The Hashimpura riots judgment case, which exculpated the accused members of the Provincial Armed Constabulary, is a tale re-told. This can be stressed on several counts. In the first instance, there have been similar judgments before — the one on the Dalit killing in Bhojpur comes first to mind. The Patna high court in that case found blameless three persons who had been handed down the death sentence and 20 others who got life. In the case of the Bhagalpur riots of 1989, about 25 people have been convicted so far, though it defies credulity as to how so few could engineer those riots, in which the number of deaths matched those of Gujarat in 1969 and 2002. But more important than all this is the ethos that is built into the workings of the police, administration and judiciary. Investigation and litigation do have a give-and-take policy vis-à-vis the public mood.
Why should this be so?
An IPS officer once told me: “In this society do not expect a better police force than what you have.” Over time his remark turned out to be prescient. Nothing mirrors our state of living than the strong arm of the law. That our police force is communalised is something we all know but a story I heard from him was as grim as it could ever get. In 1963 he was posted in a district in West Bengal where communal riots had broken out. There were several spots of disturbances but his minority-hating subordinates decoyed him into a Muslim-majority area. He fired from his own gun, the only time he had done so in his career. ‘Seventeen people’ were killed. All Muslim. This case did not travel to court. He was let off with a slap on the wrist, not for the act of killing but for not having gone through the procedures that should have followed. And, he was not a communal person.
What ails our police force? Principally it lies in their inability to think of themselves as being nothing but the repressive arm of the State and society. Clearly this is an inheritance of the Raj, which came in handy to the post-Independence political leadership and the higher bureaucracy.
This is not to exonerate the guilty policemen. But haven’t we heard in private conversations over the past 27 years that those killings in Meerut were justified? I have, at least. Who will try those apologists of killing?