July 31, 2015
What if the Supreme Court bench consisted of the retired judges of the same court who had sought commutation of Yakub Memon’s death sentence to a lifer and not of those who rejected it summarily? This was the first question that had come to my mind after listening to the Supreme Court’s summary rejection of, perhaps, the last petition of Yakub Memon, a terror convict believed to be one of the masterminds of Mumbai Blasts 1993 that killed 257 people and maimed many others. No, the question was still not about his role in the blasts. His role was confirmed not merely by his own assertion but also by very senior Research and Analysis Wing officials who oversaw the process too.
It was about something much bigger- the judicial process of India itself. Last mercy petition on Yakub’s behalf was signed by many eminent citizens of India… many retired judges of Supreme Court and various High Courts among them. Just to name a few, they included the likes of Justice Panachand Jain (Retd), Justice H.S. Bedi (Retd), Justice P. B. Sawant (Retd), Justice H. Suresh (Retd), Justice K. P. Siva Subramaniam (Retd), Justice S. N. Bhargava (Retd), Justice K Chandru (Retd), Justice Nagmohan Das (Retd). Retied judges of the Supreme Court of India like Markandey Katju went on to say Yakub Memon’s hanging would be a gross travesty of justice.
No, I do not want to go into the merits of the case. I am not an expert on criminal, civil or any other law. All I want to ask is what if three of these judges were on the bench that decided on Yakub’s final mercy petition tonight! Yes, you got it right. All, I, a citizen of India as clueless of law as Yakub Memon, want to know what would have happened to him had three of these, and not who actually ended up deciding on his petition were on the bench?
My desire to know that has nothing to do with whether or not he was part of a conspiracy as brutal and ghastly as Mumbai blasts. Forgive me; I do not want to whip up any emotions by making any reference to Yakub being a successful chartered accountant before the blast. I understand that he might have been, I repeat, he might have been a part of his brother Tiger Memon‘s spectacular conspiracy.
But what if despite ending in such a tricky, and potentially a life-harming situation, he would have decided to return. Cut your crap, my lords, he would not have come to Nepal for tourism in such a situation. Nepal, after all is a country embryonically affiliated to India. I would not risk my life for a night in Thamel, one of the most happening places in the world I have spent countess nights, Yakub wont be as well. Yakub did. Ask yourself, why he did so!
I am asking myself that even if he did agree to all this, what would have been the verdict today had the bench included the judge who signed the mercy petition, not the ones who delivered the actual verdict. Ask yourself, ask if a decision on a human life could be this random?
That too on the life of someone who has already spent more than 22 years in the confinement of a jail, many of these as a death row convict in solitary confinement on that?
Can our justice system be this random to hang someone? Okay, I will call them idiosyncrasies and not whims, of individual judges? It cannot be, and despite being afraid of saying this in the face of a contempt notice, it must not be.
Hang a Tiger Memon, my lordship, for his role is proven- not in the least because of the evidences provided by Yakub- but please do not extinguish a human life to satisfy mobs, that has once been wrongly identified as the collective conscience of the nation in Afzal Guru’s case.
Do not listen to we, the laymen my lordships. But try, at least, to form a bench of the retired justices of Supreme Court and High Courts to listen to their views on why they are opposing death to Yakub.
Tomorrow would be too late for that, my lordships. And if tomorrow comes that late, all laymen like me would be left with to say is that- howsoever guilty you were Yakub Memon, never forgive us, never forget us. Not that we would need to say that my lordships, there are many hell bent to exploit that anger and frustration. The decision is on you
July 25, 2015
Yakub Memon, a terror convict, will be hanged to death, most probably on 30 July 2015. He will be killed by the State because the Supreme Court of India rejected his curative plea, the final appeal, and cleared the way for hanging. He will hang after being convicted under the much reviled Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, which was repealed in 1995. He will be killed, chiefly because his brother masterminded and executed the Mumbai Blasts on 12 March 1993 that killed 257 people. In other words, he will hang for someone else’s crime, just because he is linked to the main accused by blood.
