Thursday, December 21, 2006

Jessica Lall case - need for police reform

Well, so Manu Sharma has been convicted of the murder of Jessica Lall. Strike one up for the court system. The judges hearing the case pushed the case pretty fast, saw through all the defence attempts, and even took the time to castigate the judge who found the accused not guilty at a lower court. In a wonderful irony, that very judge is a member judge of the same High Court.So far all well and good, we all feel happy that justice has been done, and we hope that other cases also get resolved quickly and fairly. The next steps in this case are the ones that are not getting too much notice, and which are fairly significant.
The judges have already sent notices to the witnesses who turned hostile and are also further investigating the role of officials (police, investigators, forensic guy, etc who may have contributed to weakening the previous case). These 2 issues are heavily linked. In an ideal world, officials will do their duty fairly and witnesses will report truthfully on whatever they saw. In reality we see things happening differently. The accused in this case was from a powerful and rich family.
This case in the lower court saw what can happen when a powerful person makes a determined effort to thwart the law, and how the law itself takes a beating. Witnesses who reported facts straight just after the crime reversed themselves, making all sorts of excuses. Families of witnesses suddenly came into riches. But what can a normal man do when in such a situation?
The powerful man can threaten and offer riches in turn; with an indifferent police unwilling to do any kind of protection, how long can a normal citizen withstand the pressure of a well connected person ?
Genuine witnesses were pressurised by the police. Officials did all sort of unofficial acts to protect the accused. And why did all this happen ? A very simple reason, the police force and its investigating arm is not independent enough to be able to handle a case without interference. The politican angle has permeated so deep into the main security arm of the state that it is no longer seen as a protector in many parts of the country.
If we had a police force and investigating agency that was independent, where would even a powerful man have the courage to try and influence police officials to connive in thwarting justice? If we had a police force that was effective, witnesses could do their legal duty safe in the knowledge that they could not be threatened for their testimony, and even a most powerful man would not dare to either threaten or buy a witness. This is not something that is very difficult. Most developed nations have such police forces that invoke the fear of the law. It is an absolute imperative for our country's development and for the cleansing of the body politic that the arms of the state retain their independence.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 6:53 PM