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Millennium Post

Make Delhi Police accountable

As this edition of the notebook is scripted, one is not sure whether the survivor of the bus rape case will finally come out of the hospital. The spontaneous protests by citizens from across the city has got the government moving and we also must not also lose sight of the fact that it has also set the TRP, to the benefit of the television channels, soaring.

In my two decades as reporter in the city, of which a substantial  number of years went into covering crime, one came across very few equal or more cruel incidents of crime against women. Of course the most gruesome was the Tandoor murder case, where a young woman was murdered, her body chopped and then burnt in the tandoor (earthen oven) of a five star hotel at the behest of then president of the state Youth Congress.

The other incident which became famous was the Khooni Darwaza rape case on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg. The Vasant Vihar bus rape case bears an uncanny similarity to this case. In the Khooni Darwaza case a medical student couple was waylaid by urchins at this historical monument, where they had gone to spend some quiet moments. The boy was beaten up and the girl raped but she was fortunately not brutalised. These two incidents however failed to raise the kind of public outrage which the rape of the girl on 16 December last by a six-member bus crew has done. Much before these two incidents, there was the case of murder of Geeta and Sanjay Chopra in 1978, which had raised a similar outrage. Children of an army officer Geeta and Sanjay Chopra went missing on 26 August 1978. Their bodies were discovered on 29 August 1978. Medical examination confirmed that Geeta was raped. Investigation later revealed that they had been kidnapped while hitching a ride from outside Gol Dak Khana near Connaught Place.

They were kidnapped by two young men, Ranga Khus (Kuljeet Singh) and Billa (Jasbir Singh), who planned to demand ransom from their parents. Their plans went awry when their car was involved in a traffic accident with a public bus. They subsequently raped Geeta, murdered the children and fled the city. They were arrested on a train a few months later, tried and hanged for the crime in 1982.

The brutality heaped on the victim of the bus rape, who is battling for life at Safdarjung hospital, is unforgiving. But that should not lead us to the situation of demanding ‘kangaroo court’ justice. Jurists like Ram Jethmalani have cautioned against making rape punishable by a death sentence. Jethmalani is of the view that in that situation, the perpetrator, to destroy evidence, may invariably end up murdering the victim.

The more pertinent point under discussion is the cause for the massive public outrage. One doesn’t have to look much far to find the reason for the public anger which got vented on the streets. Women in Delhi particularly in public place have always been harassed. Using public transport for them has remained an unpleasant experience.

The situation turned worse with the increased need to travel after the sunset and almost concurrent breakdown of public transport system in the early 1990s, which was caused by the introduction of Redline, later rechristened Blueline, buses operated by absolute rogues and hooligans. They became the moving traps for pick-pocketing, robbery and also crime against women. Despite two decades of protests and efforts by the state government, the malady caused to the public transport system by this decision of the central government has not been cured. The central government could take such an anti-people decision because it’s not answerable to the people of Delhi. In the past two decades with the Delhi assembly coming into existence, several departments have been made accountable to the government elected by the people of Delhi to govern Delhi. However, the Delhi Police and the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) continue to be under the central government which very well explains the insensitivity towards law and order and abysmal housing problems plaguing the city.

Delhi Police functions under the Lieutenant Governor, an appointee of the centre and not the people of Delhi, an utter anachronistic arrangement in a ‘vibrant’ democracy. Though civil society activist Kiran Bedi would not blame the police for the present crisis, the fact remains that its command structure makes it into a brute force in the hands of the central government.

In the past two decades, whenever the Delhi assembly has taken up the issues of law and order for discussion, the commissioner of police has chosen to abstain invariably on the pretext of visiting North Block. On several occasion adjournments had to be forced to ensure the Commissioner’s presence. While the chief secretary and other senior bureaucrats are regularly present in the officers’ gallery during the assembly sessions what makes the cops act in such an insolent manner? The answer is - lack of political control over the force. Police forms the cutting edge of local administration and it cannot remain under the central government when we have a state government in place.

People elect the chief minister and vent their ire on her when in agony. It was the helplessness of the state government in the matters of law and order which probably proved to be frustrating and unbearable for the citizens. Home Minister Shinde may note please, the cure lies in administrative reforms and not in hallucinating over Maoists.

Sidharth Mishra is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and consulting editor, Millennium Post
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