INDIA: Police, save thyself

INDIA: Police, save thyself

The political debate that followed the murder of Mr. T. P. Chandrashekharan in Kerala provided a unique opportunity for reformation of the policing system in the state. However, none in the state, not even the police, is willing to take up the chance and garner the support needed to end the despicable misuse of the police institution to political appetites and ambitions. It is both appalling and disheartening to witness the loss of honour and morale in such an important state institution, loss which smothers the institution’s capacity to respond to everyday crime and demand change.AHRC-STM-117-2012.JPG

What made this particular murder so important? T. P. Chandrashekharan was a politician who had left the Communist Party of India (Marxist) because of intra-party divisions. He did however continued his political work with the Revolutionary Marxist Party, a decision which apparently irked the CPI(M). It was reported that the CPI(M) reacted to this perceived betrayal by hiring assassins to murder Chandrashekharan. On 4 May 2012, a gang of criminals, most of them arrested since, waylaid the victim and slashed him in the face 51 times using machetes, leaving him for dead. Chandrashekharan died later that same day on his way to the hospital.

The ruling coalition in the state responded immediately by issuing statements accusing the CPI(M) as the organisation responsible for ordering the murder. The CPI(M) countered those allegations with claims that the ruling party is engaged in a witch-hunt to corner the CPI(M), the leading opposition party. The allegations, denials and ripostes between the two parties continue today, the furore throwing new light onto the state of affairs of policing in Kerala.

None other than the Inspector General of Police in Kerala issued the first statement that seemed to suggest the partiality of the police. Within 72 hours of the murder, the IGP had stated that the murder had been carried out for private gains; this statement naturally implied that the CPI (M) had nothing to do with the murder. It is suspicious that the IGP could have issued such a statement before the formal investigation had even been concluded. A Special Investigation Team constituted by the state government then pieced together statements from suspects in custody that revealed the assassins had been in constant communication with CPI(M) leaders immediately before and after the murder. A local party leader who had been arrested confessed to arranging a safe house for the assassins and to paying them a “fee” before and after the murder. The overwhelming volume of evidence that surfaced within five days of the murder collectively pointed to the complicity of CPI(M) in the murder. This soon forced the IGP to correct his earlier position. The IGP subsequently denied having made such a statement at all.

Leaders from the upper echelons of the CPI(M) began issuing statements for which they would have been charged with organised crime – in any other context. Statements include, “…if the CPI(M) wanted, it could undertake the murder beyond detection…[and] had we been behind the murder we would also have the honesty to own up to it as we have in the past…” That a political party is responsible at all for murder and proudly proclaims it demonstrates callousness, impunity and disregard for the law. This is a moral affront to the people of Kerala and for India. But there is a further truth to be told from such observations.

The police in Kerala and throughout India are first and foremost servants of the people of India, and instruments of greater goods – justice and peace. The reality is, however, that the police are not the impartial and independent body they should be. Neither do the police seem to desire that independence. A leader of the CPI (M), Mr. Sitaram Yechury, issued another noticeably more conciliatory statement that the party would “cooperate” with the investigation. Such an attitude betrays the corollary of deciding to cooperate – that an option to not cooperate with the police is also available to the party. Can the police even discharge their duties and properly investigate a crime when a dismissive and criminal political party is perpetually challenging their authority? Does justice itself not deserve to be prioritised over the inter-party mud-slinging and political intrigue? What about the duty the police owe to justice and to the Indian people?

The CPI(M) pre-emptively pointed fingers at the ruling coalition, slamming it for abusing its authority and misappropriating police apparatus to wreak vengeance against a powerful opposition. What is easily overlooked in such political manoeuvring is the fact that the CPI(M) has only recently become part of the opposition. Until 2011, the CPI(M) had been the ruling party and was itself in a position to exploit state machinery. Contributing greatly to the building thesis that the police is critically influenced by political actors is the observation that during the five years of CPI(M) led state government, the police institution had drafted the Kerala Police Act 2010. This Act was drafted by the police, not the legislative assembly which has actual legal mandate to do so. The lack of clarity, loose and incoherent use of legal language and successful attempts to replace the 1861 Indian Police Act with the Kerala Police Act awarded much unprecedented powers to the police. This circumvention of institutional safeguards and constitutional guarantees provided otherwise in the 1974 Criminal Procedure Code bodes ill for the protection of any individual’s constitutional, legal and human rights.

While undertaking such an important task (of drafting an operational framework for the state police), the government not only did not actively encourage input by impartial experts but even ignored a draft prepared by a committee led by world-renowned jurist, Justice V. R. Krishna Iyyer. The submissions and suggestions by other organisations such as the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) obviously held even less weight in the eyes of the government and state police. The product of such undirected and little informed work was a particularly good example of how legislations should not be. The CPI(M) that led the process had no moral or legal right to subjugate the police. For the police to gain true independence, the Kerala Police Act of 2010 will have to be rewritten.