Let’s take a quick look into the facts. Yakub’s brother Tiger Memon had sent all family members out of the country before the blasts. Yakub is the only one who chose to return, ostensibly to surrender. Though the police contests this and claims that he was arrested from New Delhi along with his family, it is certain that he returned, and returned with his family, to face trail. He brought, along with him, evidence of the role of the Inter Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s spy agency, in facilitating the plot. Going by the example of the 2011 Mumbai Blasts, this is information Indian investigators would have found hard, if not impossible, to gather on their own. Which fugitive, never mind terror plot accused, does this?
And, this is exactly why the Court has lambasted Central Bureau of Investigation’s claim of having arrested Yakub from New Delhi, stating that people do not appear in such unlikely places from the air. And, yet, at the same time the Court has gone ahead and sentenced Yakub to death.
Furthermore, the police evidence against Yakub includes a statement of a co-accused turned approver and a confession under police custody of another, who later retracted the statement, claiming it was extracted through torture. The only charges proven against Yakub are of financing travel and other logistical support to the bombers, which Yakub Memon claims to have done unknowingly and unwittingly. The truth in relation to this difficult to verify until India brings investigates the masterminds. Only then can one find out Yakub’s role, whether he wittingly or unwittingly funded the travel of the bombers, and punish his actions justly.
Now, as it stands, those who planted the bombs have got their death sentences commuted to life, while Yakub, who did not plant a single one, is being sent to the gallows. And, this is where the death sentence starts looking like the revenge of a system frustrated with its failure to catch and punish the real culprits that is killing Yakub on the flimsiest of grounds.
Yakub Memon would not be the first to hang in such a way. Afzal Guru was hanged to death for satisfying the “collective conscience of the nation” on “circumstantial evidence”, a reason even more questionable than the one used to put a noose around Yakub Memon’s neck. Afzal Guru was not given an opportunity to meet his family for the last time – something even the most rogue regime would not generally deny to a convict on death row.
Yet, it happened not in a dictatorial regime but in a republic, the self-designated “largest democracy” of the world. Worse, it happened on the orders of the Republic’s top court, which didn’t even blink while pronouncing the death sentence, merely on the basis of “circumstantial evidence”, flouting it own maxim of handing this “supreme sentence” only in the rarest of the rare cases.
A real civil society would disapprove of such retributive justice of even being justice and would realise that a system letting this happen is not a rule of law system. They would realise that such a criminal justice system is in fact a “criminal” and not “justice” system. Unfortunately, the Indian civil society has not awoken to this. Ask this civil society and the refrain one gets is that yes, there are problems, but not much is wrong with our Judiciary. Looking at these two cases of Yakub Memom and Afzal Guru alone and nothing can be further from the truth; and this lie is not reserved merely for terror suspects.
Justice in India has always been found to be faltering when the accused are from the most marginalised sections of the society – Dalits, other backward classes, and the religious minorities. In addition, most of them come from economically weaker segments, and it would become evident that not everyone is equal before the law, as practiced in India.
So how deep is the inequality before law in India? A study conducted by National Law University students with the help of the Law Commission has thrown up baffling results. As much as 93.5 percent of the 373 death row convicts over a 15-year period are Dalits and the minorities.
And this inequality is not only about those convicted to death. It is about the poor’s right to livelihood, about their right to welfare schemes, about their rights to their habitat. It is about their right to justice – both social and criminal justice. The system fails them on both fronts. It plays itself out in every single interaction of the criminal justice system with the poor and the marginalised. Let us consider how the system deals with adivasis, for instance.
A classical example of how the justice system in India treats the poor and marginalised is showcased in how the government of Jharkhand withdrew over one-lakh cases slapped on tribal persons, just so the government could win over their confidence in its fight against the Maoists. Most of these cases were petty cases like “stealing” wood and other forest produce from forests, “encroaching” on forest land for making huts and so on.
The irony of the decision was lost on many. How could adivasis, living in jungles for centuries be treated as “encroachers” in their own habitat and then charged with petty offences in the first place? (More on thishere) And yet, many of them would have been languishing in jails, swelling the 250,000 languishing so in jails today, just because they would have had no money for the bail amount.
