Archive for January 2013

Fast track courts are being hailed as they promise to deliver swift justice. But the pressure to perform fast may also lead to a miscarriage of justice.

The nationwide outrage over the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi has led to a call for speedy trial of grievous criminal cases. Responding to the public outcry, the government recently announced that it would set up 1,800 fast track courts to deal with heinous crimes, especially those committed against women.

But the question being asked is how effective these courts are. Some believe that for a country plagued by a huge shortage of judges and lack of adequate judicial infrastructure, fast track courts will not necessarily translate into speedy justice.

Fast track courts are presided over by the judges of sessions courts (district level courts that deal with criminal cases). The judges are taken out of a general pool of judges heading regular sessions courts, thus adding to the backlog of cases that are still to be resolved.

“In India, there are 11 judges per million people as against the ideal ratio of 60 judges. The government should first appoint more judges before setting up fast track courts,” argues Supreme Court advocate Rebecca Mammen John.

In the past one month, six regular sessions courts in Delhi have been converted to fast track courts to hear rape cases, including the December 16 incident of gang rape and murder. These courts have disposed of 24 cases of sexual assault on women in past three weeks. But in the process of giving priority to a particular kind of crime, other cases are being pushed to the sidelines, lawyers complain.

“For example, three terrorist-related cases were to be heard in a sessions court at Tis Hazari on January 17. But on the date of the hearing, we were told that this particular court is now a fast track one and all its previous cases have been transferred to another sessions court. The hearing has now been pushed to February because the other court complains its hands are already full with older cases,” says Delhi-based lawyer N.D. Pancholi.

The concept of fast track courts to speed up the judiciary system gathered ground in 1999. Around 1,743 courts were set up to take up sessions cases pending for two years or more and the cases of undertrials on priority. In a span of 10 years, fast track courts disposed of around 28 lakh cases out of the 35 lakh cases that were transferred to them.

Some experts feel that only fast track courts can lead to speedy justice. “People have lost faith in the judiciary system because of long delays in trials. Fast track courts give people the hope that there is light on the other side of the tunnel,” says former Justice Patri Basanna Gouda of Bangalore, who was one of the members of a committee that set up fast track courts in Karnataka in 2000.

In West Bengal, 88 fast track courts were set up recently to hear cases of crimes against women. “Matters that can be tried taking prima facie evidence should be heard in fast track courts to reduce the pendency of litigation,” Calcutta-based advocate Chitra Bhanu Gupta says.

But others argue that giving some crimes priority over others is a violation of a citizen’s right to justice. “By fast tracking some cases and ignoring others, the judiciary sends out a wrong message to the public that some cases are more important than others,” John holds.

A fast track court doesn’t always deliver speedy justice either. For example, a 1997 case of gang rape of a 26-year-old woman by seven men at a hostel in Rajasthan University was heard in a fast track court but the verdict of 10 years of rigorous imprisonment for all the accused was delivered only in October last year.

Lawyers believe that adjournments in fast track courts should be monitored by the higher courts. “The high court of each state should monitor the functioning of the sessions courts. Judges of the fast track courts should be hauled up for giving multiple adjournments,” maintains N. Santosh Hegde, former Supreme Court justice and former Lokayukta, Karnataka.

There are other problems with fast track justice too. Sometimes, cases are disposed of so fast that they can lead to miscarriage of justice. Experts worry that there’s pressure on fast track courts to deliver justice at the earliest. Earlier this month, a 10-day trial led to a Delhi fast track court awarding the death penalty to a 60-year-old farmhouse guard for raping and killing a three-year-old girl two years ago.

Lawyers object to such hurried trials. “The court should give enough time to both the prosecution and the defence to present witnesses during a preliminary hearing and also for cross-examining each other’s witnesses,” John stresses.

