Policing the Police

Raman Swamy

It was just another normal day of crime and punishment in the State of Uttar Pradesh, just another routine custodial death.

It might have gone unnoticed and unreported but for two developments—one, the UP Police took the unusual step of registering a case of murder against an entire police station in Agra; and two, a national television channel chose to hold a panel discussion on the incident.
The details of the case are that a 32-year-old man was allegedly beaten to death by policemen in the presence of his mother.

The man, one Hemant Raju Gupta, was suspected of being a thief and the uniformed men in Sikandara PS were only doing what they always do—trying to extract a confession by torturing the suspect.

Unfortunately, instead of admitting his crime, the man died.

Also unfortunately, the mother of the man was a witness to the torture.

Yet another unfortunate aspect of the entire incident was that the mother, instead of merely wailing and beating her breast in grief, as all bereaved mothers normally do, as per established customs and practices, told her story to a local journalist.

Most unfortunate of all was that the journalist, instead of ignoring the whole thing as any responsible and patriotic crime reporter is supposed to do, published the story and quoted the slain Raju's mother Lata as saying:
"My son was mentally unsound and was employed in a local shop, whose owner accused him of stealing jewelry. I pleaded with the police to let him go but they started beating him in front of my eyes. When I protested they made me go home and later came and told me he was dead".

Other newspapers, picked up the story and played it up and soon national news agencies began flashing the entire sequence of events in all its gory detail.

This caused a great of consternation in Lucknow where Chief Minister Adityanath was not pleased at being so needlessly distracted from his high-level discussions on matters of great import—like deciding the height of the proposed giant statue of Lord Rama and the annoying visit to Ayodhya of Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray.

Even otherwise it was becoming very irritating to listen to the national media constantly harping on police atrocities in Uttar Pradesh and reeling off statistics that showed the UP government in a poor light—so many fake encounters, so many false cases, so many custodial deaths, etc.

Such sensational headlines only provide raw material to Opposition parties, whose leaders and spokespersons have started calling the holy land of UP a "police state" and accusing the state government of promoting "goonda raj".

Nothing can be further from the truth. The list of noble deeds and pious reforms is legion:
The Yogi government has succeeded within a short span of 18 months to transform the State into a virtual Ram Rajya.

Many cattle smugglers have been publically lynched. Many meat markets have been closed. Innovative modern methods are being used to protect stray cows from being accidentally hit by motorists on the highways—by placing radium belts around each cow's neck. Names of railway stations and towns and cities have been changed. Many walls outside places of worship have been painted saffron. Valentine Day has been banned and anti-Romeo squads are roaming parklands and parking lots every day to prevent young couples from holding hands in public.

Undoubtedly, there are a few incidents of crime taking place. Women are being raped—but as the cabinet minister said it is most probably their fault for going out after sunset or wearing the wrong clothes.

There is no denying that the police may have committed a few excesses—but that is only to be expected because of lack of training in interrogation techniques and proper coaching in basics like being truthful while recording FIRs. The killing of the Apple executive was unfortunate. So too was the earlier custodial death of the father of two girls who were raped. Mistaken identity could have been the reason for the alleged fake encounters.

To err is human and the guardians of the law are only human, after all. The police force is under-staffed and the men in uniform are under constant stress and work pressure.

That is why the UP government is currently recruiting one lakh constables—the first selection exam had to be cancelled because of paper leak but now the re-examination process is fully underway. All the new recruits will be given orientation classes in special shakhas in addition to normal training programmes. Within the next six months, UP Police will be the best police force in the country.

Till then, there is no other option but to repair the damage that is being done to the image of the police and the government by incidents like the custodial death of Hemant Raju Gupta.

Vol. 51, No.25, Dec 23 - 29, 2018