INDIA: Institutional peril and murderous politics

May 17, 2012

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

INDIA: Institutional peril and murderous politics

The assassination of Mr. T. P. Chandrashekharan in Kerala on 4 May is another example of the murderous nature of politics in India. The police investigation has revealed that hired assassins executed the murder. They hacked Chandrashekharan about 50 times on his face in a public road and left him for dead. It is widely alleged that the top brass of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kerala are involved in the planning of the crime, a suspicion that carries considerable weight given the background that political parties resort to gruesome crimes to settle rivalries in the country.

The accusation carries additional weight today, that the Local Committee Secretary of the CPI (M) was arrested yesterday in Kerala having charged with the crime. It is reported that the Secretary has confessed to the police that he was directly involved in the murder, for and on behalf of the CPI (M).

One of the first responses by the CPI (M) concerning the May 4 murder is that “the party is not stupid to murder someone when a bye-election is around the corner” in one of the constituencies of the state. The statement implies that the party would have done so had there been no elections. The banality of the statement is shocking.

For Indians such assassinations are no news as it happens often. However, what is least discussed and debated is, that it is these political forces that play a considerable role in formulating and shaping the operational architecture including policies of the justice institutions in India, most importantly of the police and prosecution.

The control political parties have (CPI (M) in the case at hand) over the police was blatantly visible during the early stages of investigation in the Chandrashekharan murder case. The Inspector General of Police, within 72 hours after the incident, said that the murder is for private gains. The top brass of the CPI (M) supported the statement immediately, both proven wrong at this stage of the investigation.

Worse, is the fact that calls were made before and after the execution of the murder to prisons in Kerala. It shows that inmates have illegal access to communication devises, that the calls were made at night, and also to the alarming fact that convicts could plot crimes within the “safety” of the prisons. It is not rare that convicts are let off from prisons illegally to commit crimes and return, a perfect alibi. An inmate “sponsored” by a political party receiving preferential treatment in prisons is common practice in India.

The Asian Human Rights Commission is of the belief that changes in India, concerning the country’s human rights profile is impossible without radical changes brought in concerning law-enforcement agencies. Rhetoric like ‘national security requires strong agencies’ is nonsense given how these agencies operate in real time.

Yesterday, a group of illegal Bangladeshi workers were arrested in Kerala. All of them said that they crossed over to India after bribing Rupees 500 each to the Border Security Force. The AHRC has reported enough number of cases over the past eight years where complete details of corruption and other crimes committed by the BSF is reported, globally. On each occasion authorities in India were informed about the incident calling for an investigation. None of these cases have so far been investigated; neither has incidents of crime committed by the BSF decreased.

That a distant state like Kerala from the Indo-Bangladesh border has thousands of illegal immigrants indicates how secure is the country’s border at the hands of demoralised and corrupt security agencies. Lack of discipline within the rank and file of these agencies, generated from the impunity for crimes they commit, places national security in absolute peril.

The statement issued yesterday, once again by the chief of police in Kerala, that ‘the Secretary arrested in the Chandrashekharan murder case should not be tortured in custody since the case is of very high profile’ paints a grim picture of the police. That the police chief was ‘cautious’ to warn his subordinates, that torture of a certain person is not acceptable in this case means that it is routine practice otherwise or does it indicate not to hurt political masters? None in India was bothered about this statement.

Where do concepts like fair trial, presumption of innocence and the rule of law stand when torture is in fact the modus of investigating crimes? Even if a crime is investigated scientifically, though on rare occasions, what chance do such cases have at trial given the nature of prosecution in India. Prosecutors are appointed, transferred and removed from service at the whim of political parties. They are the most incapable and disinterested persons in the profession, and often highly corrupt. In fact an able and honest prosecutor is an exception in India. Institutional reforms in India are meaningless without addressing these fundamental issues.

It is this that a former police officer sought to address by approaching the Supreme Court of India. ‘The Prakash Singh case’ as it is referred to now, and the directions of the Supreme Court of India in the case are violated openly throughout the country. Wherever a Police Complaints Authority has been created (per Prakash Singh case) is as good as non functional and in some places functions as if they are the lawyers for the police.

In Thrissur district of Kerala for example, the authority takes special pride in dismissing complaints against police officers, of which a member is none other than the District Superintendent of Police. Somehow, it has not occurred for the Supreme Court to take actions against the governments that have either not complied by the Court’s orders or have done so, only to undermine it, as it is the case of Government of Kerala.

It is institutions of the above nature that the ordinary people have to depend to file complaints, investigate them and further to provide protection to their lives and property. It is these very same institutions that they have to develop trust with for the human rights scenario in India to improve. It is this very police that Indians have to depend upon to report corruption, land grabbing, caste-based discrimination, malnutrition and other crimes, irrespective of their nature. It is the same institution that the government should depend to deal with extremism of all forms.

But with murderous political parties scripting operational framework for the police and prosecutions is no way to address the deep-rooted distrust that the people have developed against these institutions. Neither is it of any good in blaming just the officers who man these institutions. The debate should be, as to what the people expect of the two most important public institutions in India – the law-enforcement agencies and the prosecution. Perhaps it is for some of the few honest minds that serve within these institutions to start the ball rolling.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.
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Picture courtesy: Own sources, AHRC