Indeed, there was criticism of a fast track court which was hearing the Best Bakery Case of the 2002 Gujarat riots. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) submitted a special leave petition in the Supreme Court against the verdict of the fast track court, which acquitted all the 21 accused in the case relating to the murder of 14 Muslims. It said the judge had made no effort to ascertain why witnesses had turned hostile. The NHRC also raised strong objections to why there was no effective cross examination of witnesses who contradicted their earlier written propositions.

In Mumbai, too, questions are often raised about the fast track courts. In 2005, around 15 such courts were set up for speedy justice in rape, murder and dacoity cases. “But in more than 50 per cent of cases, the high court overturned the conviction by the fast track courts. Cases tried by fast track courts are usually cases of hurried and buried justice,” Mumbai-based advocate Yug Chaudhry states.

Some experts also question the sustainability of these fast track courts. Initially, the fast track courts were partially funded by the Centre but in 2011, the funding of all fast track courts stopped. More than 70 per cent of the fast track courts across the country were shut down as the states couldn’t afford to run them. “I doubt the seriousness of the government on fast track courts as these announcements were made only to lessen public anger,” holds Colin Gonsalves, founder, Human Rights Law Network.

Swift judgments in fast track courts do not necessarily mean succour for the victim either. Often, cases get stuck in a high court and then the Supreme Court when the defence teams file an appeal.

Of course, there is also the belief that unless courts speed up justice, the huge backlog of cases will only get bigger. Some top retired judges feel that the entire judiciary system should be put on a faster track to ensure certainty of punishment. “We have to create more courts and appoint more qualified judges to speed up the justice delivery system. Creating a few fast track courts will not serve the purpose,” former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, J.S. Verma, stresses.

The government, however, is confident that the legal infrastructure will soon be improved. “I have written to the Prime Minister asking for a good sum of money for building more court rooms and for appointing more judges,” Union law minister Ashwani Kumar states.

Till then, the debate on the overall efficacy of fast track courts will continue.

(Published in The Telegraph, January 30,2013)

An hour before midnight is not quite the time for an interview with an actor. But with Nawazuddin Siddiqui, anything is possible. Busy as he is with a spate of films, the actor can only spare time late at night. And when he does emerge from his room, he looks exhausted.And, no, he doesn’t look like a star. But Siddiqui — five feet and seven inches tall and dressed in a dark grey T-shirt, blue jeans and a black jacket — is happy that he doesn’t. “I would be happy if people just called me an actor.”

And an actor he certainly is. Till a few years ago, few filmgoers had heard of Nawazuddin Siddiqui. But 2012 catapulted him to fame, with his roles in Kahaani,Gangs of Wasseypur and Talaash being hailed by critics and viewers alike.

Siddiqui has just returned home after a shoot in Panvel for Ketan Mehta’s Mountain Man. He plays the real life character of Dashrath Manjhi — a villager who toiled with a hammer and chisel for 22 years to construct a passage through the Gehlour hills in Bihar, reducing a 75km-long route to a mere kilometre.

“It’s an honour to play the character of a man who had such perseverance and willpower,” Siddiqui says.

When it comes to perseverance, the 37-year-old actor has not been lagging behind either. His own journey from a village called Budhana in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district to Mumbai can be the subject of a story. Born into a poor farmer’s family, he was the eldest of nine siblings — seven brothers and two sisters.

After school, he went to Gurukul Kangri University in Uttarakhand to study chemistry. He worked as a chemist in a Vadodara-based petrochemical company in 1989 but he left the job soon thereafter. “I realised that this was not my real interest,” he says.

That his passion lay in acting became clear to him after he moved to Delhi, lured to the city by friends who were already there. Some of the friends were keen on theatre, and Siddiqui found himself watching 70 plays in six months. He spent time hanging around at the National School of Drama (NSD) — which he subsequently joined — and took part in plays staged by the Sakshi Theatre Group, working with people such as Saurabh Shukla and Manoj Bajpayee, who went on to make a name for themselves in Mumbai.

