Stepping Beyond Khaki: A tale of policing
[Book excerpt] The book is a tell-all memoir by celebrated former police officer K Annamalai.
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It was a day that I won’t forget in my life. After a day of hectic work, I was settling in for my typically late dinner at home when I got that much-dreaded emergency call. This was a call I was hoping that I should never get. In the evening I got to know as a matter of routine that a young girl named Diana,1 who was in her tenth grade, was yet to reach home from her school. The girl was studying in a government school in one of the forested areas of our district. She was supposed to have reached her home at 6:30 pm and the parents intimated the police by 7:45 pm that she was nowhere to be found. The local officer also told me that they were checking with her friends, possible places she could have visited and they would get back once they had a lead.
As expected, the parents and the villagers of that area were also actively searching for the missing girl.
Over the call, our inspector sounded alarmed and in a panicked voice said, ‘Sir, we found the body of the girl’.
I could only mutter, ‘Where?’
Stepping Beyond Khaki: Revelations of a a rea-life Singham, K Annamalai, Bloomsbury
He continued with a bit more intensity, ‘In the forest area between her school and home. Also, sir, we suspect she could have been sexually assaulted.’
With my blood-pressure rising, I stood up from my dinner table to wash my hands while simultaneously muttering instructions over the phone—asking enough forces to be mobilised, cordoning-off that area and securing the crime scene. I also told my officer to focus on his job and I would reach the spot as early as possible. With my mind racing and my driver racing through the streets, I was trying to piece together the puzzle and bracing for the worst.
The next seventy-two hours went in a daze. When I reached the spot, I couldn’t go near the crime scene as the angry villagers gheraoed me and were baying for my blood. Somehow, I managed to go near the girl’s body and could feel an array of emotions rushing through me. Primarily anger, for what had happened, and helplessness for the girl and her family. I was also washed over by a general sense of disbelief that incidents of this nature were still happening, but I had a more important job to do than worrying. It was time to control the crowd, take the body out to gather vital clues and to contain the law and order in the area.
With relay strikes by the students and the angry public on the roads, we had a tough time the next few days. Not only did we have to restore a sense of normalcy in the place, but we also had to crack the case in double quick time time, as most of our jobs were on the line. With multiple teams working, and thanks to our redoubtable investigators, we were able to crack the case and arrest the two juvenile criminals who were responsible. Post my interrogation of both the criminals, I was less excited about cracking this case and was more worried about the direction our society was (and still is) taking.
With the cremation done, the criminals sent to jail, tears shed and all the nice words spoken about the deceased girl whose only mistake happened to be being present at the wrong place at the wrong time, the only question I was asking myself was this: with the quick detection and arrest of the culprits and the police generally getting a good name, had we become a better society, a safer society, for women? Had we improved the general position of women in our society? My answer was an emphatic ‘No’.
The unequal treatment of women begins at home. At school, a child is taught that all men and women are equal. If at home, fathers treat mothers in a way that society also silently endorses by not condoning, by hurling abuses, making them do all the household chores or treating them poorly, then a child’s perception of their mothers is set in a particular mould. It is also starkly different from what they learn in school — that men and women are equal. That is not the reality they see before them.
Poor laws to effectively tackle domestic violence, is one of the most important reasons for violence against women being on the rise. With courts taking an extraordinarily long time to provide a civil remedy — like compensation to the women when they want to live away from their husbands for a while—how can we encourage women to come and report abuse at a police station or move away from their marital homes till they get their mental bearings right? So they continue to suffer in silence, trapped in the confines of abusive marriages, with parents who often refuse to take them back in.
Of late, I have seen the other end of this spectrum as well with married women, especially highly educated women. Visiting police stations within months of their marriage, preferring to file a complaint against their husbands and in-laws for domestic abuse or cruelty. When this issue gets enquired in detail, most often than not, it turns out to be a case of misunderstanding between the newlyweds, or in some cases, even cultural differences. It’s pretty heartbreaking when our courts are flooded with cases of this nature and not genuine ones which ideally require our overburdened courts’ time.
Empowerment begins at home. Parents have to teach their children to be worthy human beings. The onus is really on us. With parental norms taking a beating and children not getting rooted, most of the crimes, specially juveniles involving themselves in heinous crimes is only on an increasing trend.
If we start with Jyoti Singh’s case in Delhi, which set in motion a series of measures in law and among the government agencies, or, more recently, Disha’s case in Hyderabad, which produced an equally strong reaction (amongst others which either go unreported or do not find such a viral space in the media), one fact that stands out is this—most of the perpetrators of these gruesome crimes continue to be juveniles.
I have also seen enough number of juvenile criminals to understand this is only a growing menace. I had a rude awakening, with respect to Juvenile criminals, in one of the districts I had worked as police chief. One day, the police caught hold of a team of juvenile criminals who burgled a cooperative bank in a rural area. They entered the bank through the rooftop and emptied the iron safe which held cash and escaped the same way they had entered. When the police caught and brought them to me, I asked about their backgrounds and it turned out that they were mostly from broken families. With the procedures done and the perpetrators sent to juvenile homes, we thought that would be the end of the story.
After a couple of months, another crime was committed with similar modus operandi (MO) in a nearby rural area. I told my officers to check for the same gang of juveniles. When we caught them again, I had decided to inspect deeper.
I visited each of their homes to look at their living conditions, their parents and the influence they were under so I could understand the psyche of these boys. Invariably, almost all the boys lived in shanties. Either their father or mother had left them at a young age and these kids had grown up without any supervision. They were growing up on their own, importantly, among the company of like-minded boys. Their sense of morality or right and wrong was drastically different from others. They had all started with small crimes, which went unreported and then gradually shifted to more serious crimes. More often than not, juvenile homes and jails only acted as a laboratory for them to mingle with likeminded criminals and make them fearless and brazen.These places also act as a university in the sense that they quickly learn the skillsets of bigger criminals and start implementing them with alacrity once they are out into the real world.
I also observed that their concept of somebody else’s property was very different from how the law perceives it to be, their outlook on the ‘weaker sex’ far different from what you and I are taught. In short, their Dharma was different from ours.
(Excerpted with permission from Bloomsbury)