There are many others who did not get even this much relief, like the tribals of Uttar Pradesh. A similar attempt to withdraw cases against tribals there met a legal roadblock. Though the state Forest Department summarily disposed cases under forest laws against them, the charges under the Indian Penal Code remained. The Forest Department did this legal trickery by forcing the tribals to accept the charges, irrespective of whether they committed the alleged crimes or not. This too is a story few have cared to pursue (more here).
One could go on and on with other examples of injustices for certain communities due to these communities being treated unequally before the law. Then there is the prohibitive cost of legal assistance, the centuries long backlog of cases, and endless trials. The fact remains the same: justice in India is not for the poor and the marginalised.
Can one still say that there are just small problems with the Judiciary in India, which, if fixed, can allow the system to chug along perfectly? Can one still treat grotesquely spectacular miscarriages of justice in cases like those of Yakub Memons and Afzal Gurus as exceptions? They are, though most unfortunate, but extreme examples of everyday injustice meted out to millions of Indians on a daily basis. The malaise is deep. And, this malaise the Indian civil society most often overlooks.
The rot is in the system. Occasional victories – if they can be considered that, like saving S.A.R. Geelani from the gallows in the Parliament attack case – come with equally big defeats, like failing to save Afzal Guru. Or, take the recent case of suspended Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba, arrested by the Maharashtra Police, allegedly for his alleged Maoist links. The Bombay High Court did give him temporary bail on medical grounds and castigated the authorities for the inhuman treatment meted to him, but his co-accused, charged with similar offences, are still languishing in the same jail.
The criminal justice system in India does not have some small problem that can be tinkered into order. It needs a complete overhaul; it needs a re-engineering that is impossible without a public movement for the same. Until then one can keep celebrating small victories amidst supreme injustices meted out to most.
July 17, 2015
[11 जून 2015 को प्रभात खबर में प्रकाशित]
2014 में 279, 2013 में 218 और 2012 में 237- ये फ़ुटबाल विश्वकप 2022 के मेजबान क़तर में हुई भारतीय मजदूरों की मौतों के आंकड़े हैं. कस्टम और आप्रवासन की सारी औपचारिकताएं पूरी करके बॉडी बैग्स में देश लौटते उन मजदूरों के आंकड़े जिन पर क़तर और हिंदुस्तान, दोनों सरकारें चुप है. कमाल यह कि भारत की यह चुप्पी पड़ोसी मुल्क नेपाल के 2012 और 2013 में अपने 385 मजदूरों की मौत पर क़तर सरकार से तीखे प्रतिरोध के बावजूद है. खैर, फ़ुटबाल की वैश्विक नियामक संस्था फीफा में आ रही भ्रष्टाचार की खबरों ने इस मसले को फिर से चर्चा में ला दिया है.
ऐसा नहीं कि सरकार को इन मौतों के बारे में खबर नहीं है. लगभग गुलामी वाली स्थितियों में काम करवाने की वजह से हो रही यह मौतें 2012 से ही लगातार चर्चा में बनी हुई हैं. उदाहरण के लिए इंटरनेशनल ट्रेड यूनियन कॉन्फ़ेडरेशन क़तर में श्रम कानूनों की अवहेलना के मामले सामने लाता रहा है. कॉन्फ़ेडरेशन ने दर्ज किया है कि कैसे मजदूरों को लगातार 24 घंटे और यहाँ तक कि तापमान के 50 डिग्री के पार चले जाने पर भी काम करने को मजबूर किया जाता रहा है. ऐसी स्थितियों में काम करने पर हृदयाघात जैसी संभावनाएं आम हैं और इसी वजह से वहाँ तमाम मजदूर मारे भी गए हैं. श्रम संगठनों को छोड़ भी दें तो खुद यूरोपियन संसद में इस मुद्दे पर सवाल उठाये गए हैं और शुरुआती नकार के बाद फीफा को मानना पड़ा है कि क़तर में काम करने की स्थितियां भयावह हैं. इतनी भयावह कि हजारों मौतों के बरक्स लन्दन और वैंकोवर ओलम्पिक खेलों (2012 और 2010) के लिए हुए निर्माण कार्यों के दौरान दौरान सिर्फ 1, 1 मजदूर की मृत्यु हुई थी तो दक्षिण अफ्रीका में फीफा विश्व कप के दौरान सिर्फ 2.