“I developed an interest in acting but didn’t know if I too could act,” he says leaning against a mounted poster of Charlie Chaplin. He started working backstage. “I used to clean the sets and serve tea to the artistes,” recalls Siddiqui, who even took up a job as watchman to survive in the city.

Meanwhile, he did bit roles in plays — in Badal Sircar’s Baaki Itihaas, he had to say just two words: “Woh ayegi (She’ll come).” In Uljhan, based on Vijaydan Detha’s novel, where Manoj Bajpayee was the protagonist, he played a tree. “I had to keep my hands up for two hours,” he says.

Siddiqui admits that he saw few good films growing up. It was much later, when he had started acting, that he watched the best of world cinema. Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief and Tapan Sinha’s Ek Doctor ki Maut are still one of his favourites.

But the boy from Muzaffarnagar dreamt big. It was while studying at NSD that he played the role of Mikhail Borkin in a Hindi adaptation of Anton Chekov’s Ivanov. “It was then I realised that I could do intense roles,” he says.

Siddiqui is now known for just that — his intense roles. He made his mark as the surly inspector A. Khan in Kahaani, the gun-toting Faisal Khan in the Gangs of Wasseypurseries and the lame Taimur in Talaash — all box office hits of 2012.

“I disconnect myself from the rest of the world to concentrate on the character,” he says.

But Siddiqui, who grew up in a district known for its high crime rate, had never thought that he would become a household name one day. Neither did his parents, who travelled several kilometres to a town nearby to see him in Kahaani. “They still cannot believe that I have finally made it,” he says.

For the actor, too, the change is overwhelming. Good times then were the days when he had enough money to eat a piece of chicken or mutton in one of the food stalls in Old Delhi’s Jama Masjid area. But he saved some money and decided to move to Mumbai — where the action was.

He tried for roles in television series, but was not very successful. “In the new millennium’s mega serials, even beggars had to look good. That clearly meant that there was no chance for me,” laughs Siddiqui, who describes himself as a “dark and ugly” actor. “Even fairness creams couldn’t bring me any luck.”

Ironically, it is this rustic look that’s become his trademark. “Bollywood has always pampered heroes and treated actors as second class citizens. But, of late, it has realised that there has to be space for actors who can connect with people,” he says.

These days, Siddiqui even has a fair number of women fans who find his looks appealing. “I have been thinking for the past few months that perhaps there is something in me,” he smiles.

But he can’t forget those days when he queued up in front of production houses — too shy to ask for a role. “I used to stand silently in one corner and wait for the producers to notice me.”

He did get a few blink-and-miss roles — such as that of a waiter in Shool (1999), of a small-time criminal in Sarfarosh (2000) and a pickpocket in Munnabhai MBBS (2003). He finally caught the eye of the industry with Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday (2007) and Aamir Khan’s 2009 film Peepli [Live].

Siddiqui, who used to share a small room with three others in Vanrai in Mumbai’s western suburbs, now lives in a one-bedroom flat in Zohra Nagar with his wife Anjali, their two-year-old daughter Shora and his brother Shamaas Nawab. A chain smoker who goes through a pack a day, Siddiqui makes sure that he doesn’t smoke in front of his daughter.

“I can’t give much time to my family now. This often irritates Anjali,” he says. Anjali emerges from the kitchen to voice her discontent. “He tends to forget things these days,” she says, while Siddiqui nods. His living room is sparsely furnished with a wooden table and two chairs and a plasma television.

The man who once couldn’t afford to take a bus is now the proud owner of a chauffeur-driven Ford Ikon. But he says he is not greatly enamoured of any of these comforts. “I can go back to poverty if a situation comes. I have sailed through the worst days of my life and I am prepared for any crisis,” he stresses.

The actor believes he is a “misfit” in Bollywood. “And, I don’t want to become a stereotyped Bollywood actor,” he declares.

