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Bloodwit Or Solatia!

Bloodwit Or Solatia!

This doesn't work with all in all cases. We all know police training is largely drill-based. Does it help with a good job of developing technical and procedural skills is anybody's doubt. The killing of George Floyd sparked an American uprising. In India things work differently. It wasn't so long ago thirteen people were killed in police firing in Thoothukudi on the 100th day of anti-Sterlite protests. So, be a part of any protest and you are dead meat.

Two years down the line, justice is a long way away or nowhere in sight for victims of state violence who were shot in the head, chest or on the back, despite a ban on the police to shoot to kill. Government acted the way it always does. An one-woman enquiry commission was established under Retd Justice in June 2018, 450 people were questioned in more than two dozen phases, protesters, activists, journalists and first-hand witnesses were deposed before the committee and autopsy reports were made available in the public domain. None of these can bring the dead back to life, we know but we didn't know these couldn't bring the murderers to justice. All await a report from the commission.  

Learning new and perverted ways of using the lathi aside,  the police force must constantly work to learn to respect human dignity and bind itself irrevocably to the rule of law. For this, keeping up with the average educational level of the general population is a compulsion. 

Investigations into police excess will go on forever. Many knew it and that is why they chose to stay away from inquiry committees. Thus, men in khakhi have come to instill terror in the minds of people. 

As far as custodial torture and deaths are concerned, the historic order delivered by the Supreme Court in 2006 on police reforms have been implemented only by a few States such as Kerala, Jharkhand, Haryana, Punjab and Maharashtra. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), almost 100 people have died in police custody in 2017. Of the 100, 58 people were not on remand and 42 were on police or judicial remand. Chargesheets and arrests of culprits in uniform happened and none were convicted. 

We are surprised at the number of sections available in IPC to charge a man for keeping his shop open minutes beyond the closure time, to get hold of his son too, sexually assault them and beat them to death, aren't we? Looks like an outright vengeance. Local traders who do not dare to be named have another story to say. That, a month ago, the offenders in khakhi had demanded from Fenix two cell phones worth Rs. 20,000 for free which he denied after consulting his father Jayaraj. Harbouring this prejudice, men in khakhi never missed any opportunity to pass snide remarks and even try in vain to get the father and son into altercations. Besides, a handful of so called friends of police always succeeded in exasperating the traders with police as their backbone.

Once again, we are shattered by another custodial sexual violence, torture and gruesome death of a father and son. Can we rely on the instrumentalities present in the system today to tackle the issue of custodial deaths. Another judicial probe for another decade or so! Didn't we just get a taste of a magistrate and doctor in the same setup as the police or worked hand in hand? No denying, legal safeguards are already in place. The right to medical examination makes no sense with an amoral doctor on duty, right to be produced before a judicial magistrate will amount to nothing if the judicial officer is not impervious to corrupt or venial influence and limits on the duration of police custody is a joke since the most difficult or rather impossible job is to fix up the liability of the police. Two people bleed to death, a family deprived of loved ones with haunting memories and visuals of sexual torture too and all we see and hear of are nothing but a judicial probe, suspensions, transfers and a compulsory wait.

We wait endlessly and helplessly forwarding video and audio clips until another horrendous custodial death surfaces. Angry mob gathering on the streets of Sathankulam doesn't shock the police or take the state machinery by surprise for they know how to sabotage. An announcement of  Rs 10 lakh solatium each to their families and government jobs from the Chief Minister K Palaniswami will definitely bring solace or comfort if the CM also cares to announce a date on which justice will be delivered and the murderers brought to book. Otherwise, when will fear of law creep  into the minds of potential criminals? If only police and judicial officers who fail to make much headway into sexual assault cases after months and years were held accountable for their failings and incompetency, erring officers and supervisors will become history. Should everything go on and everybody move on in a make-believe world that the contribution of the erring police officers and their investigating agencies to the perversion of India’s criminal justice system is nil?  Whatever, misplaced swagger against the rule of law is a serious threat to the idea of India as a democratic republic. 

As though the investigating officers and doctors tend to behave professionally only when the cases they are handling are directly monitored by judicial officers, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court directed the postmortem examination to progress under the supervision of a Judicial Magistrate. If there is no provision in the law for a family doctor to be present during the postmortem, is there any provision to mete out to the culprits at least half of what the victims went through if at all people of integrity manage to not conceal the truth? Simple, an accused person cannot be convicted with gaps and holes in the investigation. Here, the people supposed to gather evidence with the means and power to investigate, are the culprits. So, commission and omission, incompetence, wilful negligence, suppression and fabrication of evidence should not come as a shock. If by some miracle or divine power, the accused is proven guilty, then again the accused gets to choose charges of their liking. It may be a tough job for the district administration to convince the public that the court will closely monitor the investigation to provide justice. As much as convincing the public, it's also the bounden duty of the district head to boldly express his solidarity to the victims, offer all kinds of support and protection to the witness, publicly condemn the criminal act and thereby work on reinstilling people's faith in the Criminal Justice System.

The father and son are here to stay in public memory for a long time. A painfully long time for the painful shrieks of the duo will continue to resound. I don't know how long the wait is going to be. In passing the buck to the judiciary, the political executive and the police, many families, generation after generation will continue to wait for truth and justice.

For your information, Arun Bharath (21) was tortured and killed during interrogation by a police team headed by sub inspector Sreekumar attached to Sathankulam Police Station in June 2006. Fourteen years had almost rolled by and the family has stopped trying to spot not even a flicker at the end of the tunnel. Needless to say, the murderer is yet to be named, shamed and punished. 

Finally, those few goondas who joined the culprits in assaulting the duo under the guise of friends of police must be charged, tried and sentenced with no delay for they can be easily identified.

(Published on 06th July 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 28)