It was the perpetrators’ blatant contempt for the law and its enforcers that had provoked particular anger among civil society in the Nirbhaya case. Rape is sadly too common an occurrence in India and a major contributing factor it is increasingly believed is the inability of the police to investigate the crime and prosecute the criminals. People question why there is such furore over ‘high profile’ cases and not the unknown, unreported cases of poor victims. In the essence it is a demand not for relief in a particular case, but for the police to acquire the professional capability to bring the guilty to book, irrespective of where the crime takes place. Where the suspected perpetrators are influential persons, like Tehelka’s Tarun Tejpal, this ability comes under an even greater cloud of suspicion.
The investigative ability and impartiality of the police has been found wanting in case after case. Even in cases where the perpetrator has been identified, the police forces in India have failed to gather the necessary evidence, too often because they are deliberately looking the other way; and also because they do not know where to look! One still awaits, for instance, the result of the investigation into the firing incident at Minister Harak Singh Rawat’s residence in Doon, during which people were injured but there seemed to have been no shooter! This is why, be it at the village level or the national capital, the first thing people do after a crime is committed is to gherao the authorities concerned to ensure the case is not deliberately tampered with.
It is only in India that suspects regularly demand that the investigating agency be changed because the partiality of the state police is under suspect. The latest to do so is Tejpal, who clearly is implying that with the BJP in power in Goa, he is going to get it in the neck. Conversely, a ‘central’ agency would probably take a view more favourable of him. Of course, no such privilege has been granted to Asaram Bapu, the seventy-five year old godman who has been cooling his heels in jail without bail for months now.
There can be no doubt that the professional integrity of the police has been deliberately and progressively undermined over the years by the political establishment. This has been done mainly by offering a share of the ‘spoils’ and permitting various lucrative practices to continue within the force. Just as the British cultivated a race of ‘toadies’ in the country to serve their interests, honest and upstanding officers have been systematically sidelined and a culture of abject subservience encouraged. The recommendations of various committees and rulings of the Supreme Court over the years on preserving the autonomy of the police have also been overlooked in the process.
The police have also been denied top notch professional training in 21st Century methods and procedures, as also the necessary equipment. All the political masters want is the ability to pursue cases against opponents even if it means manufacturing them. If Ramdev can’t be got one way, get after him in 87 other ones! The case against Asaram Bapu was of rape but action by investigative agencies has extended in all directions including his son, his ashrams, etc. This gives rise to the suspicion that it is not enforcement of the law that is the objective but something else. How does, for instance, a specific case of rape get proved by investigating alleged land grab and financial wrongdoings? But that is how things work in India. No wonder the conviction rate in rape cases has actually declined steeply, while the overall rate languishes in single digits!