Even if he wanted to, it’s unlikely that he would. Siddiqui recalls trying to get a designer suit made for him to wear at Cannes last year, where two of his films were being screened. The designers turned him down, he laughs.

He also remembers the time when he couldn’t afford a cellphone and kept a pager for communicating with filmmakers. “Once, I received a one-line message on the pager saying ‘Please call immediately’. It was signed Subhash Ghai. I was thrilled. I was in a bus and got down immediately to rush a telephone booth to call him — only to discover that a friend was playing a prank on me. I felt miserable.”

But now his smartphone doesn’t stop ringing. At present, there are at least 11 films waiting for release including Shoojit Sircar’s Shoebite, Amit Kumar’s Monsoon Shootoutand Anurag Kashyap’s Lunch Box. Siddiqui admits that he earns up to Rs 4 crore for a film.

Filmmakers who had earlier rejected him saying that he was not “hero material” are now making a beeline for him. “After Wasseypur, I have got at least 200 offers,” says Siddiqui, who is now acting in theatre director Barry John’s film on Phoolan Devi’s killer Sher Singh Rana.

Dibakar Banerjee has offered him the lead in his next film about the life of a struggling actor. “He wants to know more about my life in Budhana to incorporate all that into the film,” he says.

In fact, one would often get a glimpse of real life in the characters that he plays. For example, a romantic scene in the movie,Gangs of Wasseypur  where Siddiqui places his hand on co-star Huma Qureshi and she tells him that he has to take permission first before touching her, was picked from his real life.”It happened while I was dating a girl in Delhi,” he says.

Again,while playing the role of Taimur in Talaash, he incorporated some style of his younger brother. “My brother walks and talks like Taimur,” says the prolific actor.

His work in Prashant Bhargava’s Patang (yet to be released in India) has won him critical acclaim. American critic Roger Ebert invited him to his film festival Ebertfest in Chicago last year. “That’s when I realised that I was being noticed,” he smiles.

After the festival, he celebrated his success in his own way. From Chicago, he went to New York for a holiday. “One night, I went to 10 restaurants to eat and drink,” he says. “I was thrilled that I could afford it.”

Good food — including the biryani of Calcutta — is his weakness. “I love the potato that you get in the Calcutta biryani,” says Siddiqui,  who wants to work in Bengali films and is in talks with director Buddhadeb Dasgupta.

It is already 1am and little Shora is still up — restless to be with her father. I am offered the chicken that Anjali has cooked, but I have to make my way back too. I leave behind a smiling husband and a doting father. I hope there is potato in the chicken — Nawazuddin Siddiqui sure deserves it.

Painstakingly, with her thin, bony fingers, Munika Munda fishes out a photograph from the pocket of her frayed half-sleeved shirt. It’s a picture of her 12-year-old daughter, Munita.

“I don’t know where she is. I am desperate to see her, to hear her voice again,” Munda says, wiping the tears off her dark wrinkled face.

Munita was last seen one day in June 2010 when she was returning home from school. Munda was later informed that a neighbour called Chhebo had taken her away.

Munda even went to Sikkim in search of her daughter. She’d heard from one of Chhebo’s associates that Munita was in Rangpo. The worried mother, who earns Rs 90 a day when the tea gardens are open, took a shared taxi to Sikkim. She reached Rangpo — only to be told by the same man that she couldn’t meet Munita. “He gave me Rs 100 and told me to go away,” she says.

Munda doesn’t know if she’ll see her daughter again. For all around her, children — both boys and girls — have been disappearing. The tea-growing regions of north Bengal, where missing children was not such a problem even 10 years ago, are now witnessing the disappearance of minors. “The numbers are growing every year,” says Sugata Sen, superintendent of police, North 24 Parganas, who was earlier holding the same post in Jalpaiguri district.

West Bengal tops the list of missing children in India. In 2011, of the 32,342 children who went missing from across the country, 11,228 were from Bengal, mostly from Nadia, South and North 24 Parganas districts.