क़तर में काम करने की शुरुआत ही गुलामी की आधुनिक अवतार कफाला व्यवस्था से होती है जिसमें मजदूर अपने नियोक्ता से बंधे होते हैं और उन्हें अनुबंध के बीच में काम बदलने या देश छोड़ने की अनुमति नहीं होती. इस बर्बर व्यवस्था के साथ ही दुर्घटनाओं की स्थिति में इलाज की जवाबदेही से बचने के लिए नियोक्तायों द्वारा मजदूरों को निवास परमिट दिलाने की जगह उनके पासपोर्ट जब्त कर अपने पास रख लेना आम है.
मजदूरों की मौतों को स्वीकारते हुए भी उन्हें निर्माण कार्यों से जुड़ा मानने से सीधा इनकार करते रहने के बावजूद पूरे विश्व में हुई तीखी आलोचना के बाद क़तर ने 2014 में ही आप्रवासी मजदूरों के लिए स्वास्थ्य बीमा योजना की घोषणा की थी मगर वह 2016 में ही शुरू होगी. इसी आलोचना के मद्देनजर क़तर सरकार ने 294 श्रम निरीक्षकों (लेबर इंस्पेक्टर्स) की नियुक्ति करने और 250,000 मजदूरों के लिए आवास मुहैया कराने की घोषणा करने जैसे कदम उठाये हैं. क़तर सरकार द्वारा गठित एक कमिटी ने नियोक्ता एजेंसियों द्वारा मजदूरों से शुल्क लेने, सुरक्षा और स्वास्थ्य मानकों की अनदेखी करने वाले नियोक्ताओं को काली सूची में डालने और आप्रवासी मजदूरों की शिकायतों के त्वरित निवारण के लिए एक व्यवस्था बनाने जैसी सिफारिशें भी की हैं. इन तमाम क़दमों और सिफारिशों के बावजूद 2014 में भारतीय आप्रवासी मजदूरों की मौतों में हुई वृद्धि जमीनी हकीकत साफ़ कर देती है.
इस मसले में बड़ा सवाल भारत सरकार और समाज दोनों की चुप्पी है, उस समाज की जो कोई किताब, फिल्म या कुछ और भी पसंद न आने पर गुस्से से उबल पड़ता है, सड़कों पर उतर आता है. यह उस सरकार की भी अपने कर्तव्य के निर्वहन की आपराधिक उपेक्षा है जो देश में ही नहीं विदेश में भी मौजूद नागरिकों के जीवन की सुरक्षा के लिए संविधान से वचनबद्ध है. आखिर यही तो उस ‘पैरेंस पैट्रियाई’ सिद्धांत का आधार है जो सरकार को नागरिकों के माता-पिता का दर्जा देते हुए राष्ट्रीय और अंतर्राष्ट्रीय मंचों पर उनका इकलौता प्रतिनिधि होने का अधिकार देता है.
सैकड़ों जाने चली जाने के बाद भी अब भी सरकार को चेत जाना चाहिए. जो चले गए उन्हें वापस लाना संभव नहीं पर जो हैं उन्हें बचाया जा सकता है और यह सरकार और समाज दोनों का कर्तव्य है. दुनिया का कोई भी खेल एक भी मानव जीवन से बड़ा नहीं है और यहाँ तो हजारों जानें जा चुकी हैं और हजारों और जा सकती हैं. सरकार को क़तर सरकार के साथ हस्तक्षेप भी करना चाहिए और स्थितियों में सुधर न होने की दशा में अपने मजदूरों को वापस बुला लाना चाहिए.
