Some years ago, a well-known model, Jessica Lal, was shot dead at point blank range while she was helping out at the bar at fashion designer and socialite Bina Ramani’s party in Delhi. The alleged murderer was the son of an influential politician and there was a public furore over the suspected efforts to hush up the case. Finally, the court too intervened in the matter and the trial ended in conviction. As I read the news of the murder of the law student Jisha, I remembered Jessica.
The gruesome murder of Jisha living in a one-room hut on government land in a place known to host the largest concentration of migrant workers in Kerala raises some questions which the state government and the Kerala society need to grapple with. Are we doing enough to make Kerala police more efficient in crime investigation and to provide enough manpower and infrastructure for quick conclusion of judicial processes? We do not seem to know enough about the large number of migrant labourers: where do they come from and what are their antecedents? Do we have a plan to rectify this situation? Do we have a plan with an effective implementation and monitoring machinery to uplift the poorest of the poor in our society? Finally, has the Kerala society become too callous and uncaring towards the underprivileged sections living in our immediate neighbourhood?
In the past few years, the Supreme Court has issued several directions to state governments for protecting the police organization from political interference and improving the efficacy of the crime investigation function of the police by separating it from maintenance of law and order. All state governments have been dragging their feet in implementing these directions. We are aware of the arbitrary manner of postings and transfers of police officers. The Supreme Court wanted state governments to create a mechanism to ensure that competence and objectivity rather than political expediency would be the criteria for this. It is well known that certain posts generate more bribe money and certain posts are important for political manipulations. These posts are always filled with the favourites of the party in power in all the states whatever the political complexion of the state governments. Separation of the wings dealing with crime investigation and maintenance of law and order is being insisted upon for making the former more professionally competent and free from other distractions.
Many senior police officers have been opposing separation of the two functions on the ground that the combined charge helps the officers in the field in discharging both their functions better by using information coming from different channels. They also feel that the crime branch of the state police can be quite effective in investigating serious crimes of a complex nature if it is given professional training in the latest techniques of crime investigation and its personnel are not transferred out after they have acquired the specialized expertise. There is some merit in this argument.
There can be no doubt that vesting the power for transfer and postings in a board comprising senior officers will go a long way in insulating the lower level officers from political interference in their functioning. If the government is serious, it should also add a strict system of periodically weeding out the incompetent, corrupt and venal officers at all levels, and a ban on political affiliation of police unions. The permission given for setting up multiple politically affiliated police unions is a major reason for the corruption, favouritism and incompetence in the ranks and is responsible for leaking information to criminals and political parties.
As important as improving the police machinery is providing adequate manpower and the requisite infrastructure to the criminal courts for concluding trials of cases within one year of submission of charge sheet. The chief minister should meet the chief justice for initiating a coordinated effort and ensure that funds are provided for this.
The size of the migrant population in Kerala has assumed alarming proportions to warrant greater monitoring of their activities. Many crimes of all types, including murder, theft, burglary and rape are committed by the criminal elements among them. Many criminals being chased by the police in their home states find refuge in the anonymity of the mushrooming communities of migrant workers in Kerala. In fact, one of the accused in the rape of a nun in Kandhamal was arrested from Kerala where he was working in a factory.
It is high time that the government makes it mandatory for all the residents of the state to possess smart ID cards linked to Aadhar cards. All migrant workers should be brought under this scheme immediately and it should be made mandatory for every employer to give details about the migrant workers in their employment to the local police by post or email. Police, in turn, should be held responsible for verification of their antecedents. A central depository of all information on migrant workers will help the police to monitor those who indulge in criminal activities.
We have had endless discussions about the steps to be taken for the welfare of the poorest of the poor but we have made very little progress so far. It is the responsibility of the state to provide housing, education, healthcare and food at affordable cost to these people. That there are still many such people in the state is a blot on the much vaunted ‘Kerala Model’. The government should wake up and make some serious efforts to mitigate this.
Jisha was murdered during daytime in a thickly populated neighbourhood. Yet, none of her neighbours came to her help aid when she cried out. It is a mark of our collective callousness that it took five days for the incident to even get media attention. This murder was being fussed about all over the state only because it happened in the middle of the election season. If not, nobody would have bothered about the death of a poor dalit girl.
Candle light processions were taken out for Jessica because she was a model. There will be no vigil for Jisha after the elections. Shame on you, Kerala.