Munita is one of the 98 children from Darjeeling district who disappeared the same year. In 2011, 92 children from the area were reported missing. Among them is 13-year-old Nandu of Malangi village in Jalpaiguri.


On May 8, 2011, Sadhani Urao saw her son for the last time before she left for the tea gardens in the morning. When the daily wager came home eight hours later, Nandu’s friends told her that he had been taken away in a car with four other boys. They had apparently left for the New Alipurduar railway station in Jalpaiguri.

Urao got a call from Nandu in February last year. He said he was working in someone’s house in Delhi. Before she could ask any questions, the line got disconnected.

A total of 305 children went missing from the six districts of north Bengal in 2009. Of them, 139 were from the tea garden districts — Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar, police figures show. In 2010, more than half of the 333 missing children from north Bengal were from these three districts.

Many of them — like Nandu — are brought to cities by villagers who sell them to agents. The children do domestic work in cities they’ve never seen, where the language is as alien as the food. Some of them move from one house to another, from city to city — and are often never heard of ever again.

Poverty is the thread that connects the missing. Some children are promised salaries, and some are just whisked away and sold to agents. Earlier, children of daily labourers who plucked tea leaves in the gardens were assured of jobs as they grew older. Now jobs for labourers aren’t certain.

“There are 19 lakh families below the poverty line in our district,” says Smaraki Mahapatra, district magistrate, Jalpaiguri. “For such families, sending children out to work is the only option. They don’t even check the whereabouts of these agents who take their kids away.” Adds Reynold Chhetri, deputy superintendent of police, Darjeeling: “The villagers supply children to placement agents and traffickers in cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Gurgaon and earn handsome amounts.”

Though most tea gardens barring a few have become operational again (272 tea estates operate in the region), the trafficking hasn’t stopped. “Boys are mostly employed as domestic help and construction workers. Girls are also made to work as prostitutes,” Chhetri says.

“A girl or a boy who is to be employed as domestic help would fetch us around Rs 12,000. But if the girl is taken for prostitution, the amount is Rs 80,000 to Rs 1 lakh,” says a local agent in Kalchini village, Jalpaiguri.

Banya Garai of Lankabari in Cooch Behar went to Haryana with a local villager who promised her a job but put her in a brothel. “They used to beat me up when I refused to entertain their guests,” says the malnourished 16-year-old. She would have been another statistic if she had not sought help from the police one afternoon. The police brought her back to her village. The police say that behind missing children, there is often a relative, occasionally even a parent.

Munda, for instance, got to know that Chhebo had given her alcoholic husband, Falguni, Rs 500 for his daughter. “He later told me that he didn’t know Chhebo would not bring Munita back,” she says. With no prospects of jobs in the villages, children often leave for the cities to earn just a few rupees.

Nandu wanted a pair of jeans and a cell phone. “Perhaps the trafficker enticed him with this,” says Urao, who’s lodged a report with the police.

Not all cases of missing children are, however, reported to the police. “Parents who have willingly sent their children away don’t lodge a complaint,” Chhetri says.

Investigating officers say that local women are also often roped in to help traffickers whisk away children. “Women are not looked at with suspicion, so it makes the job easier for the traffickers ,” says Chhetri.

Zafar Wahid of Sibeshwar village in Cooch Behar agrees. He believes his 14-year-old-daughter Najma, who disappeared three years ago, was abducted by a neighbourhood woman. “Her school friends told me that the neighbour met Najma and took her supposedly for shopping to Alipurduar in a van,” Wahid says.

The woman was later arrested, but Najma is still missing. A villager who works as a daily wager in Kashmir said he’d spotted Najma in a Srinagar market. “We were going there to get her back, but heard she had been taken out of Srinagar,” Wahid adds. The police say that apart from Delhi and Mumbai, the children are taken to Kashmir — where there’s an acute shortage of labour.

