Saturday, June 11, 2005

Intimidation Is Not Investigation

As a child, this blogger would spend summer breaks in rural UP. In this social cauldron where feudalism & bigotry battled modernity & tolerance, our world-view was given early shape.

These memories are scalded deep, as deep (for context) even as the horrible memory of 9/11.

Three policemen led a heavily chained prisoner into the village. An inevitable zoo of on-lookers (including this blogger) followed the cops & robber from house to house. Apparently, the prisoner was a bicycle thief and was leading the cops to the people he claimed he had sold the stolen bikes to. He'd go to a house, point out a bicycle, then there'd be protests from the owner of the bike, and then -- THE POLICE WOULD SMASH THE ROBBER'S SHINS WITH THEIR LATHIS (in our mind, we can still hear the awful crack of the lathi striking sparse flesh and sheer bone); the howling prisoner would then confess that he had just lied, and would lead the police to another house, where the same procedure would be repeated. For all we know, the guy was a poor innocent man who somehow found himself in police clutches, then confessed for fear of getting beat up, was being forced to locate bicycles he had never stolen, consequently (and ironically), was getting brutally roughed up for having made the fearful confession in the first place.

In December last year, we re-visited rural UP, where we witnessed essentially similar police tactics being plied on a poor, illiterate soul who knew very little about the ideals of law enforcement. For all the post-modern glitz of Bangalore, we still have rural UP where nothing ever changes.

We asked a friend, a police officer, if we could be arrested likewise, without reasonable cause, and beaten up for a confession. He laughed and cited IPC to inform us that, if arrested, we had the right to remain silent and had the right to an attorney. OK, we asked, then why was this right not extended to this poor fellow just beaten up? He shrugged and said, this is how things are done in UP.

Well, not just in UP, it seems, but all over India. Today, via BBC, we read about the court-ordered release of 8 Muslims accused of a bomb blast in Ghatkopar. Of the 19 arrested, not one has been convicted. Why? Because there's a lack of evidence.

Hello? Would we be wrong to see this as one more awful example of the police using intimidation as a cheap substitute for proper investigation? And while they're out there intimidating innocent people, the real terrorists are probably sipping tea somewhere and smiling. What kind of law enforcement is this?

A few weeks back, Dilip had written about a certain Iftikhar Gilani, the journalist son-in-law of the (contemptible) hardline Kashmiri separatist Syed Ali Gilani, who was hauled into prison for allegedly possessing classified information about Indian troop formations in Kashmir. Treated as a traitor, he was allegedly mistreated by the police & by fellow prisoners. Then, in a few months, all charges were dropped and he was released for lack of meaningful evidence.

Dilip used this story to make a liberal point about patriotism. We had a different take. To us, the fact that Mr. Iftikhar Gilani was investigated was entirely reasonable. His father-in-law is a leader of forces inimical to India, and his possession of military information, which while not illegal was surely suspicious, made him a reasonable object of scrutiny. Were India not investigating people like him, we'd have been very surprised.

BUT, investigation is not the same thing as intimidation. To charge a man with very serious crimes, allow him to be roughed up by pathetic criminals in prison, then let him go because the evidence is flimsy at best, is more intimidation than valid fact finding. Why is our police wasting time intimidating people instead of building solid cases that will hold up in court?

Surely, in 2005, there are means to investigate someone without using 19th century tactics typical of tyrannies.


reflections said...

this reminds me of an incident. Not in UP but in Maharashtra. Apparently an advanced state.
I was may be 7-8 years old then. Someone tried to steal cycle from my uncles office that was in our backyard. The people working in the office caught him red-handed and started beating him up. Within next 2-3 minutes my uncle came there and stopped the beating and took the person to the police station. That would have been the logical thing right (Dilip wrote a post about right to whack a few days back). But the police without asking any question and for no reason started beating him up so badly that my uncle widrew charges against him and told the police to set him free. And he kind of changed his opinion on whether a petty thief on streets rather than taking to the police!
This situation poses a problem. If you catch a petty thief, he should be punished. but the punishement he gets through the official law and order is so inhumane that people are encouraged to take the law in hand beat him/her up and leave it at that. Whose fault is that?

doubtinggaurav said...

While I agree with your critique of police tactics, I fail to understand your scorn and contempt
for rural UP. May be you feel ashamed of being born in UP (many of the over educated do).
Do you really think that things are any better in any part of India (south,east,west ....)
Banglore is the exception not the reality of the India

Primary Red said...


scorn & contempt? hardly so. may we suggest you try chilling a bit -- before snapping about things you know little about.

best regards.

doubtinggaurav said...

May I suggest, that you stop finding pride in bashing UP (although it is the most consistent trend of english educated classes)


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