Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Let us think and Act with an open mind to
Develop a Vibrant Democracy – Article 8

Introduction: I have identified thirty obstacles which cause a distorted and ineffective democracy and possible solutions for these. Because very few people have time / inclination to read long articles, these are presented in separate brief articles for pointed attention and easier assimilation. I hope this will lead to spreading of awareness and facilitating point by point debate on each of these for saving our sinking democracy.
(Please keep these articles within easy reach for referring back till the series is completed.)

Law and order

One of the most important expectations from a democracy is that people want to have a peaceful life and be allowed to carry on with their daily activities without hindrance. Sad to say, these expectations remain a woeful dream in many ways.

Rape and violence against women have rocked the whole country. An analysis by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative showed that 2,64,130 rapes were reported between 2001 and 2013 in 28 states – an average of 56  rapes per day (Times of India dated 28-07-14, page 7). Four rapes and nine molestations were reported in Delhi every day!! (DNA dated 04-01-14). Robberies also are daily features. Murders are not far behind, that too of senior citizens. Police are not only ineffective but also callous. When rich and influential persons are involved in crime police tend to take their side. Quite often, when police somehow mange or are forced to file cases against rich and influential persons, the latter threaten witnesses, use delaying tactics and get away without punishment for lack of evidence. To overcome these, Supreme Court (SC) has said that immediate steps need to be taken to ensure protection  of witnesses who often turn hostile  due to threats or other corrupt practices (DNA dated 15 - 11-13 page 9). But, the situation seems to be the same.
Police have earned a reputation of being corrupt in dealing with problems faced by people. Most people are afraid to go to a police station with a genuine complaint. Filing of FIR is subject to the whims of the police or the pressures they face. Burking of crime is so common that every year about 60 lakh cases are not registered (The Hindu dated 13-11-13, page 13). A general impression is that persons with money can get away with any crime. Even worse, SC was constrained to remark that policemen are like “criminals in uniform” (Deccan Chronicle dated 14-10-12). Even this castigation from the highest level of law could not produce results. Continuation of this state of affairs in 2013 is confirmed by a Chief Minister of a state stating: “It’s no surprise that people think twice before visiting a police station. They are scared to talk to the police.”  “How can anyone expect justice from police when they are so corrupt and indulge in illegal activities?” (Deccan Chronicle dated 14-06-13, page 3)

In a TV discussion, a former police commissioner bluntly stated that police have now become an “armed militia of the politicians in power.” (Deccan Chronicle dated 06-02-13, page 8). “Today, our political leaders not only want the police to do their dirty work but also get them to collect money for them.” “At the centre, the Intelligence Bureau furthers the interests of the ruling party and the Central Bureau of Investigation has been reduced to being a “caged parrot”, (as remarked by SC). “We not only need to free the police from the malignant  and suffocating political control but also streamline its organization to ensure a people friendly and highly efficient and effective police force.” (Deccan Chronicle dated 22-05-13, page 9)

In connection with a PIL which alleged that 1,17,480 children had gone missing between January 2008 and January 2010 and of them 41,546 were yet to be traced, SC remarked that “No body seems to be concerned about missing children. This is the irony.” (Deccan Chronicle dated 06-02-13, page 1).

All these  show that most people are very unhappy with police who are like “criminals in uniform” and “armed militia of the politicians”.
Elected representatives of people often close their eyes to all these dreadful realities and allow matters to drift. “Like any democracy, we have all the laws. But we don’t have the courage, the competence or the candour to implement them.” (The Week dated 09-06-13). What is worse and cruel, some of these representatives seek personal benefits from this anarchy or even create such situations for their selfish gains. There are many instances of lawmakers taking law into their hands and demonstrating their contempt for law. They do not realize that not only are they causing harm but they are also setting bad examples as leaders. This has led to their supporters also taking law into their hands without fear of punishment. Children of politicians also indulge in unlawful activities and escape punishment.

Apathy and callous  attitude of the Government, even when multiple failures in law and order are highlighted by media every day, are conspicuous and have resulted in loss of trust on the government.

All these have made people unhappy, frustrated and cynical.

