By T S Sudhir
The film `Rowdy Rathore’. A police officer played by Akshay Kumar gives the `treatment’ to four goons in his jurisdiction, making them take off their shirts and hitting them on their back mercilessly with sugarcane sticks. The public, fed up of the money the goons would collect, appreciates Akshay Kumar’s vigilante justice.
Incidentally, `Rowdy Rathore’ is a remake of a Telugu film `Vikramarkudu’. Tollywood viewers, in the past, have enjoyed the fare dished out by `Lady Amitabh’ Vijayashanti, who played roles of a cop taking on the bad guys in similar fashion.
Cut to Guntakal town, Anantapur district 2013. On Saturday, Sub Divisional Police Officer E Supraja it appears was playing reel-life Vijayashanti in real life.
Supraja, along with three policemen, escorted four men, all murder suspects, to a crowded bazaar area near the city bus stand. This is said to be the same place where the four had allegedly hacked to death the 65-year-old father-in-law of one of them three days earlier. But investigation seemed to be the last thing on the police officer’s mind. Instead, what followed, was a public spectacle. The men were beaten with lathis, slapped, abused, even as they pleaded for mercy, going down on their knees, with folded hands, asking for forgiveness.
The show drew a big audience, many among them armed with cell phones that were capturing all the action, moving in tandem with the police drama. There was no doubt who the hero of the moment was. Slogans of `Police zindabad rent the air. Supraja did some public questioning as well, asking the murder suspects how dare they do this, take the law into their own hands. The intention obviously to shame, humiliate, punish and also serve as a stern warning to potential trouble-makers about what fate they would meet if they ever went down the same path. In the Guntakal kangaroo court, there would be no tareeq pe tareeq. Justice will be immediate.
One of the three male officers, who I spoke to over phone, tried to justify the behaviour. “There was so much anger in Guntakal over the brutal manner in which the man had been killed. The thrashing we gave to the men, reflected that anger,” he explained. Andhra Pradesh police chief B Prasada Rao said police officers sometimes get into a trap, when they start playing to the gallery. “People sometimes expect quick solutions and the local officers get carried away. But as law enforcers they should understand their responsibilities and limitations and should not take the law into their own hands,” he said.
This is not the first time the police in this part of the world has indulged in this kind of visible policing. In November, the cops had given a dose of policegiri to a couple of eve-teasers to send a message to all roadside Romeos.
Interestingly, Supraja, who has been SDPO in Guntakal for two years, was transferred just last week to Greyhounds, Andhra Pradesh’s elite anti-commando force and was awaiting her replacement. Subsequent to this incident, she was summoned to Hyderabad. Disciplinary action awaits her now, which could include a cut in her salary, a stern reprimand from her superior and adverse remarks in her Annual Confidential Report.
But across police ranks, there was a little more `understanding’ and even empathy, if not support, for how Supraja and her team had behaved. “You know how things are in Anantapur district,” a senior IPS officer told me, while clarifying that he is not trying to justify what his team did. “In a place that has a history of violence, you have to send a stern message publicly. But I agree this is not the way to do it. This is indefensible.”
I remember during a visit to Kurnool district over a decade ago, a young dynamic SP had just taken over. His juniors were full of praise for his methods in controlling crime in the district, notorious for factional feuds and hired assassins.
“We take the hired killer to his native village and there in front of his brethren thrash him. All his bravado crumbles. The method, though not right under law, has worked wonders,” an officer told me. The more hard nuts who could not be cracked, he revealed with much pride, had simply been bumped off. “In just six months, we have brought down the crime rate,” he added.
Remember how the police was the cynosure of admiration by the locals in Prakash Jha’s true life story `Gangajal’ set in Bihar? Even the case in Warangal in December 2008, where two youth accused of throwing acid on two girls, were killed in an encounter. The public reaction, save human rights activists, was one of “serves them right”, and `will send the right signals across’, with retired police officers openly defending what the cops did.
Fact is there is no evidence to show that either acid attacks or sexual harassment of women reduced in Andhra Pradesh, post the encounter killing. If the shocking `punishment’ was meant to be a deterrent, it does not seem to have worked. The problem is if those who are supposed to enforce the law, decide to take it into their own hands and break the law, what recourse would you have left? Society will degrade into a free-for-all. That is the frightening truth.