Lessons From Recent Communal Riots in Muzaffarnagar Allow the police to do its job without political pressure
I had recently visited Muzaffarnagar and some villages around Muzaffarnagar as part of a fact finding team of a think tank from Delhi after a small incident between Hindu Jats and Muslims of Kawal, a village of mixed Hindu Jats and Muslims, led to a communal riot that spread to several villages in the district.
On 27 August, 2013, according to local accounts, two Hindu Jat cousins attacked a Muslim youth of the same village because he allegedly stalked a sister of one of them. In retaliation a group of Muslims allegedly beat the cousins to death.
According to another version, Gaurav a Hindu Jat boy was cycling to town from Kawal, when a Muslim boy Shah Nawaz’s motor cycle hit his cycle. After a minor altercation Gaurav returned home and told his father of the incident. The next day Gaurav and Sachin had gone out and were returning through Kawal. They were crossing the house of one Mujassim, when seven to eight people attacked them. In the ensuing fight Gaurav and Sachin were lynched and Shah Nawaz one of the attackers was stabbed. He died later. The Hindu Jat villagers insist that there are only some bad elements in Kawwal. The Hindu Jat villagers further stated that earlier in previous Governments, such issues were discussed and solved. However since the Samajwadi party came to power in Uttar Pradesh, things had become different. The issue was precipitated when a Jat Hindu group going for a Maha Panchayat on 7 September was attacked by the Muslims. This started the riots.
It is clear from the sequence of events that started on 27 August 2013, precipitated into a large scale communal riot on 7 September. It appears that the concerned police station took no precautions to prevent a communal riot.
It is simple to blame the police of the concerned police station that they did not have their pulse on the Jat Hindu and Muslim relations. But is it the entire problem. The answer lies elsewhere in what is called vote-bank politics. In this game the police is subverted by the ruling political party by favouring the Muslims against the Hindus. The objective is to get the consolidated Muslim vote by favouring the Muslim minority. The Hindu vote will in any case be divided among the other political parties.
How can the police survive in such an environment? It is not easy, but it is possible. All that is required is that the police leadership should take a stand before the politicians. It is well known that the Muslim community is a vote bank of the Congress, and the Samajwadi party as the BJP has the vote bank of the Hindus. I learnt my lessons on this issue very early in my career. When accosting the people after donning uniform I realised that a police officer cannot afford to flaunt his religion. The day you don your uniform, your religion is strictly your personal matter. The people whom you are administering may have several religions; you have only one religion- humanity. When you administer neutrally, the main flak will be from the majority Hindu party and Hindu people but you will have the confidence of all the non Hindu people. Your problem then will be from the ruling party. If the party is pro Muslim, they will direct you to be partial to that community. If the ruling party is pro Hindu, they will direct you to be partial to the Hindus. If you succumb to this either way, the game is lost. You have to be scrupulously impartial. If you have the confidence of the Muslims it is the political party that is pro Muslim who will be the loser in this game not you or the Muslim community.
A police officer must understand that he is not accountable to the political party that is in power at a given time. The police are forever and always accountable only to the Judiciary. It may be the political party in power who posts the police officers, but that does not make him accountable to the political head. The moment a crime takes place, and the police officer is informed of it, he makes a general diary entry and proceeds to the place of occurrence. If it is a riot, he takes action to disperse the group and arrests the violaters of the law and if he finds after investigation, who first violated the law, he arrests the concerned accused and informs the Chief Judicial Magistrate when forwarding the accused to judicial custody and registers a case against the accused. It is only then that he informs his superior officers. It must be clearly understood that the Criminal Procedure Code only mentions superior police officer and this does not include the member of the Legislative Assembly or political persons like the MLA or the Minister. The Station House Officer can therefore inform the Deputy or Additional or Superintendent of Police. The Chief Minister or MLA has no authority to direct the SHO or other police officers whom to arrest and whom not to arrest. They simply do not have the legal jurisdiction because they do not find mention in the Criminal Procedure Code.
