TN lock-up deaths: As work pressure mounts, cops prone to behaving brutally

What we need is to introduce a sense of fear among rowdy policemen, who are accustomed to using illegal force, that they will not go scotfree

Photo for representational purpose only: iStock

The deaths of a father and his son in Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu allegedly due to police torture gives me indescribable pain. All civilised human beings wherever they are should also be in equal pain.

Unlike many other observers, I won’t like to rush to the media with my condemnation of the Tamil Nadu police as we are still short of a few vital facts.  Prima facie there is the feeling that the two were subjected to inhuman torture while in police custody. This reason is not enough to hold the police guilty.

I must compliment DGP Tripathy—a very fine officer—and the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister for taking a quick decision to transfer the case to the CBI, which I headed two decades ago. Any delay in arriving at such a swift decision would have been suspect. It clearly shows that the two gentlemen have nothing to hide.

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There have been attempts to politicise the issue. The media should condemn this. I am appalled that there are a few who are opposed to a CBI investigation. This is sheer skulduggery. We should ignore them.

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I am not suggesting that the CBI is omniscient or infallible. After all, the organisation is manned by human beings susceptible to emotions. Having said that, in the present case the CBI, being a central government agency, has no axe to grind.

I am absolutely certain that those who matter in Delhi will keep off from this investigation so that the truth comes out and the guilty, if any, are punished.

I presume the CBI director will send a team from Delhi whose members do not flinch from putting down all facts which may or may not please those in high places.

According to media reports, the local Tahsildar, who is also an Executive Magistrate, has already complained to the High Court in Madurai that there has been tampering of evidence and that he is being obstructed from performing his duty as ordered by the High Court.

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I am happy that the latter has moved quickly to direct the revenue authorities in the area to take physical control of the police station. This is an unprecedented move which will send the right signal to all policemen prone to violence against the public and crime suspects.

What we need is to introduce a sense of fear among rowdy policemen, who are accustomed to using illegal force, that they will not go scotfree. Deterrent penalties on delinquent members of the force are the need of the hour. But deterrence works only up to a limit and not beyond.

Analogous is the debate over the efficacy of the death penalty for homicides. The availability and certainty of the capital sentence has not eliminated murders. There is no doubt an occasional drop in the incidence of such a crime.

To expect that we will be able to root out murders using a capital sentence is a fallacy. The same is true about public servant corruption. Severe penalties are not a panacea. They can at best contain deviance, but not extirpate it.

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If ultimately it is established that the concerned Sattankulam policemen indulged in brutal violence for no reason at all, and if no personal vendetta is established, the question is why did they misbehave so violently?

There could be several theories. The most plausible of them are work pressure and individual psychological make-up. This is why I believe that as the intensity of work pressure mounts, police will behave irrationally and brutally. If however such behaviour goes unpunished woe unto the society. I am confident that it will not happen in the Sattankulam case.

My only appeal to the media and the citizenry: Do not indict the whole TN police. The force does not encourage the violation of human rights. It does its duties under extremely trying circumstances. We were witness to this in the case of combating Covid-19 where it did a commendable job.

Given the tools and resources, it needs the TN police is still one of the finest of police forces in the country. It has excellent leadership and a solid core at the cutting edge level.  Fortunately, the present government has shown itself enlightened in the matter.

(The writer is a  former CBI  Director and a former High Commissioner of India to Cyprus)

(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not reflect the views of The Federal) 

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