Monday, December 29, 2008

JUSTICE DENIED?



It was shocking to say the least. Not that it was uncommon – Girl spurns the overtures of a youth, and he throws acid on her. It was a heinous and a cowardly way of venting anger. This incident happened in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, two girls were victims of an acid attack. It is a grim battle ahead for these girls. The perpetrators, three young men in their twenties were nabbed on the complaint lodged by the girls & their parents. A few days later all three of them were killed in an ‘encounter’ by the police. Very shocking indeed!
Human rights activists point out that the ‘encounter killings’ were done to cover up for the laxity on the part of the police to take cognizance of a complaint by the one of the girls, Swapnika, and her parents. In October, the main accused had set on fire a scooter belonging to the father of the Swapnika who had spurned him. He did this to terrorise the family. A police complaint was lodged, the police arrested the accused; filed a case of arson under IPC but set him free when he paid a fine of Rs. 110. The victim’s family alleges that bribes were paid to set the accused free. The father had then complained to the higher authorities; but it fell on deaf ears; probably the police did not perceive a threat. Perhaps emboldened by the lack of action on the part of the police, the main accused and his friends threw acid on the girls. When the attack did happen, it must have jolted the police, who it is now alleged, arranged the fatal ‘encounter’ as a cover up.
People applauded and the main accused’s father refused to claim his body for cremation saying that his son deserved the treatment meted to him.
In the past year or so, it is now reported that the Warangal police have ‘neutralised’ at least three other criminal elements.
Two wrongs do not make a right. !
Encounter killings, are common place in police parlance. Criminal elements are eliminated swiftly and many of you will agree that in this manner justice is meted out swiftly!
But worrying issues crop up.
The modus operandi of the ‘encounter killings’ is simple, the arrested person is taken to a desolate place & gunned down in cold blood. Then an elaborate attempt is made to inform the public that the arrested/accused tried to escape and in the process snatched a gun from a police officer, shot at the police, and in retaliatory firing the arrested/accused was killed. Police friendly media then do the reporting with convincing pictures. One of the police party even feigns an injury!
It is now known that in many such killings, the personnel of the police force were paid to carry out the killings; either by rivals or by rich & powerful patrons whose beans would have spilled if the arrested criminal element squealed!
And in some cases, innocents were apprehended, and then ‘killed’; a sure and safe way of murdering a person!
Since these criminal elements are a menace to society & knowing that the prevailing justice system (not the law) may set him free, we tacitly approve of such killings – a sure sign of a society frustrated with its systems.
But instead of applauding, shouldn’t we be protesting?
We should protest against the corruption ridden systems & lethargic procedures that make a mockery of the laws that govern us.
Each one of us has to have recourse to law. If we were to dispense justice through ‘encounter’ killings it would be easy to eliminate people whom we do not like or see eye to eye. All that we have to do is have them arrested and then bribe the police to do the death rites!
We live in a civilised society. However heinous the crime, the justice system should prevail!

P.S. Twenty one-year-old final year engineering student Swapnika died early on Wednesday,31st December 2008, three weeks after suffering an acid attack that left her with 55 per cent fourth degree burns.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH?



Where were you on the night of 26th November?

I was busy packing my bags. I was leaving for Patna on 27th morning. A friend called to alert me about some ‘gang war’ that was happening at Café Leopold. I switched on the TV and got sucked into the world of terrorism.

In October, I had spent some time in Mumbai, to be precise - South Mumbai. My wife had accompanied me, and we had a great time in that part of Mumbai. Breakfast would be at Café Leopold; and I would wind a long day with a beer at Café Leopold. The promenade in front of the Taj was our walking space in the evening. A bite a Ling’s Pavilion just behind Taj where we were served by Mangalorean waiters, was another place we liked to visit. It came as a shock - a month earlier and who knows; could we have been involved?

Come to think of it, India is a soft target. Everyone, from the petty thief to the sophisticated terrorist knows that our law enforcement agencies work with equipment that dates back to the 1970s and we have a system that is corrupt and abused. The hierarchy in the command chain prevents quick decision making. It was waiting to happen and it did!

The TV anchors and reporters went berserk! There they were like headless chickens, shrill and loud, endlessly repeating the same things over and over again with no real method to their coverage. The young amongst them waxed eloquence minute after minute, thrusting mikes under anybody willing to talk and then analyzing it threadbare. The older amongst them decided to dictate our response -light a candle, hold a vigil & denounce the politicians. All the reporting was only about the Taj & all the time images flashed of only the ‘famous five’ who died. The reporting was so flawed and unfairly biased. Yours truly, indignant & exasperated, sent a message to one of the TV channels which read: Does one have to be famous to be mourned? What about the 56 who perished at the railway station. Why do you pick a theme, thrash it limp, and then forget it?

Politicians were ducking for cover. That breed of rudely insensitive & shamelessly selfish netas was being targeted. Not being trained in the fine art of subtle speech, they were contracting the famous foot-in-the-mouth disease. They are yet to realise that we are masters of our unsaid words and slaves of those we let slip out!

After the furore came the calm. Candle light vigils, speeches, blogs et al are slowly but surely drying up. People are back to where they were. Mumbai looks like a bad dream. Many questions remain unanswered. Prominent among them :
1. Where there just 10 terrorists; 2 to a place?
2. Who helped them?
3. What was the objective of hostages if there was no demand to be met?
4. Who was staying in the room that served as the control room for the terrorists at the Taj?
5. There was an inordinate delay in the response time. Within such time, Taj & Trident could have been blown up. Did the plans of the terrorists backfire?

On 27th I travelled to Patna. This was my first trip. I cannot say if it has improved or not. The improvement or lack of it, according to me depends to a large extent on the people who live there. Patna is a sprawling city where filth & squalor co exist. Poverty is striking. It has scope for improvement and people live in hope.

The taxi driver who took me around was a treasure trove of information. He was quite critical of his fellow Biharis; lamenting that progress was either stifled or postponed by the ruling class. If time permitted he wanted to take me on a tour of the place. I have assured him that on my next visit, I may decide to do just that!

He dropped me off at the airport for my return journey. As I reached for my bags, he said, “Patna is more peaceful than Mumbai”. He paused, probably for effect, and then said “I will pick you up on 15th evening Sir”. He got into his taxi and with a final wave of his hand he drove off. I must have been smiling to myself as I walked into the terminal to await my flight!