[दैनिक जागरण में अपने पाक्षिक कॉलम 'परदेस से' में कार्यकर्ताओं का अड्डा शीर्षक से 27-06-2015 को प्रकाशित]
होटल गोल्डियाना। हाँ, एयरपोर्ट से निकल अपना यही ठिकाना था. पहुँचे तो समझ आया कि यह होटल सामाजिक कार्यकर्ताओं का अड्डा है, ठीक वैसे जैसे काठमांडू का होटल ग्रीनविच है! कमाल है ये दुनिया भी, आदमियों को छोड़िये, होटल भी 'स्पेस्लिस्ट' हो जाते हैं. खैर, पहुँचे तो वजह भी समझ आई- दुनिया भर में बाल यौन उत्पीड़न का गढ़ बन गए कंबोडिया की राजधानी नाम पेन में हर तीसरी बड़ी इमारत में 'मसाज पार्लर' का बोर्ड टंगा नजर आता है, यहाँ नहीं था. कंबोडिया के तमाम होटलों में आज भी 'राइफल फायरिंग' के बोर्ड टंगे मिलते हैं- गाय/सूअर मारने से लेकर खाली हवा में कार्बाइन ख़त्म कर देने तक के बोर्ड, यहाँ नहीं थे.
यहाँ जो था वो दिलचस्प था. तमाम भारतीय/पाकिस्तानी रेस्टोरेंट जिनकी 'कोयले के अंगारों से' शुरू होकर 'सब्ज खेतों तक' जाने वाले मेन्यू शानदार लगे. इस लिए भी कि जमाने से दक्षिण पूर्व एशिया में फँसे मुझ शाकाहारी को पता है कि यहाँ जिन्दा भर रहने के लिए खाना कितना मुश्किल है, स्वाद तो खैर भूल ही जाइए। दूसरी जिस चीज ने ध्यान खींचा वह थे गैर सरकारी संगठनों के बोर्ड, यह भी अजब ही है कि दुनिया में मानवीय या प्राकृतिक किसी भी आपदा के शिकार देश में गैर सरकारी संगठन खूब नजर आते हैं. न, इसमें कुछ बुरा नहीं है, पर मूलतः उनसे निपटना, नागरिकों को राहत पहुँचाना तो सरकारों का काम है न? और आखिर में जिस चीज ने चौंकाया वह यह कि होटल के टीवी में स्टार प्लस से लेकर ज़ी तक तमाम भारतीय चैनल भी आ रहे थे. क्यों, इन्हें कौन देखता है कंबोडिया में यह पता लगाने की कोशिश तो की मगर सफल नहीं हुआ.
और सबसे बड़ी बात थी होटल से लेकर सड़क तक लोगों का एक दूसरे को पूरी भारतीय शैली में हाथ जोड़कर फिर कमर तक झुक कर नमस्कार करना। कंबोडिया से हिन्दू प्रभाव जमाने पहले चले गए थे, यह जाने कैसे छूट गया. हाँ, जैसे भी छूट गया हो, मुझे बहुत अच्छा, अपने जैसा लगा. पर फिर, अभी कंबोडिया की असली यात्रा शुरू कहाँ हुई थी. वह यात्रा जिसमें चार सालों के हाहाकारी अनुभव थे, सूख गयी आँखें थीं, ठहर गया दुःख था. वह दुःख जो अभी की मुस्कुराहटों में दिखता नहीं, मगर ठहरा रहता है. पता था कि तुओल स्वे प्राय स्कूल जिसे खमेर रोज सरकार ने भयानक यातनाओं वाली जेल में बदल दिया था ज्यादा दूर नहीं था. वह जेल जिसमें उन चार सालों में 6000 से ज्यादा लोग कैद कर मारे गए- वह लोग जिनमें से ज्यादातर खमेर रूज के ही वह सदस्य थे जिन्हें पोल पॉट के खिलाफ जाने की आशंका में गिरफ्तार कर लिया गया था. शाम को मिलने आये एक कंबोडियन दोस्त से पूछा तो उन्होंने सिर्फ यह कहा कि क्रांतियाँ न जाने कब और कैसे अपने ही खिलाफ चली जाती हैं, अपनों के ही क़त्ल पर उतर आती हैं.
