Iron fist for small fish, velvet glove for sharks?

Monday Musing

[ Amar Sangno ]

To prevent and detect crime;
To pursue justice for all;
To uphold law fairly and firmly;
To maintain peace in partnership with the community.

These are the main objectives of every state police in their citizens’ charter. It is considered that, ideally, a strong relationship between the police and the citizens is the only way to have effective policing in a society.
Arunachal’s home department is undertaking a rigorous campaign, the Hamara Arunachal Abhiyan (HAA), to make the people more responsible and vigilant and help in policing, and to instill mutual trust between the law enforcing department and the citizens.
However, a satirical cartoon by Jene Hai on the police not disclosing the identities of dealers and buyers of illegally acquired high-end luxury cars threw up an open debate on the police’s approach towards rich thieves and poor thieves. While four persons involved in the recent case of illegal sale of luxury cars have been arrested and are reportedly in judicial custody, their names remain undisclosed.
Jene’s cartoon carried the following conversation between two persons: “Arrey, paper me tumlog ka photo ayega socha tha. Photo nahi aya hai toh,” says a man. The other replies: “Humlog chota mota mobile chor ya bike lifter nahi hai. Fortuner chor hai.”
It was a bold commentary on the police for going soft on a certain section of the society.
I believe Jene’s argument was that the police often pose for photo ops with bike lifters, mobile phone thieves and drug peddlers, and these photos readily find space in the local dailies as well as social media.
A day after the news of the recovery of 12 high-end luxury cars broke on social media, Capital Complex Superintendent of Police, Tumme Amo, convened a press briefing at the Itanagar police station. I hopped into my car and reached the spot, excited to see the police officers posing for pictures with the high-profile thieves in front of symmetrically lined up cars. To everyone’s disappointment, we neither saw the high-profile thieves, nor did we learn anything about their identity.
Speaking during an HAA programme, Itanagar MLA Techi Kaso asked the police authority to disclose the names of those who are involved in selling stolen cars. “Even if the person is from my clan, do not hesitate to disclose his name. If the police don’t disclose such people’s names in public, they would be encouraged to commit more crimes,” said Kaso.
The SP refused to disclose the names of the quartet involved in the racket, stating that doing so would affect the investigation. Indeed, a young colleague of ours, who was holding three boom mics throughout the SP’s briefing, got cramp in his hand but never learned the identity of the thieves. We returned with dejected faces.
Denying the allegation of handling rich criminals with kid gloves, Amo said, “If we were scared or dishonest, my constable would have taken bribes from these people. Instead, they (the police officers) detained two Fortuners on 22 January on my instructions.”
According to the police, the suppliers of the high-end cars have a strong connection in New Delhi, and they have transit camps in Siliguri (West Bengal) and Tezpur (Assam) to dispose of stolen cars to prospective customers.
“Some people are making nonsense allegations only because they are impatient and eager to know,” SP Amo said in defiance.
Certainly, the law enforcers have their own standard operating procedures, depending on security sensitivity, which the civilians cannot access easily. Normally, the police do not disclose names and identify criminals involved in bigger crimes at a premature stage as it may jeopardize the investigation. In other words, revealing the name of the accused is an insensitive act. So we must appreciate the sensitivity of the department.
However, if this is the case, why was a Class 9 student who was apprehended by the police, allegedly for possessing brown sugar, allowed to be filmed by a bystander in front of the police while he was being taken to the police station in Ziro, in 2019? In the video the boy was seen pleading with the person not to film, saying his parents would be shattered if the video went viral. Reportedly, the boy committed suicide under mysterious circumstances after the video went viral on social media. Though the police denied having uploaded the video, they failed the boy miserably.
The impact of the operation to retrieve stolen cars can be seen by the fact that the owner of an illegally procured Fortuner recently abandoned his car on the museum road in Itanagar, leaving behind a chit reading: “I am voluntary surrender my car, please anybody call police.”
Perhaps the owner was a law abiding citizen, or perhaps he didn’t want his picture on the front pages of the local dailies. Though he voluntarily surrendered his car, it still attracts Section 411 of the Indian Penal Code, which says that whoever dishonestly receives or retains any stolen property, knowing or having reason to believe the same to be stolen property, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years.
Police sources said that there are more high-end stolen cars plying around in the state with fake documents obtained illegally from the registration authorities. “To nip the racket, the police need time to investigate and book the kingpin,” said a police officer on condition of anonymity.
While the investigation is taking its own course, the people are waiting with bated breath to see the picture of the high-profile accused squatting in front of police officers, with the tagline: “Apna time aa gaya!”