Prafulla Minj and Krishna Sau, 12-year-old boys from Jalpaiguri’s Turturi village, were made to work at a construction site in Kashmir by a local placement agent. Krishna returned to his village after three months, but there is no news of Prafulla.

Some of the children are traced by the police and non-governmental organisations. In the last three years, 125 children have returned to Jalpaiguri and 90 to Darjeeling.

But life is not easy for these children either. “Nobody talks to us in the village,” says Radharani Sarkar. “Who will marry me,” asks the 13-year-old who was abducted by unidentified men from her Cooch Behar village two years ago. A Bengali client who visited the brothel in Jaipur helped Radharani return to her village.

Sometimes, families turn away their children too. “If my daughter is into prostitution, I will not accept her even if she comes back,” Wahid says.

Munda, however, wants her daughter back at any cost. “But my wait seems like an endless one,” she says.

(Some names of victims have been changed to protect their identity.)


Published in The Telegraph on January 6, 2013

The images are as stark as they are real. The burly man in khaki comes tearing at the protestors aiming his stout cane at their heads. The men in blue pocket a wad of notes from a truck driver. The bored man sitting with his cronies in his office spits out betel juice to say that a complaint cannot be registered. And the drunk, pot-bellied man pushes a woman to the floor as he weighs down on her.

From Chennai to Calcutta, Delhi to Mumbai and Imphal to Srinagar, these are images that spring up the moment you mention the word police. Arguably, the most hated section of society is not the politician, but the policeman in India. The lathi charge on protestors in Delhi’s India Gate – who had gathered on December — to voice their concerns about the safety of women after the brutal rape and murder of a 23-year-old Delhi woman only reinforced the general belief that the police force across the country was there not to safeguard the people, but to harass them.

To be sure, there are any number of honest, efficient and considerate men and women in the force. But the number of people who are at best uncaring, and at their worst brutal or murderous, is so overwhelmingly large that the police continue to instills fear among the people. “The police are an essential force but unfortunately not popular,” admits former additional commissioner of Delhi police, Gautam Kaul.

And that is putting it mildly. “They don’t discharge their duties correctly, they are rude and abusive to people and they intimidate people instead of helping them – these are some of the most common complaints against the police” adds Prakash Singh, former director general of police, Uttar Pradesh.

A victim of rape in east Delhi recalls how traumatic it was for her to lodge a complaint with the police. “First, the police were not ready to believe that I had been raped as the rapist was known to me. They insisted that it was consensual sex. Then they started questioning me instead of nabbing the culprit. Finally, I had to take the help of a local group to get my case registered,” she says.

Unfortunately, despite talks of reforms, the image of the police – who are under the jurisdiction of respective state governments, except in Delhi, where they come under the ministry of home affairs — has not improved over the years. A study conducted by the Bureau of Police Research and Development said so over three decades ago. “The image of the police in the minds of the public is not good. As a result, the police fail to secure the cooperation of public in its fight against crime and disorder,” it said in 1979.

Police action – or inaction – can have grave repercussions. Recently, a minor girl in Patiala committed suicide a month after she was allegedly gang raped. Her family said the police did not act on their complaint against the accused, who were from the same village.

There are also numerous occasions when the police themselves turn into perpetrators. In Mumbai, a constable called Sunil Atmaram allegedly raped a 17-year old girl in 2005 inside a police station. The constable was drunk and had hauled the teenager to the police station with her boyfriend when he found the two together at the Marine Drive promenade. He sent the boyfriend out after threatening him, and then raped the girl.

Members of the police are accused of a host of crimes – from bribery and intimidation to rape and murder. Fake encounter killings are common in troubled areas. The fake encounter killings of Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram Prajapati in Gujarat in 2005 created such a nationwide furore that the Supreme Court ordered an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the case.

