Justice is blind. The enforcers of justice, however, are cockeyed. Over a decade after the 2005 bombings in Delhi in which 67 died, the court acquitted two men last week, lamenting that the prosecution had “miserably failed”.
One of the accused was freed because he had spent 10 years in jail—the maximum sentence for such cases involving terrorism. Ten years for 67 lives—not even a year per victim! Thousands skirt judgment day simply because the police don’t get the facts right.
With outdated laws and shoddy police investigation, justice is rarely served, and the ghosts of the innocent haunt the wasteland of blood-splattered history without hope of retribution.
In India, as in many other countries, which follow the outdated colonial law enforcement system, police regularly botch up investigations. The nexus between cops and powerful politicians is darkly symbiotic. Former Bihar MP Shahabuddin was shifted to Delhi’s Tihar maximum security jail because he ruled Siwan, his bloody playground, through fear. The police have been unable to protect witnesses—many have been murdered, and some are too terrified to testify. In Uttar Pradesh, victims of murder and gang-rape, witnesses to political murders, and social workers are routinely murdered by gangsters in the pay of powerful politicians and landowners. It took a Supreme Court order to the UP Police for an FIR to be filed against minister Gayatri Prasad Prajapati for rape.
Money and votes are the usual catalysts of violent death, and the police is an instrument to protect the powerful with dodgy investigations. The judiciary is helpless, because the law requires proof. Policemen get rough reprimands from courts, and that is as far as justice goes. In many cases, upright officers are transferred for looking too closely at criminal activities. Innocents are framed, the disadvantaged are intimidated and evidence goes missing from police laboratories. Even in cases, which have become cause célebres—such as the Sheena Bora murder, the Malegaon blasts, the Jessica Lal killing and others—enough evidence was not collected. Public opinion influenced verdicts in the Jessica Lal killing and the Aarushi Talwar affair—not the ideal way to bring criminals to justice.
The roots of this scandalous state of affairs lie in the origins of the Indian police force. British historian David Arnold noted that the Indian police had an “unprecedented degree of authority within the colonial administration”. The Indian Police Service started as lawkeepers who had to even raise their own salaries from the people they were supposed to protect. This not only led to massive corruption, but also made policemen puppets of powerful zamindars and local despots. They were controlled by colonial masters hostile to the native population after the 1857 Mutiny—The Police Act, 1861, and Indian Penal Code were passed in British Parliament to set up a dedicated force to crush freedom fighters. In Independent India, the system remains unchanged, though rulers have changed. The police still prey on the weak and prosecute the innocent. They arrest opponents of the ruling parties and act as enforcers for criminal leaders.
Police reform must be driven by governments with the will to protect the truth. Rulers cannot ‘own’ the truth but have to be its subjects. The police should be more than just the arm of the law, but a moral force to bring justice for all.