One reason for this state of affairs is acute shortage of police officials (policemen and officers). There are only 106 policemen for one lakh people, which is even less than half of the recommended ratio of 222 (Times of India dated 23-02-14). Government has been callous and has not taken adequate steps to overcome such gross shortages of police officials, even though this would have benefited people and reduced unemployment also. This is due to low priority and not lack of resources. Inability to ensure that more recruitment will not create more criminals in uniform can be a possible reason for hesitation!!

What makes the shortage even more alarming is that available police officials are frequently misused or deputed for non-governmental activities e.g., 700 constables, 120 SHOs and 35 DySPs were put on duty for the marriage of a top politician’s daughter, which pertinently was a vulgar display of wealth with Rs. one crore being spent on the main dais alone (CNN IBN news on 3-11-12). Moreover, police yielding to external pressures is all too common. Such misuses are callously rampant. As a result, “In India, there are three policemen for every VIP and just one for every 8,000 people” (DNA dated 08-02-13, page 1). Even after SC passed strictures about this, hardly any serious actions are visible.

Democracy also requires equality in application of laws. Violations of this requirement are far too common. Poor people hardly benefit from the law and order machinery. In fact, they are even afraid of the protectors of law. No committed efforts have been made to rectify matters.

Faced with the decay in the functioning of police, a National Police Commission was set up to recommend reforms. This Commission made many important recommendations. But, these were put in cold storage despite the directions issued by SC.

These aspects depict the thirteenth obstacle which resulted in a distorted and ineffective democracy.

To overcome this obstacle, a thorough review has to be conducted by an impartial body to ascertain the reasons for this obstacle which affects people all over the country. Government should take immediate action on the basis of this review.  Moreover, immediate action has to be taken to recruit and train sufficient number of police personnel and ensure that they function effectively without hindrance from others. This matter is so important for the welfare of the people that adequate budget has to be provided by preventing wastages and by cutting down the budget for projects which are less important for the welfare of people, if necessary. For this a change in mindset and commitment are essential.

Often people are punished on the ground that ignorance of law is no excuse. This shows ignorance of realities. The vast majority of people are not aware of all the laws. Even experienced lawyers and judges have to repeatedly refer to the law books, showing that even they are not fully aware of the laws. Further they often differ in the interpretation of law showing that the laws are not clear even to them. Then, why do we expect that the common man will know all the laws and their sections and sub sections? Therefore, how can we justify punishment for ignorance of law? Particularly so when even law makers and influential persons get away after breaking laws and only common people are punished?

The above aspect depicts the fourteenth obstacle which resulted in a distorted and ineffective democracy.

To overcome this obstacle, the crimes should be classified into the following three categories:

(1) Crimes deserving punishment because these are commonly recognized as against law by the society e.g., murder, rape, theft, cheating etc. For this ignorance of law is no excuse.

(2) Crimes which are not likely to be known as against law by all people in the society and was committed because of this ignorance of law. For this only a warning is sufficient for the first offence. Repetition should be punished

(3) Crimes deserving punishment because there is reason to believe that it was committed despite the awareness that it was prohibited by law. This includes a second offence under (2) above, a politician taking the law into his hands, violence attempted by groups to break the law to show protests etc.

If instances of (2) above because of ignorance of law are too many, these should be investigated to find out which laws are not clearly known to the people more often. An education campaign should be carried out to reduce ignorance of these laws. If necessary, these laws should be modified to make these unambiguous and clear.  

An expert body should make a thorough study of all existing laws to weed out those which are obsolete and to modify the remaining laws to reduce differing interpretations by judges and lawyers and to make these understandable to people.

Comments (especially those which point out errors or deficiencies, if any, in this article and thereby help to improve it) and suggestions to overcome this very serious obstacle are welcome. Please send these to I shall make use of all befitting suggestions to prepare the last two articles of this series – Articled 23 will spell out the basic principles which will guide formulation of the revised system of democracy and Article 24 will outline the revised system of democracy for public debate to arrive at a consensus.

You can help to save our sinking democracy by making as many people as possible aware of these obstacles and possible solutions, through personal group discussions, newspaper articles, e-mail and social media like face book and twitter so that we can have healthy debates and arrive at some innovative ideas to save our sinking democracy.

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