The stories I get the most satisfaction from are usually about the neglected margins of India, where struggle is enmeshed with life. The ones I will upload have been written for The Sunday Guardian and (the now defunct) Covert Magazine. I'll be putting up any articles here at least until The Sunday Guardian website is up in a couple of months. Thank you for reading.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Police Are To Blame

(this piece appeared as the edit in the Sunday Guardian on 18 July)

One aspect of the “honour” killings of young couples in love that is rarely acknowledged is the role the police have played in many of the most heinous incidents. The police should be protecting couples exercising their democratic rights as young, consenting adults to cohabit with whomsoever they choose. Instead, in a shocking number of cases, it is the police who assist these brothers, fathers and uncles in their hunt for the absconders.

In some cases such policemen, members of the community themselves, act out of a misguided sense of social propriety and caste pride. But in the great majority money changes hands. Indians tends to overlook police corruption, though most citizens know it is rife, on the grounds that policemen are poorly paid. But these are not instances of allowing someone to sell their wares on the side of the road, or getting away with cutting a traffic light. In cases like this, corruption is directly leading to the deaths of innocent young people.

On 10 July, a 21 year old Muslim boy and 16 year old Hindu girl from Madhaiya village, not too far from Ghaziabad, were shot dead, reportedly by members of the girl’s family. Yet the first police report said that the boy, Ishtiyak Ali, shot his girlfriend at her house and then killed himself. It was only when the boy’s father took the case all the way to the Ghaziabad SSP that an autopsy was conducted. The autopsy found that both had been murdered. But this was not a case of negligence or ineptitude of the local policeman. The evidence is clear that the police wilfully misrepresented the circumstances surrounding the death; the boy had been shot in the back of the head. Not even the most incompetent policeman could truly believe that Ali had committed suicide. An autopsy was not needed for this to be regarded as murder.

This problem has reached such proportions that the courts have taken to publicly admonishing the police. In what should have been seen as a landmark judgment, but was largely ignored by the media after initial reports, on June 16 Vacation judge Justice S.N. Dhingra of the Delhi High Court said: “It’s unfortunate that elopement cases are converted into rape cases. Your police are party in all cases of honour killings. You connive with parents and turn your face the other side. You send boys behind bars on rape charges and allow the parents to kill their daughter.

“How can you be so insensitive for a few bucks? In case of elopement, you register the case under section 376 (rape) of Indian Penal Code. You do not register the case or take action where you should have done.”

Justice Dhingra has bravely brought to light an issue that police forces all over the country are keen to brush under the carpet. The police are paid to protect every citizen of India, not just those who have enough money, or guilt, to grease their palms. It is time they began doing their job.