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Where there is a Will…

At a time when horrific rape and murder cases have sparked outrage across the country, the police and administration of Indore city have ensured justice from a trial court and thereby make common cause with citizens. This was a particularly blood curdling case — a four-month old baby raped and left in a mangled heap on the basement of a building. Even hardened cops reportedly wept at the crime scene as the city seethed in fury. And now Indore has set a precedent for the entire country with the police investigation and trial process completed in record 23 days and the perpetrator sentenced to death. In a country where rape cases take average 2-3 years to be resolved, where majority of ‘fast track’ courts take over a year to hand down a conviction, how did Indore buck this trend? The key lay with the city police which formed an SIT to ratchet up investigation by several notches, so much so, that it completed the investigative process within 6 days and presented the challan on the seventh day (which usually comes about in 4 months). After questioning the baby’s mother, the sleuths zeroed in on her cousin as the prime suspect, for she had earlier refused to intercede on his behalf to bring back his estranged wife who was her friend. When the sleuths got hold of CCTV footages showing the man with the baby near the building and later returning alone, they established the footage timing and location with GPS technology. DNA samples from the man’s bloodstained clothes were tested at a forensic lab in Sagar within 7 days to give clinching evidence. So forensic testing which normally takes many months was speeded up manifold to take a week, such was the pressure top police officials applied. Working 20 hours a day, the cops also coordinated with the public prosecutor to get the case tried in fast track court. On his part, the trial judge agreed to hear the case for 4-5 hours every day, so that the statements of 29 prosecution witnesses were recorded within an astounding 11 days. Had it taken a day less, the public prosecutor would have pressed for a sentence under the Central government’s April 21 ordinance, which provides for death sentence for rape if the victim’s age is below 12 years. Nevertheless, the trial court in Indore awarded death penalty to the rapist-murderer. It remains to be seen how long the higher courts take once the case goes up on appeal, but a benchmark has been set. In a case that had no eyewitnesses, the cops resolutely got down to do quality investigative work at swift pace, took care to tie up loose ends and present solid evidence in court. Lest it be forgotten, India — with its common law ‘adversarial’ system inherited from the British — requires judges to be placed like neutral umpires as advocates argue their side of the case in court. This has to be contrasted to judge in civil law countries like Germany, France or Italy where they can assume a more inquisitorial role. But sloppy if not corrupt police ways in India often play havoc with the crime scene and ensure destruction of evidence. With the dice loaded in favour of the offender, judges wait in vain for evidence as they sift through contending arguments. That this distressing pattern can be broken has now been shown powerfully by the police, administration and trial court in Indore, because the overriding sentiment on all sides was to help restore public confidence in law enforcement and justice delivery systems. It just goes to show that if the will is mustered, the ‘impossible’ can be brought to pass. Along with other States, Assam too can draw a lesson in equipping its police force with the necessary strong mandate, manpower and infrastructure to do good, old-fashioned investigative work for a change. Forensic labs need to be given all material support as well as stern directive to conduct tests without wasting time. In crime investigation, it is a truism that time is of utmost essence if the trail is not to grow cold. Far too many criminal cases in Assam are closed without resolution, including crimes against women, breeding a culture of absolute impunity. This has to change for the better.

About the author

Ankur Kalita