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Not shortcuts, please

india Updated: Dec 23, 2008 21:33 IST
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The contribution of the Delhi Police chief, YS Dadwal, to the debates on the Mumbai attack is a typical police response.

After the attack, Dadwal remarked that “his hands are tied by the Supreme Court” and that the guidelines in the D.K. Basu case, which are a part of police procedure applicable to all cases of arrest or detention, make it difficult to counter terrorism effectively. His statement mixes up two things: policing during emergency situations and everyday policing.

The D.K. Basu case, which was filed by a former judge, drew attention to the torture and deaths in police custody and common malpractices while making arrests. According to the rulebook, arrests are supposed to be made only after the police have established a link between the crime and the suspect. Unfortunately, over 60 per cent of all the arrests that are made are unnecessary and many of them are illegal. The rules also say that the police must tell the accused about the grounds of arrest and not indulge in custodial violence. To ensure the arrested person’s safety, the police must inform his/her friends or family about the location of the person who has been arrested, provide access to legal help and most importantly produce the suspect before a magistrate within 24 hours of the arrest. These are common safeguards followed in all democracies. But in India, these rules have been flouted so often that it would be safe to say that the police have entirely forgotten that they exist.

The memo of arrest must mention the time and date of arrests. This is done to ensure that no one is locked up for days without legal help. The Basu guidelines also ensure that no information regarding an arrest is left unrecorded. With a memo of arrest before him, a magistrate can check the legality of custody and curb police abuse. In any case, these niceties were required even before the Supreme Court reiterated their role. Unfortunately, Dadwal seems to be asking for latitude to continue with all the illegalities and short-cuts that pass for policing in India.

The mettle of the police force would be better if senior officers like Dadwal don’t feel threatened by the law and understand the value of doing their work within its parameters instead. We can only hope that the government will resist the police chief’s interest in taking shortcuts and will not dilute existing safeguards in the name of counter-terrorism measures. In fact, Dadwal would do well to listen to what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said recently, that the response to terrorism “should not result in brutalisation of our society”, and that there is “a need to understand the relationship between human rights and the fight against terrorism”. The Chief Justice reminded us that even in our darkest hours “what must be remembered is not to trample upon the rights of the people”. He cautioned that “the trauma resulting from recent events should not be used to justify undue curtailment of individual rights and liberties.” It is these that the police in a democratic society are expected to serve and protect – but only through lawful means.

(Maja Daruwala is Director, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative)