Introductory speech given by Roy Mathew, Journalist, Trivandrum, for Discussion at the Vertical Interaction Course on Human Rights for Police Officers at Police Training College, Trivandrum, on July 4, 2000.
As a people, we, Indians, do not have much respect for the law. This has a bearing on much of the human rights violations in the country.
I have seen drivers waiting at deserted junctions in the West during night for the red traffic light to turn green, though there is no traffic around. We would not show that much patience in the name of law. In fact, we even go further than that.
On the day, Dr. James Vadakkumcherry invited me to speak here, we had a call from one of our readers. His complaint was that we published picture of a car parked in a no-parking zone. The car happened to be his and the number could be read from the photo. The caller told us with much indignation that we had done an improper thing, a disservice to a loyal reader of out newspaper.
Thus, anyone who points out a violation of law or human rights becomes the accused in our system. Our disrespect to law has a lot to do with our colonial past and the civil disobedience movement. And our disregard for human rights has a lot to do with casteism that prevailed in the country for long. We still do not recognise all men as equal. So, we treat some people as if they do not have any rights.
As a product of the society, policemen also display the same characteristics manifest in our society. It is not without reason that the quality of police in any society is generally taken today as an index of the quality of civil life in that society.
However, as a trained force, police are expected to be a shade better than the general population. But, this is not happening. If human rights violations by the police in the West are the outcome of racism and other human passions, here in India it is largely linked to criminality in the force. This is a serious situation that needs urgent attention from the part of the administrators. It reveals gross inadequacies in the selection and training of policemen. I am not of the view that training alone would improve professionalism in the force. An institutional culture, ably nurtured by higher ups in the police administration is needed.
The culture of secrecy in Government institutions helps those violating human rights. Secrecy helps to restrict media coverage and public awareness of such events. Reports about human rights violations are kept secret. This helps their suppression. The tendency of the Government is to deny such incidents. The present Governments has denied that there had been any lock up deaths after it came to power while others have documented at least half a dozen incidents.
The preventive detention laws serve as another cover for those violating human rights. It is ironic that leaders from A. K. Gopalan, who was held in 1950, to today's Central Ministers had been held under such laws in a democratic country like ours. Such happenings are a slur on our democratic credentials.
If para military forces, police and prison authorities are involved in a large number of human rights violations in this country, next comes those who exploit and ill-treat tribals and children.
It is sad that even more than 50 years after the Government initiated affirmative action to protect the tribals, their condition has not improved. The media has been pro-active in this area. But, they could not do much against the callousness of the authorities. Even intervention by Legislature Committees has not helped.
Though we all love children, hardly anyone takes any practical steps to end exploitation and maltreatment of children. Children falling in the category of the exploited are the least protected of all groups facing human rights violations. The laws intended for their protection had never been enforced fully.
I conclude with a few suggestions some of which have been made by others also.
The Government should ensure that all children below the age of 14 go to school. They should be provided with food at school. Wherever necessary, accommodation should also be provided. There should be child welfare councils in each panchayat who would enforce this with the help of the police, educational authorities, social workers and local leaders.
The laws dealing with atrocities against tribals are already very stringent. No effort should be made to make them more stringent as that could be counter productive. The effort should be to enforce the existing laws effectively.
Safeguards should be incorporated in the proposed Prevention of Terrorism Bill to protect human rights. As fabrication of evidence is not uncommon in India, special attention is needed to ensure that innocents do not spent their lifetime in jail without trial.
Efforts should be made to improve the investigative capacity of the police and their confidence. Training should be intensified in scientific and technical investigations and adequate funds should be provided for the same. As I said earlier, a new police culture is more important. All orders to an officer, for example, should come through a superior officer with Government communicating orders only through the Director General of Police. It should be possible for the Human Rights Commissions or other independent agencies to review police investigations. Higher police officers should be held responsible for failure to act on complaints about human rights violations by policemen under their command. Awareness programmes should be held to conscientise people about their rights and duties.