Fix the broken windows – letter to Justice Verma

Below is the text of my mail to Justice Verma in response to invitation for suggestions towards the commission headed by him

Respected Justice Verma,

 I write to offers some suggestions towards the changes needed for avoiding incidents like the gruesome gang rape in Delhi recently.

 While there has been a popular outcry for amending the laws to cater for a more severe punishment for rapists, that may not be the solution, at least not in isolation. The issue of safety of women needs to be viewed in the perspective of the overall issue of improving the rule of law – as the former will automatically follow the latter. This needs to be tackled in a three pronged manner:-

 ·         Enforcing existing laws.

·         Swiftly dealing with infringements.

·         Updating  laws and improving legal process.

Enforcing Existing Laws

 We need to draw a lesson from the experience of New York City in the mid nineties, where the “Broken Window Theory” was successfully used to reduce the crime rate substantially. The main notion of the broken window theory is that small crimes can make way for larger crimes. If the “petty” criminals are often overlooked and given space to do what they want, then their level of criminality might escalate from petty crimes to more serious offences.

 The basic idea is to enforce existing rules – whether they be about traffic, vandalism, running of public transport or eve teasing – strictly. This would create an overall atmosphere where petty criminals would be booked before they get bold enough to graduate to bigger crime. A case in point is in the gangrape case under discussion, the private bus had been running as public transport with impunity, had curtains and dark glasses against prevailing rules, and was parked in an unauthorized manner near the driver’s house. Moreover, the driving license of the driver was apparently of dubious authenticity. If the enforcement of existing laws had been strong enough, the individual and his friends would never have been allowed to reach the stage where they could commit the crime.

 To ensure that the police is enforcing existing laws rigorously, a monitoring mechanism needs to be put in place. This could be in the form of an ombudsman body that conducts its own inspections and surveys to assess the degree of enforcement. The mechanism should include an online avenue for citizens to report minor transgressions, which should be followed up and dealt with by the police. The practice by Delhi Traffic Police in this regard, of inviting citizens to report traffic infringements on their Facebook page and prosecutions based on this, has been quite successful. This experience can be built upon for other police departments across the country too.

 The basic premise needs to be enhancing the accountability of the police, and making this accountability quantifiable and visible publicly online.

 Dealing With Infringements

 There is currently an apparent reluctance on the part of the police to register cases, probably in a misdirected move to showcase a lower crime rate. This can be overcome by a two pronged approach. Firstly, the manner in which performance of police is looked at should be changed. Instead of basing their performance on the incidence of crime, it should be based on the ratio of prosecution vis a vis reported crime. Secondly, the reporting of crime or even minor transgressions should be possible, not only through filing a complaint / FIR at the police station, but also online, and if possible, even over SMS. All these reports should be recorded and monitored by the proposed ombudsman and a periodic update on the outcomes should be taken. Action taken on each complaint right up to its logical conclusion should be made publicly available online too.

 Updating Laws and Improving Legal Process

 This aspect has been dwelt on in detail in the media and other forums, particularly in the aftermath of the current case. The basic premise should be time bound disposal of all cases, and the creation of additional judicial capability to do so. The prevailing perception that perpetrators of even the most heinous crimes can continue to delay the judicial process and avoid punishment ad nauseam is not misplaced. Such a notion encourages crime by reducing the fear of punishment. Once all crime – major or minor – starts being punished swiftly and to the full extent of law, the propensity to break the laws would automatically come down.

 We have abundant faith in your wisdom and experience, as well as your resolve to ensure that this commission does not remain just another exercise in tokenism. The widespread reaction to the Delhi gang rape case is evidence that the common people of this country are completely disgusted with the state of affairs, and you have the opportunity to do something about it.

 Wish you all the very best in this endeavour.

