By Dr. Oishee Mukherjee
The killings of four persons in Hyderabad allegedly accused of rape once again point to organized violence of the State. Such counter killings are not at all healthy from the judicial point as these are indications of unfettered violence which should not be allowed to continue in a democratic society. Obviously, details of the encounter raise suspicions about the role of the police force keen to absolve itself of the charges of initial inaction, levelled by the murdered woman’s family.
Undoubtedly, such encounter killings may have their genesis in bumping off Maoists. The violence of this ultra Left group was mostly manifest in such killings, especially in Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand. But Mahatma Gandhi would have condemned resorting to such violence by the State in a democratic polity.
Though rape needs to be condemned in the strongest possible terms, the euphoria across the country has not considered the methodology in tackling such a menace. Rights groups aptly gave vent to their outrage that the suspects never got a chance to face trial and accused the police of acting like a lynch mob. Some accepted that the national celebratory mood owed to the growing lawlessness in the country and the perceived failure of the judicial system in punishing criminals.
Meanwhile, former Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, expressed concerns about the killing. Observing, “Coming as the killings do in the wake of repeated cases of torture and custodial deaths, necessary questions about the abuse of power by the armed constabulary of the State cannot be brushed aside any longer. Consistent with the libertarian and dignitarian conscience of the Republic, we need to put in place foolproof mechanisms to ensure that the exercise of power by the guardians of people’s liberties is tamed by Constitutional discipline”.
Kumar rightly pointed out that in a Constitutional democracy we need a muscular State which owes no apology to Constitutional constraints. The question of our failure to dispense prompt justice and the long delays in settling cases are also quite relevant in this context and needs to be seriously examined. Indeed, it is quite distressing that we have encouraged lynch justice as just due process of bringing criminals to justice.
Undoubtedly, such crimes deserve harshest punishment but there is no justification for extra-judicial killings as these are a deterrent to the Constitution. Not only jurists but also a former BSF Director General and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) have condemned these killings and laid down guidelines to investigate police encounters.
In fact, the Supreme Court pointed out that extra-judicial killings required a thorough probe by an independent agency to ensure fairness along-with a perception of fairness. There is no dearth of laws or precedents, including from the ApexCourt giving extensive guidelines to alleviate the plight of victims of sexual abuse.
Questionably, why has such arbitrary action being taken? Are we not moving towards a grim future for the rule of law in the country?
Already the NHRC has sent a team to probe the killings as it found ‘deaths in custody’ were a matter of serious concern. It is also expected that a CBI probe may be announced shortly. But what is necessary is that broad guidelines be framed regarding such killings and action against police officers taken for such violation.
Besides, Opposition leaders are asserting that India was fast developing as a “rape capital of the world” as such incidents are occurring daily in different parts of the country with the Government being virtually a silent spectator. Different forms of crime are accentuating day-by-day, especially against women and young girls.
Records point to children continuously facing the brunt of sexual offences. Shockingly, over 166,000 pending rape cases are registered under the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences. Though the POSCO Act, provides that pending rape cases should be disposed within a year, this has yet to be implemented even as the Law Ministry is seriously looking into the matter. However, as things stand now, it would indeed be difficult to accomplish this task within 2020-21.
However, surprisingly, the lackadaisical attitude of those in authority has had little effect in curbing rape cases though rape laws were amended in post Nirbhaya case in 2013. How much effect has vigilantism of women’s rights groups, protests and awareness generation, though mainly in cities, has this had in our present-day society?
One positive thing is that more and more cases against sexual violence, trafficking and rape are being reported despite poor and impoverished sections still being afraid of registering cases due to police officers indifference and reluctance. Notwithstanding, Section 166A of IPC which makes it an offence for a police officer to refuse to register an FIR in cases of acid attacks, rapes or even outraging the modesty of a woman.
Moreover the upper echelons of society, who mostly commit such crimes have power and wealth to purchase the police and the lower judiciary. It is also fact that abuse of dominant position by persons in authority, fiduciary has been increasing though it was made a separate offence. Although nothing is known of the Hyderabad killings, it may be that wrong people were gunned down and the real rapists are still at large.
The increase in crimes, particularly those relating to girls and children in so-called ‘modern’ society must have a solid reason. Clearly, the lust for power and money as also poverty and deprivation in the rural and backward regions of the country are the broad reasons for this state of affairs. This increase of lust has been an offshoot of the materialist culture pervading our society. Increase corruption of our political leaders and reflection of this in films has added to the problem.
Undeniably, changing our attitude, considering the present social structure of society, is a very difficult proposition. The young generation residing in cities are mostly pampered. Also, socio-religious attitude is missing amongst them. It is surprising that though education levels have spread especially among girls they have not been able to successfully withstand crimes against them.
How will this change and whether it will change, remains to be seen. But civil society has to be more vigilant country-wide and woman police personnel should come forward to help the opposite sex. But the onus is on politicians who must try to implement justice and not just go for extra-judicial killings.
Meanwhile it is heartening to know that the Law Minister has decided to write to all State Chief Ministers and Chief Justices to complete investigation into rape cases and those registered under the POSCO Act. —— INFA