It’s December 16 all over again. Except that the venue this time was Mumbai and the helpless victim has survived the ordeal. A group of five men raped a 22-year-old photo-journalist, interning for a lifestyle magazine, after bashing up her male colleague at an abandoned mill close to the railway tracks in the Mahalaxmi area in Mumbai. The victim may have survived the horror but what has not survived is the fact that lawlessness is continuing irrespective of dramatic words that had ensued from the law makers and law keepers.
Abandoned monuments, mills and other structures across the country have always been havens for criminals. Drug addicts thrive here, drug dealing continues here and if any normal person happens to come here, chances of at least a robbery are bright. There are countless such places in Delhi too which are infested with drug addicts through the day. Once their quota of drugs gets over they start prowling around the nearby colonies indulging in petty thefts that can get them their next fix. When a major act of crime takes place anywhere, police goes around rounding them off grilling them and then letting them go since none have any capacity for a bigger crime.
But in the Mumbai incident, an act of near terror did take place in the abandoned mill. Terrorism isn’t just about mass killing by well known terrorist groups; it is simply something that strikes terror in the hearts of normal people. In this case, this case has once again struck terror in the hearts of countless women who work late or move around alone. This is also social terrorism which can have an equally devastating effect in the minds of people as the traditional act of terror has. That terrorism strikes fears. So does this. That terrorism forces people to change their normal routine in fear. So does this.
The baseline is still the same. Complete and inexplicable lack of fear in the minds of criminals who believe that even after so many furores across the country over the December 16 case in Delhi, they can still get scot free. The Maharashtra government has spoken about giving police protection to journalists working in potentially suspect places. A classic act of being so myopic that now they believe only journalists will be attacked. After the December 16 case, the only concentration was unsafe buses. Everything else was forgotten. There was talk of CCTV in every bus, tints to be removes in every bus, police to check buses plying at night and even police guards in late night buses. All the police action, obviously dictated by the administration was on buses. Forgotten was the fact that maybe keeping track of petty criminals and what they did would be a better idea.
There is no doubt that the five men who were arrested in the December 16 gang rape case in Delhi were hardly hardened, habitual and notorious criminals. At the time of going to press, this appears to be the case with those arrested in the Mumbai case too. Police while keeping its gun-sights on hardened and notorious criminals and terrorists and those who are potential a threat to the people in corridors of power, they have forgotten all about the dangers to the common man on the road who is a target of petty criminals and for whom the fear of losing his wallet with Rs 1500 at a knife point is more worrying that some email from LeT threatening a minister.
Even the policemen who check your car at checkpoints or scan your vehicle papers at night are not looking for petty criminals, they are looking for big fish. They couldn’t care less for a person who reports that his two wheeler was stolen from outside his house at night. If it was not for public fury and anger after the December 16 rape case in Delhi, that case too would have been just a statistic in police files where even if arrests did happen, the case would have meandered around. Even the so called fast track courts have taken ten months to try the case already. And if the claim of a journalist who had seen the accused in the December 16 case at the time of their arrest and had seen them again recently while covering the case is to be believed, the accused look composed, grinning away and even a lot healthier than they were at the time of their arrest. So much for justice being delivered!
Our country’s policing is in desperate need for an overhaul. Whether it is beat policing, or the correct style of checking or correct manner of interrogating, everything appears to be held in a time warp. Scientific investigation, use of forensic science and even electronic surveillance just does not get used the way it should be. City surveillance projects and CCTV cameras at markets, colonies or other such places aren’t supposed to be there just to look out for terrorists. They are supposed to be there even to thwart petty criminals. But none of the projects have seen the light of the day. None of the cameras deliver the kind of images that can help investigation in places where they have been installed. Petty criminals across the country do more damage to the psyche of people than the Dawood Ibrahims and LeT operatives. They raise fear in people, and lead them to believe that police is not going to do anything because they are busy hunting terrorists and protecting the VVIPs.
There has been constant talk of police-public liaisons for better policing in any city. In Metros and in some pockets of the city it may even be possible. But when one comes to tier two and three cities, a policeman stays a figure of fear in uniform.
But again for the wrong people. Those who should fear him, know ways to get around him, and the common person prefers to stay away. So what exactly is going wrong in the way the police is functioning?
Time has come for the police force to be suitably bifurcated into a section that can concentrate just on investigations and another section that needs to be simply for the public. Whom the members of public can approach for help. Who can be asked to patrol in areas where there is potential possibility of a crime taking place. Those who can ask three ruffians on the motorcycle why they need to speed out for no particular reason at a specific place. It is these little instances that will help in improving the image of the police force. The police forces across the country do not need to carry out any major changeover to improve the image. They do not even need to do extra work to achieve that. They simply need to show that they are willing to take action against an act that a member of public believes is a problem to him and public in general.
He needs to step in to stop that lone eve teaser at a bus stop to ensure he does not graduate into a rapist. He needs nab that drug addict who is breaking away side mirrors in cars to ensure tomorrow he doesn’t start talking the whole car away. Public friendly policing is by no means rocket science. It just needs to keep things simple and effective.