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4 thoughts on “Fix the broken windows – letter to Justice Verma

  1. Very well said, Rohit. That’s how they cleaned up New York. Criminals out to rob shops or banks could not park their cars outside long enough for a getaway; drives againt jaywalking, loitering, etc, helped cut down other petty crimes including flesh trade and drug dealing; all such measures cut down the revenues of crime syndicates, and in turn crime came down. But in my view, in India, the malaise is far deeper:-

    (i) As a people in general, we lack empathy and patience. Look at the way we drive on roads. Most people just do not care about the probability of them injuring someone in their urge to simply just get ahead of your vehicle. Look at how we ignore anyone injured or an accident victim. A hundred will gather to witness as if it is one big morbid tamasha, but no one will help. Look at the way we clog the entire road at a railway crossing; no one wants to line up and everyone wants to be the first to cross, never mind that in the end, everyone literally has to bash our way through after endless manoeuvres and shouting and fighting. Most of these guys are just going to land up at home, collapse on a bed and ask, “billoo, Chaa pilaa..”. Is that the urgent task what you rushed home for? Justice Katju could be right. We do our household chores in office and try to do our office work at home (we bring a huge bag of papers home, which go back next day unaddressed!!). We blare hymns at full volume from 0400 hrs till 0900 hrs daily, and sometime all night – and but exhibit absolutely no patience in a temple / gurudwara, throw a one-rupee coin at our Gods, ask for the world, all the while jostling everyone else and talking inanely on a cellphone.

    (ii) As highlighted by Rohit, there is an utter breakdown of law and order. Today, decent people fear the police; criminals and those with connections just do not care at all. Because getting justice takes so long, people feel they must be aggressive to assert themselves.

    (iii) The overall social environment encourages families to bring up boys as aggressive, arrogant bullies with no respect for anyone lesser than them. The whole thing is about dominating the other. Some of it stems from above. But also because we are hypocrites. We talk about this culture and that culture and a trillion-zillion-years old civilisation – and then go and behave like boors and barbarians. It is a done thing to make loud comments on women in a public place even when they are accompanied by friends or family. A son who is wayward, rowdy or having an affair(s) outside his marriage is often dismissed with a wink and a proud nod. We have societies in which a wife dying is mourned less than a dead buffalo/cow (a new wife will bring dowry !!); in some, a brother-in-law or a father-in-law hitting on a bride is accepted and is oft seen as a way of showing her a place in that society.

    (iv) Above all, we have miserbaly failed to build an egalitarian society. It is as if the ruling class perceives that the nation does not include the people within its boundaries, and who are nothing but a bunch of vagabonds who must be endured and occasionally humoured with homilies. The bureacrats and politicians (and the armed forces !!) live in protected, privileged Avenues, Vihars, Purams and Baghs. The police, the municipal dept and the electricity dept (and the MES !!) are at their beck and call, never mind the 18-hour power cuts, no sewage and no water supply just 10 kms away in some silly, remote place called the Millenium City (“Where is it?” and “So what?”). For these guys, Lutyens Delhi is India and India is perhaps like Lutyens Delhi. None of these people who drive in curtained and chauffeur-driven cars, and who spend the day sequestered in an office have any idea what it is like outside. But imagine, if all the Secretaries to Govt of India and their imemdiate subordinates were forced to stay on rent and drive their cars? Any bets the colonies they are staying in will be far cleaner and safer, and the roads and traffic-management far better?

    (v) We need to ensure that there is zero misuse of official assets. Senior officers of the all services deploy manpower at their residences; vehicles of all types, office assets, etc, are all misused very liberally. You can have a 1000 ambulances and yet be sure that each one is either out for “shopping” or “sight-seeing” or receiving/dropping some “guests” or delivering something at someone’s place. In sum: the govt provides for the people and if deployed correctly, these assets could meet some level of adequacy. Again, that boils down to the rule of the law and enforcement of ethics.

    Is all this going to change? Well, I am reminded of that song, “Ham honge kamyab, EK DIN”. Regretably, no one ever specified a date, or even a year or a century or a millennium in this song .. which wee keep singing, again, inanely …

  2. Straight Question : have you emailed your valid suggestions to justice Verma , or you expect him to read your blog???

  3. I posted it after mailing it to him. Whether it is read or not is still a question because as per the news reports they have received thousands of mails.

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