The Delhi Police is in the news once more--after the Baba Ramdev episode-- for the wrong reasons. I am a staunch admirer as well as its bitter critic. The force has performed remarkably well on the dignitary protection front and maintenance of public order. But its handling of sensational crime, especially the one against women, has often been controversial and lacking in credibility. The December 16 gang rape has put Commissioner Neeraj Kumar and his men on the mat. The latest charge --one levelled by the 28-year-old software engineer who was with the girl-- is that there was culpable delay in taking the hapless girl to hospital.
The criticism of the Delhi Police by a cross-section of the public and the media however conveniently ignores the fact that the force was amazingly quick to identify the aggressors and bring them to book. To cap it all the charge-sheet against the six the accused has been laid in court in record time. This positive response, quite uncharacteristic of the Indian Police, is however unlikely to appease public opinion which is convinced that the Delhi Police was ham handed in the case. It is alleged to be insensitive and negligent whenever it comes to sexual crimes against women. However unreasonable such a perception of a principal law enforcement agency might be, what goes against the police is its track record of corruption and brutality. It would take decades for the police to overcome this unsavoury reputation because police recruitment is mired in corruption and training is nominal and superficial. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that older and older candidates are coming into the IPS, and many of these seek the good life in preference to hard field work to take care of problems like attacks on the weaker sections of society. This is why solid community endeavour is far more effective than a blind dependence on law enforcement agencies.
The key question is: could this rape and murder have been averted by a more sensitive and humane police force? The emphatic answer is “No”. Crimes of passions are dictated by opportunities and momentary impulses which are hardly contained by the fear of law or penalty. Having said this, I would like to hasten to put the record straight. The current widespread lack of fear of law resulting from police apathy and favouritism fuelled by the political masters of the police certainly explains what happened in this recent case. The well known fact that in India, you cannot get a case registered in any police station across the country without greasing the palms of the Station House Officer and his staff makes male predators smug that they could buy their way through freedom even if they get caught following a rape. It is this weakness in the system that persuades me to believe that women will continue to be major victims of crime in India in the years to come.
A death sentence to the rapist is emotionally appealing. Its impact on criminality cannot however be sustained. All those who have jumped into the bandwagon are being impulsive, and they hardly realize that capital punishment enhances the degree of proof which Courts require to convict an offender. The current rate of failure of rapes all over the country bears testimony to this. We could be witness to more acquittals of confirmed rapists when death sentence becomes one of the options available to the Judge, a development that would definitely encourage violence on women rather than reverse it.
Notwithstanding this cynicism I would opt for a number of measures that would fortify physical security for women, especially in public places. CCTV coverage should be expanded, provided there are well trained staff to monitor stations which will have to be set up in public premises. Such a tool has greatly helped to prevent crime on the streets of London as also nab offenders who ignore public cameras and still commit crime.
Total segregation of the sexes in public offices and educational institutions is difficult and preposterous. A generous sprinkling of policemen and policewomen in crowded railway stations, religious places, cinema houses and hospitals is not a bad idea at all, provided you have enough resources and you are willing to persevere with them. Training of young women in martial arts could also help.
In a huge country like ours the main problem is however one of numbers. How are we going to cover such a large geography and a mind boggling population? This is where the practicality of all these measures, however well conceived, is highly suspect.
Public expectation of protection by the police is enormous, despite the abysmally poor reputation of Indian police forces. Whether the police will respond substantially is anybody’s guess. A lot will depend on the IPS leadership There are dedicated men and women in the service. Whether they would like to soil their hands fighting against intruders is a big question. One thing is certain. There is no place for politics here. Political parties will have to sink their differences and cooperate in taking part in the exercise in making our roads safe, something that the father of the nation yearned for.
R.K. Raghavan is a former CBI Director.