Frequently I write articles for newspapers and magazines on poverty, and I thought more people will get to read them if they are available as blogs.
Since 1995, I have been engaged in social work through The George Foundation to help alleviate poverty in India, focusing mainly in areas of income generation, education, healthcare, community development and social justice.
Your comments and thoughts are appreciated.
Police in India execute several valuable functions to safeguard the powers of the state and its authorities. This law and order organ of the government serves fairly well the interests of those who are in power: police guard police stations and government buildings, including residences of senior officials and politicians; blocks roads and ensure the smooth travel of ministers and dignitaries; control crowds especially where politicians attend functions; and take part in state ceremonial occasions. I suppose all these are essential for the protection of those who rule its citizens.
How does police help ordinary citizens? They say police prevent crime and catch criminals. I do not have statistics on the number of criminals caught in the act of or before they could commit crime. But the idea that one could call police to investigate a crime is probably comforting. Even better, if one would indicate who is suspected and give the police sufficient money, they would probably catch the alleged criminal.
When I hear stories involving the police, I often wonder whether ordinary citizens can rely on the police for protection or to seek justice. My concern was raised recently when my lawyer told me very candidly that the police are only for the highest bidder. If one is prepared to pay bribes, the police will do anything for you, he said. Those who can afford to dish out sufficient money for the police can also have anyone, innocent or otherwise, charged of crime and put in jail. The converse is also true in most instances; with power and money, one can get any charge dismissed. It is not surprising that not many rich folks in India have any complaints against the police. After all, they have their own "private police," while maintaining "good" contacts with the public police.
Recently I was made aware of a situation involving the police. An employee of an organization was taken to the police station on charges of assaulting someone else – a false charge. This employee was told by the police inspector that he would be set free of all charges if he would bring certain amount of money allegedly borrowed by his brother-in-law. When the employee refused, the police filed charges for criminal assault of a money lender and for participating in cheating and fraud. No evidence was produced except for the complaint filed by the money lender. It was very obvious that the police were bought over by this money lender. FIR (First Investigative Report) was prepared by the police based on false charges and the employee was arrested and put in jail.
The family of the employee pleaded with the police inspector who responded with demand for a considerable sum of money for the release the employee – something the family could not afford. The next morning, Saturday, the police were required by law to file the charge sheet with the magistrate in court. The family sought bail but the magistrate could not take up the matter until the defendant appeared in court – to be brought by the police. The inspector deliberately delayed bringing the defendant to court until 4.45 PM, just when the judge was getting ready to leave for home. The state prosecutor simply disappeared and the judge declined to hear the bail application at that late hour without the presence of the prosecutor. The employee was returned to jail for the next three nights and days.
The police had included a “non-bailable” charge against the employee for which only with the consent of the state prosecutor he could avail bail. The prosecutor demanded money for himself and for “others.” The family borrowed what was needed and delivered it before the hearing on Tuesday. The judge and the prosecutor both had no objection to releasing the employee on bail.
Outraged at the injustice and insult, the employee and his lawyer met with a senior police official overseeing the station that caused the arrest. The senior officer comforted the employee by admitting that injustice was done in this matter, but he would need several lakhs of rupees to remove his name from the charge sheet that was being prepared for the court. No promise was made to take any action against the police inspector.
Consider this situation. A private money lender who is essentially a loan shark bought over the police to arrest and detain an innocent person, and no one in authority was willing to consider the absence of any evidence. Now the police officer at the senior level demands money to remove the charge against this innocent person, knowing full well that his subordinates had unjustly arrested and jailed him. The police inspector had warned this employee that serious harm would occur to him and his family if he took any action against anyone. I am sure the police are capable of delivering on this warning.
In summary, when the legal system is corrupt and justice is elusive, what rights and protection do ordinary citizens have? This incident could not have been an exception but the general practice. The police has become a vehicle for criminals to accomplish their goals. Criminals use the police to harass and threaten the innocent; the innocent must bribe the police in order to seek justice against criminal acts. Even worse, a "good" criminal lawyer is one who accomplishes for his client what he wants without having to go to trial by using the "services" of the police. If the guardians of justice conduct themselves like criminals without fear of consequence, then there is no hope of justice for ordinary citizens.