing which exist today”. It went on to say that “if the Supreme Court’s directions are implemented, there will be a crucial modernisation of the police to be service-oriented for the citizenry in a manner which is efficient, scientific, and consistent with human dignity”.
These important recommendations were conveniently ignored. The political class and the bureaucracy are putting up fierce resistance to the implementation of police reforms because it would dilute their hold over the police and, to that extent, reduce their powers. That the police require a certain measure of functional autonomy to perform its functions effectively is of no consequence to them. The ruling class is holding on to its zamindari over the police.
The Supreme Court has been monitoring the implementations of its directions given on September 22, 2006, but the states have been coming up with one excuse or the other. Fifteen states have passed Acts which violate the letter and spirit of the court’s orders. The laws were actually passed to circumvent the implementation of the court’s directions. The impasse continues.
As a consequence, the country is, even 66 years after Independence, saddled with an archaic, feudal, colonial police which was essentially designed to subserve the interests of the rulers. The only difference is that the imperial rulers have been replaced by our own rulers, who seem to have acquired over the years the same insensitive and self-serving mindset as that of the colonial masters. No wonder, women continue to be unsafe as they were before the tragic Nirbhaya incident.
Whether one likes it or not, police is the key to dealing not only with the issue of women’s safety but all the major problems confronting the country which have law and order implications. Be it terrorism, Maoist Insurgency, militancy in Jammu and Kashmir or separatist movements in the Northeast, the professional competence or otherwise of the police would determine our success in handling the problems. If the problems are getting aggravated, an important reason is that the police is just not geared to deal with them. Its infrastructure in terms of transport, communications and forensic support is weak. There are huge shortfalls of manpower. Leadership is of indifferent quality. And, what is worse, there is day-to-day interference by the politicians in its functioning. The police is just not able to deliver, let alone meet the expectations of the people.
The country needs people’s police instead of the present ruler’s police that we have. It must, therefore, be reorganised, restructured and reformed so that it becomes sensitive, responsive, humane and accountable. The country has suffered much and paid heavily for not bringing about this transformation. People need to raise their voice for a democratic police in the country. That would be our best homage to Nirbhaya.