और फिर किलिंग फील्ड्स, वह जगह जो इंकलाब की आस लिए हर दिल में फांस सी गड़ती है, (हत्याओं वाले खेत) भी कहाँ दूर थे. बहुत सुना था इन खेतों के बारे में जहाँ किसी व्यक्ति पर शक होने पर उसके पूरे परिवार को लाकर मार दिया जाता था क्योंकि खमेर रूज मानता था कि 'साँप के परिवार में सँपोले ही पनपेंगे'. वह जगह जिसमें 40 गुणे 40 फ़ीट की कब्रों में 400 लोगों को जिन्दा दफना दिया जाता था क्योंकि खमेर रूज मानता था कि उनपर गोलियां बरबाद करना फिजूलखर्ची है. सच कहूँ तो कंबोडिया की यात्रा जिंदगी की सबसे कठिन यात्राओं में से एक थी. एक अंतर्यात्रा जो वामपंथ पर अपने यकीन को चुनौती दे रही थी, बता रही थी कि कोई भी विचारधारा अपनी अति पर जाकर क्या कर सकती है. पर फिर यह यात्रा एक अनुभव भी थी क्योंकि बावजूद इस तथ्य के कि उन्होंने भी जनता का कोई ख़ास भला नहीं किया यहाँ वामपंथियों के बाद वामपंथी ही लौटे थे.
उस रोज की शाम उतर आई थी और दक्षिण पूर्व एशिया में पहली बार यह चिंता नहीं थी कि आज खाऊंगा क्या- कोयले के अंगार मुझे बुला रहे थे.
[This is an AHRC Statement.]
In the latest blow to social security schemes that are preventing millions of Indians from being pushed to starvation, the Indian government has decided to phase out the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (Food Scheme for the Last Person). The scheme, meant for the poorest of the poor, covers around 20 million people, with most beneficiaries belonging to the most vulnerable sections of the population, like single elderly people, widows, and single mothers.
A recent order issued by the Department of Food and Public Distribution, titled “Targeted Public Distribution System (Control) Order, 2015” states the following:
“Provided that when an Antyodaya household becomes ineligible on account of migration outside the State, improvement in social or economic status, death, etc., no new Antyodaya household shall be identified in that State and the total number of Antyodaya households shall be reduced to that extent.”
Even a cursory glance exposes the absurdity of the Order’s logic. Numerous studies have shown that most of the migration taking place across the Indian countryside is distress migration. People are moving simply for survival and this cannot, therefore, be categorized as beneficiaries climbing out of poverty.
Read with another clause of the same order, which bars people from cover under the Public Distribution System outside their states, and the squeeze of this double whammy hits home. The other relevant clause reads:
“The State Government shall issue a ration card only to a citizen of India who is resident of that State and who fulfils the conditions for getting a ration card as may be prescribed by the State Government.”
The message is clear. Leave your state for whatsoever reason – even for reason of extreme distress – and lose social security cover at both places. In fact, given how poorly all Indian states have implemented the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1978, this Order becomes a triple whammy. If the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act was being implemented in letter and spirit, at least distressed migrant workers could have some security net in their workplace with access to basic healthcare.
Furthermore, the Order caps the number of households covered under the scheme at present numbers and would then progressively reduce beneficiaries by not issuing new cards as beneficiaries become “ineligible” on various counts with the passage of time. In doing so, the Order presumes that no household/individuals are going to be pushed into penury ever again, a laughable presumption given the steep cuts (20%) to an already deflated health budget.
The cuts will hit the poor hardest. Studies have repeatedly medical emergencies to be single biggest reason poor families slip into destitution and/or debt bondage. With a non-functional public health system and the absence of any health insurance cover, most poor families are compelled to make out of pocket health payments for such emergencies. Borrowed money from local money sharks at astronomical rates (5 to 15% compound interest per month) often being the only source, families get trapped into debt bondage.