The situation is similar across the country– though the intensities vary. According to National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) data, Uttar Pradesh has the dubious distinction of the state with the highest number of fake encounter killings. In 2010-11, it received complaints that 40 people were killed by security forces in UP in such encounters. According to the NHRC, some 191 fake encounter killings took place in the country in the last five years. Supreme Court, on Friday, had set up a three-member commission to investigate cases of fake encounter killings in Manipur.A petition in the court had alleged more than 1,500 fake encounters took place in Manipur in the last three decades.

Incidents of police firing on citizens are not rare either. In September last year, the police opened fire against demonstrators protesting the opening of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu and killed one fisherman. In June last year, four villagers in Bihar’s Forbesganj died in police firing. Last month, a journalist in Imphal was killed in police firing while he was covering a protest against the molestation of a local actress by a militant. In Kashmir, 91 civilians were killed in police firing in 2010.

Some argue that the police conduct these acts with impunity because of political patronage. In September 2011, five Dalits were killed when the police fired at Dalit agitators who had put up a blockade at Paramakudi in Tamil Nadu. Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa had defended the police, saying that they had fired in self-defence and to protect public property.

Some argue the police conduct these acts with impunity because of political patronage. “The public is seen as threat to the State (government) by the police as they are trained to be the protectors of the State and not its people. In any other democratic nation, the public is dealt with professionally,” says sociologist Nandini Sundar, who recalled how she had once complained against a powerful lawyer neighbour – and found the police unresponsive.

The police-politician nexus hit the headlines after Jessica Lal’s murder in 1999. The Delhi Police had admitted that senior officials had tried to help the main accused, the son of an influential Haryana Congressman. “The police don’t feel the need to be accountable to the public because their loyalty lies with politicians. Cops know they will get good promotions or postings if they please politicians,” says a home ministry official.

Even women cops do little to instill confidence among the people. “The problem is that female cops too come from the same police culture of corruption and brutality. How can they be any different?” asks N. Dilip Kumar, joint commissioner of police, provision and logistics, who had earlier served in the anti-corruption and vigilance departments of the Delhi police. “Indian policing is all about batons and bullets and criminals and charge sheets. It is unfortunate that cops don’t remember that they are dealing with human beings,” he says.

There are reasons for this. Experts maintain that the Indian police are carrying on the legacy of their colonial predecessors – who saw the agitating people as the State’s enemy. “Since the colonial times, the police are seen as the instrument of torture,” admits a senior official in the Calcutta police’s crime department. “It is the face of hostility and brutality. And sadly, the colonial mentality of cops hasn’t changed even in the 21st century.”

Adds S.A. Huda, director general of police (law and order), Andhra Pradesh: “The uniform and the baton symbolise power.” Coupled with this is a feeling of resentment. “So they vent out their class angst on the public, whenever they get a chance,” he says.

It’s not just that. In most parts of the country, just to get a lower-level police job means shelling out thousands of rupees – some estimate that it’s in the range of Rs 3-9 lakh – to the cops who recruit them. “So the moment they get inducted into the force, they want to recover the bribe money that they have paid,” says Prakash Singh. Bribes are paid by the cops through their service years – for a good posting at a money-spinning police post and so on.

The police also point out that constables are overworked and underpaid. “The stress piles up and then they snap in public. We manage a population of one crore only with 11,000 cops,” says additional commissioner of police (Law and Order) T. Sunil Kumar, Bangalore. Delhi – the capital of India – has a shortage of 7000 personnel, for example.

Salaries haven’t kept up with inflation either. “After 20 years of service, a constable would be promoted to head constable and his take home salary would be Rs 20,000,” Huda says.

With such handicaps, the efficacy of the police will be affected. According to the 2011 data of the NCRB, Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of cases of violent crime at 32,987, followed by Bihar at 26,003 and Maharashtra at 23,900 cases. In the south, on the other hand, especially Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, there were fewer examples of police atrocities.

A senior Delhi police official reasons that this is because the police in the north are insensitive to gender issues. “The north Indian patriarchal mindset is to be blamed,” says a senior Delhi police official. “Our force mostly comes from neighbouring states such as Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, where feudal mindsets are strong.”

