The nation’s revulsion was palpably seen in Delhi after the brutal Munirka gangrape; the nation’s anger was unmistakably on show after the unfortunate girl succumbed to her trauma in Singapore. It is a fair surmise that the national outrage was not only at the unspeakable cruelty of the attack—it is probably also an index of the rising popular disgust at the quality of public administration—this was only a tipping point. The cold harsh reality is that women are unsafe in India, murders and heinous crimes are regularly committed, frequently unreported, and with the assailants generally getting away scot-free eventually.
Col. Sleeman, in the period prior to the ‘sepoy mutiny’ (‘first war of independence’, if you prefer) reminisced that in his 37 years’ experience in various parts of India, particularly central and north, he did not come across or hear about a single case of molestation of British women (wives, mothers and sisters of British personnel in India), while travelling alone from ports of arrival to hinterland, escorted only by ‘native’ palanquin-bearers. Surely, times have changed in these 150 years, drastically indeed in the past six decades! Maintenance of law and order is not merely police patrolling, visibility of security personnel, verification of drivers’ licences, elimination of tinted glasses and so on. Safety and security of the citizen is a holistic concept, when an atmosphere is created where crime is minimal, punishment swift and inevitable—it is a quality of administration, guaranteed by the Constitution, that a citizen can go about his work unhindered, peacefully.
It is quite common that FIRs are recorded based on the ‘best bid’; thanas and key police postings are auctioned; and VIPs can get away, mostly, with ‘blue murder’. The main job of the urban policeman is to collect his ‘hafta’ from local business and ‘baksheesh’ from the errant motorists; his rural counterpart’s main role is to act as the henchman of the local goonda a.k.a. politician. Recruitment to the police force is done after paying a hefty bribe, which the poor new rural recruit can afford only through usurious loans. From the very first week of his service, the compulsion to start repaying the loans are high; he tastes blood from the first day, and in course of time develops into a man-eater—this is the anatomy of the beat policeman. The Dharmavira Commission 40 years ago suggested major police reform measures—the key ones have not been implemented. Prakash Singh’s PIL in the Supreme Court demanded scientific management of the police force, and asked for major reforms—the apex court has concurred—every state and the Centre is in continuing contempt of the Supreme Court directions. A corrupt police force is a primary weapon in the hands of the politician—police reform is the last thing they wish to implement.
The only effective way to maintain efficacy of the law is to ensure that the probability of getting caught is high, the criminal justice administration process is fair but inexorably swift and effective, and when convicted, the punishment is ‘deterrent’. It is estimated that only one in five rapes gets reported; only a fraction of these reach the chargesheet stage; conviction rate is of the order of 7 per cent. The perpetrator has a miniscule chance of getting caught, and convicted. There is corruption at the investigation and prosecution stages. One can merely say that there are huge gaps at the trial stage, which gets prolonged for years. The system is crying for reform. One has not recently heard of the need for eliminating, or drastically reducing, corruption in our criminal justice process. In this scenario, it is patently unrealistic to expect dramatic changes in the law and order situation.
A hard-pressed administration has come up with defensive knee-jerk reactions. The administration clearly would hope that a few cosmetic steps would paper over the situation for now, and an amnesiac ‘normalcy’ would be restored. To propose a commission for ‘women’s rights’, however desirable, is merely a ploy to deflect the heat, and pave the way for inaction. To eliminate drunken driving, ensure driving licences are given on merit, verification of the identity of the drivers and attendants are the prescribed solutions—none could argue with the need for these; however, these are basics for any transportation administration system, not to be invented as response to one heinous offence. The reality is systems, wherever you poke it, have become hollow, dysfunctional, corrupt, effete, and unreliable. It is not adequate anymore to handle the symptoms alone—the malaise has spread deep and wide; effectively taken hold of our public administration process.
The citizen may show great anger from time to time—the tragedy is that there is no official force visible in the country which demands overhaul of the system, strong diminution in corruption levels, guarantee the citizen’s rights – no politician has these goals in his radar. De-politicisation of the police and civil services, introduction of effective police reforms are the responses which will pave the way for improved quality in our public administration. Like ‘Jenkin’s Ear’ triggered far-reaching developments, if the incident leads to cleansing of our public administration apparatus, the cruel death of this girl would not have been in vain.