In another unabashed demonstration of the criminality the CPI(M) was capable of, another senior member of the party, Mr Mani, made a public speech extolling the many atrocities his parties committed. Mr Mani even listed the names of persons his party had ordered to be murdered over a period of time. Such horrific acts and shameless confessions instigate fear among the people, not love and respect. Mr Mani also publicly abused widely acclaimed social activist and writer, Ms Mahasweta Devi, for visiting Chandrashekharan’s family following his murder. The words Mani used against Devi, a writer so honoured by the Indian nation for bringing it glory and honour, proved rather ironically to be of a nature too base for even tabloids to reproduce in their magazines.

Yet apart from Mani’s glaring moral illiteracy, Mani did also divulge telling information about how the CPI(M) were able to manipulate police investigations in each of the murders Mani claimed to possess personal knowledge of. Upon such scornful exposure of their lack of integrity and ability to investigate crime, the police were forced to respond by registering a criminal case against Mani. Yet they could do little more than that as many ‘suspects’ had already been convicted in court trials and the IGP had also already ordered the reopening of the murder cases. Furthermore, the police discovered many case diaries that had contained vital information concerning the corruption of the investigative process had been destroyed. The reason provided, and proven true, was that there had been a simple lack of space for the archival of all the records. This necessarily implies also that the police officers who had “tailored” the investigation to fit the purposes of their political masters could never be identified and punished.

Another incident that reflects this noose-tight and highly unequal nexus between police and politician was when a former state cabinet minister met a CPI(M) comrade in jail. After the meeting, the minister allegedly telephoned one of the investigating officers in the Chandrashekharan murder and demanded to know why his comrade had been tortured during questioning. The former minister expressed anger because he had been expressly assured by the IGP himself that his comrade would not be tortured since the “case is politically sensitive”. The former minister threatened that once he regained his office as cabinet minister he would see to it that the officer is “dealt with”. The officer, fearing for his life, reported the matter to his superior and police headquarters, who responded by providing additional security to the investigating team. Yet no arrest was made, obviously because the former minister’s threat did indeed carry every possibility of being realised.

Another troubling revelation was the need for the IGP to reassure the former minister in the first place that torture will not be conducted against his CPI(M) comrade. This clearly means that torture is otherwise “routine procedure” – a clear violation of human and constitutional rights. The “favour” and special treatment given to the former minister and his comrade now in remand cannot be justified. Individuals stand equally before the law and should be treated and punished equally according to their crime. In this aspect, the police should demonstrate their honour and impartiality as well as a conviction that they owe allegiance to justice above all else. This bullying behaviour by politicians against state police who are legally and morally outside their ambit is contemptible, yet the police feel unable to free themselves from this unhealthy relationship.

None of these concerns haunt the state administration, the state or the informed people of Kerala. The political verbosity concerning Chandrashekharan’s murder is perceived to be ‘business as usual’. It is only some selected actors in the state’s media industry who have courageously taken up the task of exposing the moral, intellectual and administrative wilting of the state police. The police themselves have not expressed concern about the painfully demoralised police constrained by the machinations of perpetually slimy politicians and their “politically sensitive”, politically motivated crimes.

The police institution lacks an operational infrastructure congenial to the discharge of the most basic duties. It lacks moral and legal integrity, a culture of transparency and accountability, consistency, training and skills needed for upholding rule of law in a democratic state. And such disempowerment goes far beyond the physical manoeuvring; politicians have also mentally disarmed and co-opted the populace and the police. No one has come forward to criticise a police leadership that has grovelled, sluggish and servile, before politicians, helping obscure their criminal deeds and moral bankruptcy. After years of such servitude, perhaps it is little wonder an enslaved system does not and cannot dream of its freedom.

Kerala’s police institution’s powerlessness, frustration and corruption are an embarrassment and a tragedy. This lack of courage, honour and conviction has pushed the police institution into a moral and intellectual abyss, where it lies reeking of corruption and ineptitude not entirely its own. Its Machiavellian masters manipulate marionette officers to jail, not jail, torture, not torture, destroy or create evidence, smile, wave and bow as they see fit. Until these cords from which the police dangle are severed, first and foremost through the review of the Kerala Police Act of 2010, there remains little hope in Kerala for reform and true justice.

Picture courtesy: Kerala Police, Government of Kerala

For information and comments contact: 
In Hong Kong: Bijo Francis, Telephone: +852 – 26986339, Email: india@ahrc.asia

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