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September 02, 2016

Mewat rapes and murders expose the total failure that is the police

[This is an AHRC Article.]
M.L. Khattar, Chief Minister of Haryana, finally announced the constitution of a Special Investigation team (SIT) to probe the armed robbery, double murder, and gang rapes in Dingerheri Village of Mewat that occurred on 25 August 2016. In the incident, armed robbers broke into a house, gang-raped two women of the family, in front of the family members, and then bludgeoned an elderly couple to death, while also grievously injuring others. This move of the Chief Minister has arrived after serious questions were raised over the conduct of Haryana Police in the aftermath of the incident.
Zakir Hussain, Member of Legislative Assembly representing Nuh, the constituency in which Dingerheri Village rests, was one of those who raised a few questions. He alleged that the police had failed to reach the Village even hours after they were informed about the incident, and had dillydallied into investigating the crime, as well as arresting the suspects. He also blamed the police of diluting the case by charging the accused under Sections 459 and 460 of the Indian Penal Code, carrying the maximum punishment of 20 years, whereas murder charges under Section 302 attract the death penalty. He asserted that the police deliberately added Section 460 (penalty for murder during robbery), instead of gang rape and murder, and that it was all done at the behest of a Union Minister from the state.
The constitution of the SIT exposes the real status of policing in the Haryana state even if one ignores the serious charges levelled by MLA Zakir Hussain. To put it simply, why should an incident of crime require SITs for investigation if the police department is working fine? The routine demands for constitution of SITs and/or investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the premier investigative agency of India, after every such crime, expose the fact that the people have no faith left in the police force and its investigative abilities.
The total loss of faith in the police gives rise to the next question: how then would the victims of crime get justice? Not all of them would get an “outrage” loud and powerful enough to move the state into speedy investigation and redress. The recurrent “outrages” have, in fact, skirted this very important question, and helped “normalise” everyday violence that the people have to suffer. The thumb rule for these outrages seems to be simple: if the crime is not brutal enough and is not committed against the members of middle class, it deserves no outrage; as a corollary, there is no possibility of justice in most cases.
In the given scenario, the silence of the outrage industry has ensured that Dingerheri rapes and murders went largely unreported in the national media. They would have, in fact, been forgotten, like hundreds of similar cases, had it not been for the persistent struggle of the community for justice and visits by some parliamentarians in getting the case some traction in the print media, though the electronic media notably continued to remain silent.
The point, however, remains the same. What if there was a massive outrage seeking justice for the victims? The National Crimes Records Bureau, the official crime statistics keeper of India, put the total number of reported rape cases in 2015 at 34,094. Given the grammar of shame inscribed on the bodies of victims, and not perpetrators, in rape cases, the real figure is widely understood to be much larger than the official one. Can one have an outrage for every rape case reported? Police, prosecution and judiciary exist for the purpose of delivering justice and redress to victims, don't they?
The NCRB data busts this myth too! Despite all the noise made by the government authorities after the infamous December 2012 gang rape-murder in Delhi, 144,914 cases of crimes against women were pending from earlier years, as of 31 December 2015. Add to this, 327,394 cases registered in 2015, and the façade of a functioning justice system is laid bare.
The pendency rates, at the level of investigation by the police are alarming, to say the least: 157,249 cases, or a whopping 33.3 percent of cases of crimes against women were pending even investigation, forget trial, on 31 December 2015. Does this remind anyone of all the “fast track courts” promises made after December 2012?
Can anything get worse than these figures? Check the court records and one knows they certainly can: as many as 1,080,144 cases of crime against women were pending trial in 2015. Add to this the conviction rate at a lowly 21.7% and pendency at staggeringly high 88% and the real chances of women victims of crime getting justice becomes apparent.
Constituting any number of SITs is not going to take care of this massive logjam that frustrates victims’ fight for justice. It is also not going to stop crimes against women, as constituting SITs is no deterrence. It can only reassure criminals, by telling them that they need not fear the incompetent police incapable of solving cases on its own, given the government cannot constitute SITs for every case. It will deal with only those cases that have an “outrage” potential and will deal with them through these cosmetic moves.
If only the outrage industry learns lessons from December 2012 protests. The authorities had then announced a plethora of schemes to deal with the outrage. Setting up a Nirbhaya Fund with 2,000 crore to compensate victims of sexual assault was one of them.
In May 2016, the Supreme Court of India had to lambast the Union and state governments for underutilization of the funds. A vacation bench of Justices P.C. Pant and D.Y. Chandrachud had then told them sternly that unless the scheme was used effectively it would remain nothing else but “lip service”.
Sadly, the same will remain the fate of victims of crimes against women unless all the stakeholders, from citizens to State authorities, turn their gaze back to the justice institutions themselves. One cannot ensure justice to people when the institutions, right from the courts to the police, are themselves sick. Alas, not many in India seem to even take cognizance of the fact; most prefer to get carried away with announcement of SITs and CBI investigations.

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