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Police are a law unto themselves

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Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
The author is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court

Lord Denning famously said, “Never have a Bobby (Scotland Yard) for a friend or a foe”. Father-son duo of P Jayaraj and J Benicks had neither a friend nor a foe in the Sathankulam Police Station. Yet, they have been sent packing for a meeting with the maker, well before time. And now all the personnel in Sathankulam Police Station have been transferred lock, stock and barrel. And TN Government has issued a G.O. transferring the alleged custodial death to CBI ‘for a free and fair investigation’.

All this amidst the human drama of a District Judge being impeded from investigating at the Police Station, in compliance with orders of Madurai Bench of Madras High Court comprising Justices P N Prakash and B Pugalendhi, who took suo motu notice of the unnatural deaths. And now three policemen are facing contempt proceedings ‘for interfering with the administration of justice’. What the hell is going on? Nothing new, if you ask me.

Read what Justice Mulla, a legendary figure, wrote on Oct,23, 1961 as Judge of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court.

“I issued the notice because I want to clean the public administration as for as possible but an individual’s efforts cannot go very far. If I had felt that with my lone efforts I could have cleaned this augean stable, which is the police force, I would not have hesitated to wage this war single-handed. I am on the verge of retirement and taking such steps for two months or three months more would not make any difference to the constitution and the character of the police force…… Somehow the police force in general, barring few exceptions, seems to have come to the conclusion that crime cannot be investigated and security cannot be preserved by following the law and this can only be achieved by breaking or circumventing the law. At least the traditions of a hundred years indicate that this is what they believe. If this belief is not rooted out of their minds, there is hardly any chance of improvement………… I say it with all sense of responsibility that there is not a single lawless group in the whole of the country. whose record of crime comes anywhere near the record of that organised unit which is known as the Indian Police Force.

If the Police Force must be manned by officers like Mohmmad Naim then it is better that we tear up our Constitution, forget all about democracy and the rights of citizens and change the meaning of law and other terms not only in our penal enactments but also in our dictionaries. It is for these reasons that I am accepting this apology and not filing any complaint against Mohmmad Naim. Where every fish barring perhaps a few stinks, it is idle to pick out one or two and say that it stinks. 1, therefore, discharge the notice issued against Shri Mohmmad Naim.”

It is almost 60 years since. Nothing much appears to have changed. To be truthful, the above ‘sweeping remarks’ of the noble judge were ‘expunged’ by the Supreme Court on 15th March,1963,as ‘unnecessary to decide the appeal’. This,in an appeal by the State of  Allahabad. Interestingly, the counsel who argued the appeal was quite apologetic and deferential to the ‘knowledge and experience’ of Justice Mulla. They politely urged that his ‘remarks’ were quite ‘unnecessary’ to decide the cause. The logical inference- Justice Mulla with his experience as a commoner, successful practitioner and as an erudite Judge was dead on.

The tragedy is that his words of 1961 vintage ring true – 60 years later- and PAN India in Sathankulam. Why? Does it have it be like this ? When would transformative justice be meted out by our men in uniform? The George Floyd ‘knee on neck’ monstrosity has set off international responses and that says it all. What of India?

Excuse me, “Police reforms have been long overdue since 15th Aug,1947 and come Justice V S Malimath Committee recommendations, Law Commission initiatives, and Prakash Singh case directives, from the Supreme Court, separately and together have yielded results worth ZILCH”, bemoaned Justice V R Krishna Iyer before his death.

Who is responsible? The unmoving Executive with vested interests, the unresponsive Legislature or the now on and now off Judiciary, on whipping into place their directives. Police reforms is one critical issue, all three branches of democracy – converge to diverge from focused action. Failure has many godfathers in this instance.

But as a gentleman policeman (oxymoron, he admitted) friend messaged, “Be a sport. Words may change. Law may be tweaked. We are unlikely to. There is something inherently rotten with the politician-police nexus that sustains such deviant conduct”. The results are not far to seek. Ask Jayaraj and Benicks’ families.

Black Lives Matter has become Big the world over. In Sathankulam, we cry in anguish to the heartless policemen – Sirs, Lives Matter, Sirs, Lives Do Matter Please.

(Author- Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)  

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Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
The author is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court

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