Fakes and frames: Why can’t Delhi police convict?

The World

When the Delhi police joined Facebook, they didn't get many friend requests. And some people wrote in asking for a "hate" button. So it's not too surprising that pesky reporter-activist types are out for blood, following new revelations about the dread Special Cell – the Indian capital's answer to L.A.'s Rampart squad.

It turns out that the supercops struggle to convict a third of the alleged criminals they pursue, according to the results of a Right to Information (RTI) request filed by the filed by Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association (JTSA). But it's not because they're the bumbling slobs caricatured in media reports on new mandatory fitness programs for the force, or the incompetent investigators portrayed in the recap of the farcical botching of Page One cases like the 2008 double murder of 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar and a family servant, argues Manisha Sethi in an interesting article for Kafila.org.

The reason that 70 percent of the accused go free is that they never did anything in the first place. The Special Cell, Sethi suggests, might as well be called the fiction cell. Because their cases have more in common with movie production (location scouting, casting, and, well, shooting) than with actual police work.

As she puts it: “There is a nauseating familiarity to the narrative of the Special Cell’s busting of terror modules. This is the stream of events as is usually recorded in the [First Information Report (FIR)]: secret information is received by the police about the entry of a dreaded terrorist into Delhi via bus/ car/ railways to meet an aide to conspire about an attack or pass on arms and ammunition. Losing no time, a party is readied and dispatched to the spot. The police party unsuccessfully entreats civilians to join them as public witnesses. An encounter ensues. The terrorist is apprehended. Cash, arms, and caches of explosives recovered, and the terrorist and the booty displayed suitably in a press conference. Glory invariably follows.”

The usual suspects are usually Muslim, a reminder of the mostly unacknowledged rift in India's supposedly secular society.

Take Moinuddin Dar and Bashir Amed Shah, two Kashmiris, for instance. Accused of hatching a terrorist plot, they spent several years in jail before a court actually evaluated the so-called evidence compiled by Ravinder Tyagi and his colleagues at the Special Cell. It concluded: “They [accused] are totally innocent and have been framed in this case by the aforesaid four police officers in order to achieve their personal gains and/or to settle petty personal scores, be that at the behest of one Major Sharma, whose attempts to persuade accused Gulam Moinuddin Dar to work for him in getting the militantssurrendered in Kashmir were spurned by him (Gulam Moinuddin Dar) or to earn undue honours or awards for themselves.”

Or consider four supposed “terrorists” who were apprehended after an attack on the Indian Military Academy (IMA) in 2005. As Sethi writes, “Five years after they were sent to jail for being Laskhar-e-tayyiba (LeT) militants planning a daring attack on IMA, the court ruled that they had been set up by the special cell. It was a familiar tale of lies, misrepresentation of facts, and contradictions, which could not stand the scrutiny of cross examination. The remittances by one of the accused, Haroon, through Western Union were shown to be the monies used by LeT to fund the IMA campaign. It turned out to be repayment of a loan to a generous uncle who financed Haroon’s travel to Singapore. The email transcripts between Haroonand his Pakistani handler were proved to be fabrications by the police.”

Moral of the story: India may have a warm, fuzzy image. But when it comes to law enforcement, Delhi's right up there with New York and other cutting edge cities.

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