The following is a statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong:
The Mumbai terrorist attack was one more occasion for the Indian politicians to call for calm, peace and national unity. Political parties like the Communist Party of India (Marxist) convened a special Politburo session and repeated the rhetoric, in addition to demanding that the Government of India approach the UN Security Council. The Hindu fundamentalists like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made use of the incident to stir up further anti-Pakistan, essentially anti-Muslim, sentiments.
The Union Home Minister Mr. Shivraj V Patil resigned. The Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh convened urgent meetings with high-ranking officers, ministers and defence chiefs. The meeting decided to speed-up the formation of a Federal Investigation Agency and to set up four new centres of the National Security Guards (NSG) in the country.
The final word was that of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, the president of the Indian National Congress. Mrs. Gandhi gave the ultimatum that her party will tolerate no more terrorism and called upon the Indians to eradicate it from the country. The question is whether the Government of India has any responsibility to prevent such incidents, or whether the people has to embark upon justice delivery themselves?
Among many other things, the Mumbai terrorist attack serves as the latest reminder of the condition of the law and order apparatus in the country, and of the police in particular. As stated after many other former incidents of similar nature, India's foreign intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), claimed that it had passed over information to the Maharashtra State Police well in advance that a terrorist attack on the city was very likely. The RAW further put the blame upon the local police for its lack of preparedness.
The fact remains that the Maharashtra State Police, like any other state police force in the country, can hardly do anything to avert these incidents. The state of policing in the country is in such demise that it has completely severed its contact with the people. Most police officers contact the members of the public only to demand bribes. Corruption in the police service is at such levels that even in order to lodge a complaint the complainant has to pay a bribe.
Police brutality is so rampant in the country that the sight of a police uniform is enough to scare an ordinary person, particularly among the poor population. Information, independent of its nature, has to be forced out of the ordinary people. Information obtained under the threat of violence is tainted and cannot be acted upon. Terrorists are different from the ordinary people in the sense that they have money, better training and equipment at their disposal to achieve their goals. They can bribe the police and are in fact doing so.
A month ago, some suspects taken into custody from the state of Kerala on the accusation that they were recruiting youngsters from the northern districts of the state for terrorist activities in north India and abroad, claimed that so far their operation went without any hindrance because they were able to bribe some police officers in the state. In fact many officers in the Kerala state police had no clue that terrorist recruitment cells were in full swing in the state until the identity cards of some terrorists who were recently killed in the state of Kashmir were recovered from their personal belongings. The identity documents were issued in Kerala pinpointing their residential address in the state.
To expect an ordinary Indian to approach the local police with information is an impossibility in the country. An example is the statements made by the parents who lost their children in the infamous 2006 December Noida serial murder case. The case began after the recovery of the skeletal remains of missing children in Nithari village in the outskirts of Noida city close to New Delhi.
The investigation of the case relieved that when the parents approached the Noida police to lodge complaints about their missing children, the police refused to register their complaints. When the parents persisted, they were chased away by the police with the threat that if they returned false cases would be registered against them accusing them of selling their children. The parents went away from the police station, since they were poor and could not afford to pay bribes to the police to get their complaints registered. An administration that expects the ordinary public to freely approach the local police with information is consciously ignoring the reality.
The public mistrust in the local police is not the result of an overnight incident. It is the crystallization of years of experience. Without drastic changes in policing, this mistrust will not only continue, but will increase. Every incident of police failure brought to the people's attention will further isolate the police from the people. A law enforcement agency which lacks the trust of the people cannot maintain law and order. An officer who serves in such a police force essentially suffers from demoralisation.
No government, state or central, that has governed the country has ever tried to address the deep-rooted problems of policing, and thereby the law and order in India. Politicians across the board use the police for their short-term political interests. The police reciprocate their affinity to the people in power by letting them to be exploited.
Today in India, the police serve the rich and the powerful. The police is a demoralised state agency that lacks the hope of improving their own condition. A police force that cannot investigate a petty crime efficiently cannot prevent terrorism, it can only promote it.
The Mumbai incident like many other former incidents will soon be forgotten. Those who will remember it are those who lost their loved ones. But unfortunately they do not have the political or financial clout to influence the policy makers in India.
The windfall of the Mumbai incident for the Government of India is evident. The Federal Investigation Agency will soon be formed. They will also assume the role of a 'super cop'. The super cop and the Agency he represent will be an additional reason for the ordinary policeman for further demoralisation. India does not need a super cop. It rather requires a normal and people-friendly police force.
Otherwise people will increasingly start taking things in their own hands. One need not look very far to see examples of this. The day before yesterday, in Khatoli town of Muzzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh state, a person was lynched by the public for suspected theft. In 2008 there were more than a dozen cases of public lynchings reported in India. Hence, people have started taking things in their own hands long before Mrs. Sonia Gandhi's request. There is no doubt that the Indians are united – in their distrust of the police and the politicians.
The national media and the civil society groups in the country have a greater responsibility in this juncture. If the media and the civil society groups in the country try to reflect more of the people's voice than vested interests, there is an increased possibility for these institutions to in fact persuade policy makers and politicians to meet the people's demand. The relatively lesser degree of impartiality and openness of the media and the civil society in India are the two serious impediments that prevent these institutions from reaching out to the people.
On this front they somewhat equate themselves with the Indian police.
The Government of India is likely to initiate farcical policies on the pretext of countering terrorism in the country without addressing the deep-rooted problems in policing. The continuation of these policies also means the failure of the media and the civil society organisations in the country. It will be a n unfortunate reflection of their lack of understanding of the realities at the grass roots.
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.