Phasing out Antyodaya Anna Yojna will affect the poorest of the poor the most. The government must revoke the order if it has not already decided to abandon the poorest in India and accepted debt bondage/modern slavery as a way of life in the Indian hinterlands.
July 14, 2015
[This is an AHRC Article.]
The police in Maharashtra sent a 17-year-old rape survivor back to her assaulters as “bait”, not once but twice. The insensitivity of placing a minor in this situation is manifest. The girl must still have been struggling with the trauma. But, the police also went ahead and botched up the ploy by following the girl too closely the first time around and then being nowhere close the second time. The policemen thus ended up getting the minor raped again.
The legendary inefficiency and insensitivity of police forces in India has never been suspect. From beating minor suspects arrested for petty crimes to pulp in full public view to parading the accused on donkey backs, the Indian police’s deeds have stopped baffling people long ago. A majority of Indian citizens, mostly the poor and marginalized, have been compelled to accept and internalise this to the extent that they would prefer going to the local criminals and not to the police to get their issues resolved. Ask them why and they may shrug, as if indicating, what is the difference between the two in any case?
But stop and consider the police allowing a serious penal offence like rape committed on their watch; one may wonder about the absurdity of it, and even the very possibility of something like this occurring anywhere else in world, even in the most rotten criminal justice systems.
What would have been on the minds of the officers who employed this “out of the box” method of investigation into a serious crime? Did they have any clue about the guidelines put in force after the infamous Delhi gang rape and murder case in 2012? Did they know that Justice J.S. Verma has put the blame of continuing sexual assaults against women squarely with the criminal justice system?
In the final report of the Justice Verma Committee on Amendments to Criminal law, constituted in the aftermath of outrage that rocked the nation, it is observed, “… the root cause behind sexual assault upon women is a failed criminal justice process, particularly the police and delay in prosecutions.”
Maharashtra police have proved him right, once again. One does not know what else the police undertook for investigating the case, as the details are still emerging. What one can be certain about is that the process flouted all standard procedures in investigations of sexual assaults.
Take the Delhi Police’s Standard Operating Procedure (SoP) for investigation of rape cases, as per Delhi Standing Order no. 313 of 2005, of the Office of the Commisisioner of Police. The first and foremost thing it marks out is handling the victim/survivor with utmost care and sympathy and sending both the victim and the accused persons for medical examination at the earliest. Evidently, neither was Maharashtra police sensitive towards the survivor nor did it do anything to arrest the accused for having their medical examination conducted.
Another important aspect of SoP for rape investigation is securing the alleged crime scene to ensure that evidence does not get destroyed. The fact that the police decided to use the rape survivor as “bait” shows that they were aware of the crime scene and the accused persons allegedly involved. It is baffling that they went ahead with this inane ploy that could endanger the safety of the survivor rather than securing the crime scene and collecting evidence, including DNA for forensic inquiry.
If the media reports are to be believed, the idea and execution of this idea was that of Vinod Ejjapwar, a male police officer, despite the SoP of having female officers as the Investigating Officers. Though the police have promised an inquiry into his role in 20 days, the failure may not lie with him alone. There is a whole chain of failures in this case with a whole set of people responsible for specific acts of omission and commission.
For example, his superiors, flouting the norm of having a female officer in charge of the case, appointed him as Investigating Officer. Similarly, the plan of using a rape survivor, as “bait”, may have been his own genius at work, but it would have taken many other cops to execute the same nonchalantly to botch it all up. This is why one must not hope too much from the inquiry committee report, which will likely be, as usual, an attempt at whitewash the episode of investigative brilliance, rather than an opportunity for course correction.
Such glaring failures have deflated the chances of justice for rape survivors. In cases of rape survivors, the chance of a rapist being punished is today near half what it was in the 1970’s. In 1973, the year Aruna Shanbaug was attacked, the conviction rate in rape cases was 44.3% as against 27.1 % in 2013, following a little improvement from 24.2% in 2012. The only thing worse than the dreary conviction rates is the fate of the rape cases pending trial in courts. The rates were 83.4% in 2014, with a slight improvement from 85.1% in 2012.