INDIA: A nation of failed justice institutions

International Human Rights Day is observed each year on December 10. This year the United Nations has declared that the day will mark a year-long campaign for the global recommitment to guaranteeing freedoms and protecting human rights for all. To this end, the UN has called upon member states to revisit commitments made to two important UN documents, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

India is a party to both these covenants. The rights enshrined in these two important documents, are also guaranteed in the Indian Constitution, a document that predates both covenants by two decades. Unfortunately, the reality for average Indians is that their rights guaranteed in the constitution, which the country is bound to protect nationally and promote internationally, are far from realised.

The reason for these guarantees remaining only on paper is due to the abysmal nature of India’s justice institutions. The Indian judiciary for instance, plagued with corruption, lack of professionalism, and decades long delay in the adjudication of cases, is an institution that has rapidly lost its credibility. Even Indian jurists today unanimously agree that the country’s judiciary has failed to meet expectations. Facing serious accusations of lacking transparency and embroiled in corruption, the institution has hardly done anything to reform itself.

Equally appalling is the state of Indian policing. The operative framework of the police continues to be the repressive Irish Constabulary model, which the British introduced to India as well as other colonies. Impunity, corruption, the inability to undertake modern policing, and the use of torture remain hallmarks of the Indian police. Demoralisation within the institution runs deep, and today the average Indian considers the Indian policeman as a criminal in uniform. Despite all this, no government has so far openly declared any kind of policy on addressing the country’s policing.

The country’s prosecution establishment too has faced a similar fate, with no government policy to address the institution. The department is filled with corrupt and inefficient lawyers to the extent that even the government does not trust the prosecutor’s office any more. On occasions that the government requires a quality prosecution, it hires private lawyers to work as prosecutors. This option is not available to a citizen however, since the decision to appoint a special prosecutor is at the pleasure of the government.

The ensuing environment produced by India’s failed justice administration establishment, is that of deep-rooted corruption in all aspects of public life, and an overall environment of uncertainty. Indian civil society is yet to wakeup to the fact that it too has a role in the making of this India. Only a handful of civil society members, including the country’s unbridled media, engage seriously on the country’s justice institutions, particularly on the concept of fair trial.

India today is challenged with demands as a regional and global player, as a state that has the potential to shape global economy, as well as global security. Internally however, it is a country challenged by its botched justice institutions, which have failed this great country’s people and their dreams. Occasions like the International Human Rights Day are an opportunity for the country’s civil society to wake up from its slumber, and start engaging with India’s justice institutions.