But ironically more and more such men are being inducted into the force because they meet physical requirements. The Delhi police believe that men of a height of 5 feet 7 inches  or more and a chest measuring  81 centimetres are ideal for the job of a constable.

The tests for new recruits too follow a pattern that do little gauge the mind of a constable. The would-be recruit is tested in maths, English and reasoning but little beyond. “We just have to answer in yeses or nos. There is no scope to tell how we would behave in a crisis,” says inspector Raj Kumar of Delhi’s Kingsway Camp police station.

The negative image of police that one sees in the society is often reflected in popular culture such as movies, theatre, folk songs and even jokes. In many commercial movies, cops are seen to have reached late at the scene of crime, much after everything is over.

How bureaucracy affects the job of a cop was revealed In Mahesh Dattani’s play, Seven Steps Around the Fire also revealed .“In my play, I showed how bureaucracy affects the functioning of the police They can’t see things objectively.”

Some stress that it is time for reforms in the police force. “Specific classes on gender sensitivity, timely promotions and placing the non-corrupt officers at the highest level are some of the immediate measures to be taken to cleanse the system,” says Singh, who filed a petition in the Supreme Court in 2006 demanding police reforms.

The same year, a model Police Bill was framed which stated that state police boards be set up for deciding on promotion and transfers. Other recommendations included a fixed tenure for a police chief and other key functionaries. “This would have also checked political interference in the police system,” says Singh. The Bill, however, has been gathering dust.

A sense of belonging, some argue, has to be instilled in the forces. “They also have to feel that they are for the people,” says Sanjeev kumar Singhal, joint commissioner of police, Pune.

That, however, seems a distant dream. For the present, many would say that the police are not for them – but against.


Caught in the Act

1974: A 16-year-old tribal girl, was allegedly raped by two policemen on the compound of Desai Ganj Police Station in Chandarpur district of Maharashtra.

September 2006 : Five policemen accused of allowing passage of arms and ammunitions from Rajgad to Mumbai which were later used in the series of 12 blasts in 1993 were convicted under Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (TADA)

August 2008: Mumbai police’s encounter specialist Pradeep Sharma was dismissed on charges of corruption but was reinstated on 9 May 2009. . He developed close links with underworld don Chhota Rajan.

October 2008: An Uttar Pradesh police head constable posted at Sahibabad police station alleged to have criminally assaulted a minor girl inside the police station.

November 2011: A woman was dragged out of her house in Hariharpara of We st Bengal’s Murshidabad district and was gang-raped by cops inside the police station.

May 2012 : A police Inspector in Uttar Pradesh’s Amroha district turns body of a dead man with boot to see bullet injury.

July 2012: A teenaged girl allegedly kidnapped by three men in UP’s Sitapur was reportedly recovered, detained illegally for five days and repeatedly raped by a policeman and a village chowkidar before being handed over to the family.

August 2012: A 23-year old injured man dies in front of police station in Indore after being denied medical aid.

November 2012 : Delhi Police officer Dinesh Dahiya caught red-handed by CBI for taking Rs 3 lakh.Cash worth Rs 4.25 lakh was also seized from Dahiya’s house.

December, 2012: A gang-rape victim from UP’s Ambedkar Nagar was allegedly raped by the inspector in charge of the police station where she had lodged her complaint.

December 2012: A  mentally challenged man was dragged, punched, and kicked by policemen in Satna district of Madhya Pradesh

December 2012: A constable arrested on charges of raping an Class VIII student in south east Delhi.

December 2012: A 35-yr-old man died in police custody in Mumbai’s Dharavi police station. Family alleged police toruture the reason for his death.

  (This is the longish version of the story published in The Telegraph on January 6, 2013). There was additional reporting by Kavitha Shanmugam in Chennai and Velly Thevar in Mumbai