OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion now in Hindi अब आप के लिये हिंदी मे.

We are now told that Moninder Singh Pandher, the businessman accused of sexually assaulting and killing at least 17 children in Noida, had a disturbed childhood. It became a free for all between police and aggrieved residents of Nithari village in posh Sector 31 furious over inaction on their complaints.  Despite the government giving a Rs 2 lakh compensation to the families of victims, the rage among residents is only mounting. Fifteen out of the 17 skeletons recovered from near Moninder Singh Pandher`s house, where children were murdered after being sexually abused. Admitting laxity and negligence by his men, Uttar Pradesh police chief Bua Singh yesterday ordered a high-level probe into the entire incident. THE STATE Government too on Sunday set up a two-member high-powered committee to probe the serial killings in Noida.Secretary (Home) RM Shrivastav said another Secretary (Home) AK Sinha and Additional Director General of Police (Crime, Law and Order) AC Sharma would probe the matter and submit a report within three days. The committee would look into whether there was slackness by the police in investigating the disappearance of children from Nithari village over the past two years.  The police are banking on the proposed narco-analysis test of Moninder Singh and Surender to throw more light on the abduction, rape and murder of the children.

The issue is taking a curious political turn with the majority of the victims coming from migrant labor families. Expressing concern over the serial killings in Noida, the Chief Justice of India Designate KG Balakrishnan has said that the case must be probed thoroughly.  The NHRC has also issued notices to the chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh, and lawyers in Noida have said that they will not defend the accused. The Indian Express asked the question : is individual victimhood not enough for the poor to get noticed? Offstumped examines the issue of what ails law enforcement in India that even the Criminal Justice System has to be tainted by a debate on Social Justice.

It could be that Uttar Pradesh on the verge of a bitter election season and it was but natural for the BJP, Mayawati and other political parties to make the usual arguments about break down of law and order and jungle raj to nail Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party lead government. Coming close on the heels of the case of the missing lecturer and associated sleaze scandals this was an expected political turn of events. But you now have the national media seizing the issue given NOIDA’s proximity to the National Capital. Given the media’s recent activism on the criminal justice front in celebrity cases, the Noida killings seem an ideal opportunity for the media to redeem its conscience injecting Social Justice into Criminal Justice. This was evident in NDTV’s reporting in what it called the marginalization of migrants. To quote NDTV

This is not just a story about crime; it’s a story about class, a story about the people who live in the margins of India’s power establishment.
Most people here are migrants, do not have a vote, and it is no wonder then that no MLA or MP thought kidnappings was an issue.
So how and why did Social Justice get mixed up with Criminal Justice ?

The reasons are not too far to see. The way we in India have organized Law Enforcement this was bound to happen. First the constitutional angle to this. Law Enforcement is a State Subject. What that means is the State Governments decide how law enforcement is provided. By and large the states which inherited the British system of law enforcement continued with the large centralized bureaucracies. As a result we have a Law Enforcement system which is not directly accountable to the local communities but to a bureaucrat sitting in the state capital who in turn is accountable to the Home Minister. The root of the problem lies in this lack of direct accountability. So rather than serve the local community’s needs from a Law Enforcement standpoint we have the Police serving the whims of the bureaucrats and their political masters. With the State Secratariats exercising control on Transfers and Appointments the maverick Law Enforcement Officer has little incentive but to acquiesce to the political party in power. 

So how do we fix this. The NDTV believes that the problem was not solved in NOIDA in time because the local MLA or MP did not care about someone who was not on the voter’s list. That is a tempting conclusion to draw for it allows for an oversimplified public debate along the lines of the Powerful versus the Powerless. Why a resident in a slum in NOIDA for 10 years is still referred to as a “Migrant Laborer” is baffling. It is important to debate this question to further understand why the media’s subversion of the public debate in NOIDA towards social justice is wrong.

There are a lot of professionals in the I.T. industry who work in Bangalore originally from different parts of the country. We don’t see the tag “Migrant Laborer” attached to them. Minus the economic status the I.T. worker in Bangalore is as much a “migrant laborer” as the slum dweller in NOIDA.  Does the I.T. worker in Bangalore have anymore access to Law Enforcement than the Slum Dweller in NOIDA.  Will the local MP or MLA in Bangalore pay anymore attention to the I.T. worker than the MP or MLA in NOIDA ?  We all know the answers to these questions. In fact forget the migrant laborer, even ordinary citizens have little assurance of their grievances being addressed what with celebrity cases languishing for years.

So rather than get carried away by temptations of debating every issue with a Social Justice frame of reference, the media and the public at large must focus on the real issue. The real issue is how Law Enforcement Agencies can be directly accountable to the Local Communities. A model worth emulating is the American Model of Criminal Justice where Law Enforcement is decentralized. Local Cities and Counties have their own police departments with the top Police Officials directly accountable to the people who reside in those cities and counties through elections. This ensures that locals with a stake in the local community head the police departments and not some unfortunate transferee. This also ensures that the people can directly hold these officials accountable for their performance. Most importantly it also reorients the duty of Law Enforcement to the Local Citizens first and away from VIP security which is where most law enforcement attention seems to go anyways. This does not mean the State Government will completely abdicate law enforcement. There will be areas like highway patrol etc where the State will still have a role but the primary responsibility becomes the City, Village or Taluk or Mandal.  This will do away with the centralized bureaucracy and layers of IGs and DIGs and SPs and make for a lean mean police force. This will also reorient the Home Minister’s job from day to day law enforcement oversight to strategy, policy and planning.

Offstumped Bottomline: The media must desist from subverting the public debate on the NOIDA Killings. A rational debate on the deficiencies of the Criminal Justice System must be muddled with motivated ideological agendas of Social Justice. The NOIDA Killings were a stark example of the failure of Law Enforcement to be directly accountable to the local communities they protect. Local Communities too must act to regularize the slums and make local residency simple and transparent. It is time we recognized this and stopped referring to Indian Citizens as “Migrant Laborers”. 

[Edited by Simon – Removed duplicate post]

[Edited by Simon – Removed duplicate post]

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