If, in a Bollywood film, a criminal being taken into police custody threatens the man responsible for his arrest with an I’ll-see-you-when-I’m-out-of-jail line and then dramatically executes his threat the moment he has stepped out of prison, we could forgive it as part of the Hindi film industry’s excesses. In fact, in India’s biggest blockbuster, Sholay, we have Gabbar Singh killing most members of Thakur’s family as retribution for his arrest.
But when such a thing happens in real life in Mumbai, it is horrifying.
Two brothers recently lodged a complaint against a family of slumlords in Sakinaka, Andheri (E), after the slumlords beat up the boys’ uncle for parking his autorickshaw in what they claimed was “their territory” (the parking spot does not belong to them, but the slumlords allegedly take money for allotting slots for vehicles there). That resulted in the arrest of three people from the slumlords’ family. Hours after they were released on bail on Thursday, the accused, along with three others from their family, entered the house of the brothers who had lodged the complaint and hacked them to death. They also attacked their father with a chopper; he is injured and in hospital.
The victims’ sister told the police that when the accused were being taken into custody, they had threatened her brothers — in front of the police — that they would “hack” them soon as they were out of jail. And that was exactly what they did.
This case marks not only a new low in the law and order situation in the city but must be regarded as a colossal failure of the Mumbai police. If what the boys’ sister is saying is true, officers at the police station must face action for their failure to prevent the killings.
Disturbingly, this is the second stark example, in as many years, of the police’s ineffectiveness at stopping a terrible act of retribution. Last year, four youngsters were found with their throats slit in Kurar. It turned out that they had been kidnapped, bound, gagged and tortured for many hours before their throats were slit by one Uday Pathak, a man with a criminal background with whom they had had a drunken brawl. Pathak, who had 16 cases registered against him, had been externed by the police, i.e. barred from entering a specified area, in this case the city, for a period of time, but had found his way back into the city even before this had elapsed.
The Mumbai police commissioner, Arup Patnaik, had admitted that the Kurar murders were the result of “bad policing.” The Sakinaka murders, too, are the direct result of police inaction. They also point to increasing lawlessness of the kind Mumbai has not seen earlier. Such acts of vengeance are common in some of the caste-, class- and hierarchy-ridden backward areas of India; that they should have become common in the fairly egalitarian set-up of Mumbai is abominable and shocking.
The gory details emerging in the Vijay Palande-Simran Sood case are disheartening enough for those who’d like to see Mumbai as a city safe for all. The Sakinaka case makes things worse. The police should institute an inquiry into how and why the murders were not prevented, build a watertight case against the accused and provide protection to eyewitnesses if they want to clinch the case in court.
The police often blame eyewitnesses for not coming forward. But they are not really at fault. Precisely incidents such as this one destroy their confidence and make them turn hostile (the witness protection scheme proposed after the 2003 Gateway and Zaveri Bazaar blasts in still lying in cold storage). Whether eyewitnesses co-operate with the police or not directly depends on the police’s ability to prevent such incidents in the first place.
It is high time that the police realised their success in preventing crime will determine their success in securing convictions as well.