When I joined service in 1965 and went to a district in Assam and later worked in the Sub Division and district from 1966 to 1969, I never found any interference by the MLA or the Chief Minister who had the Home portfolio. If there was a riot, we interceded, controlled the riot and arrested the perpetrators as per the evidence and registered cases in the court of the Additional District Magistrate. Neither the Chief Minister nor any MLA ever talked to us and gave directions who should be arrested and who should not be arrested. The contemptible methodology of committed bureaucracy was introduced in the body politic by Mrs. Gandhi in 1975, when she declared the emergency. After that gradually, the posting of the SHO of police stations was taken over by the Chief Minister or Home Minister. This is strictly illegal, because the politician is not a superior police officer. Later, all other political parties adopted the same system. The worst pattern is of the Communist Party, who has a representative of their party sitting in every police station. No SHO can register a case unless the representative of the party approves the FIR! This is simply illegal. However, police officers have given up this battle without ever putting up a fight. It is only a few courageous police officers who have bucked the politicians and they are generally posted to the Armed Police Battalions of the State or Centre! What a sorry pass have we come to? The biggest democracy in the world and our laws being subverted by the politicians in every police station of the country!
I quote verbatim from the Code of Criminal Procedure: Section-38. Police Officers’ superior in rank to an Officer in charge of a police station may exercise the same powers, throughout the local area to which they are appointed, as may be exercised by such officer within the limits of his station.
What does this mean? This means that a superior police officer will have the same powers that the Officer in charge of a police station has over his jurisdiction. That means that if the superior police officer is an Additional Superintendent of Police or a Superintendent of Police, they will have the same powers of an Officer in charge of all police stations over the entire district. The only other superior police officers are the Deputy Inspector General’s of Police, the Inspector General of Police and now the Additional Director General and Director General of Police. Who then is the politician to tell the Officer –in-charge of a police station to return a case in Final Report or charge sheet a case? What happens in real life is that if there is an inconvenient Director General of Police, the Chief Minister directs the Officer in charge of a police station to return a concerned case in Final Report! Further still if it is a communal situation and a particular community is a vote bank of the party in power, the Chief Minister will carte blanche verbally order his Officers in charge of police stations not to register cases against the members of his favourite community. What should the SHO of the police station do, when he is given such illegal directions verbally? He should immediately make an entry in the General Diary noting the illegal directions given by the politician noting whether he is the Chief Minister or another Minister. Then he should immediately inform his Superintendent of Police that he has been given an illegal direction. At this stage if he has an upright Superintendent of Police, he will be rewarded and directed to investigate the case without fear or favour. If he is told by his SP, who is a sycophant of the politician to take action as per the direction of the Politician, the SHO must record his direction in the General Diary and immediately record this in the General Diary and report to the Magistrate that he has received illegal directions from his superior police officer and he is not going to follow illegal directions. He should then proceed to the place where the riot has taken place and investigate as per the law of the land, take action, arrest the people whom he assesses to have committed the crime and lock them up and record all this faithfully and immediately send a copy of the General Diary to the Magistrate concerned.
The public must know that the original of the FIR goes to the Chief Judicial Magistrate and thereafter the original copy of each case diary is submitted to the CJM, who marks it to the Judicial Magistrate who is earmarked to try the case if it is charge sheeted. Now if and when the Chief Minister or his Home Minister or other party men directs the SHO not to arrest a suspect or not to record the statement of an eyewitness, he is doing an illegal act. The SHO has to have the gumption to first record the verbal direction of the Chief Minister in his case diary and then forward the case diary to the CJM and inform his superior police officer by sending the second copy of the case diary to him. If all this is done the Chief Minister or his henchmen cannot dare to summon the SHO and verbally direct him to reverse what he has done.
Now let us see what must have happened in Kawal in Muzaffarnagar. When the Muslim boys attacked the Jat Hindu boys and assaulted them, the police did not arrest the Muslim boys, probably because the political party in power had directed the SHOs not to arrest Muslim accused in assaults on Hindus. If the political leaders had given such a direction, the police officer should have recorded this illegal direction in his General Diary and also in the case diary of the case if he did register one on receiving information of a riot.
In the model that I have just now described, the crucial role is of the Judiciary. It is the District Sessions Judge and the Chief Justice of the High Court of the state who will play a leading role, for it is the District Judge and the Sessions Judge who will be getting the original of the FIR registered by the SHO wherein he has disobeyed the verbal directions of the Chief Minister, who had directed the SHO not to arrest the accused of a case in which two communities were involved. It is for the District Sessions Judge to pass a stricture on the Chief Minster for directing the SHO to be partial in administering justice. He should have nothing to fear since his postings are issued by the judicial department of the state and the political party in power has no jurisdiction in the postings and transfers of the judicial officers.
Once the judiciary assumes the responsibility of the Criminal Justice System, the country would be rid of its most pernicious condition-committed bureaucracy.
By E N Rammohan