Murder of a Girl Re-iterates the Seriousness of Police Burking

To Protect the Good, to Destroy the Evil: Forsaken Motto?

After the Sangli police was accused of brutally murdering Aniket Kothale accused of robbery in their custody in 2017, the then ADG of Police Bipin Bihari pointed out that the man would not have died if FIRs would have been registered against him based on two previous complaints. According to the ADG, the timely registration of FIR could have prevented the death.

Thereafter the higher officials of the Maharashtra police department conducted an experiment. They sent police personnel in civilian clothes to police stations with complaints of crimes like chain snatching, pick-pocketing, domestic violence, stalking, and sexual harassment. This experiment showed that the police did not file offences in 50% of the cases which they should have filed. Worse, instead of filing FIRs in many cases they blamed the complainant for being out at late hours or for their choice of dress. The official term for such failure to register offences by police stations is ‘Burking’. Burking is a common experience suffered by hapless citizens who try to get their grievances heard at the local thana which has led to the public perception of the police as a corrupt and cruel department, an instrument of fear rather than of justice.

It appears that inspite of the study, burking continues unabated and sometimes it results in dire consequences for the victims. The recent murder of a young girl in Chandrapur city is a case in point. She was aged 17 years and 8 months, and worked in a private nursing home. She was stalked and publicly threatened by a 30-year-old married man, who entered into her workplace and threatened her as well as another nurse. The girl reported this incident to Ramnagar Police Station on September 1, but the police registered the matter as ‘non-cognizable’ under sections 504 and 506 IPC. On September 9, the man stabbed the girl multiple times in the middle of a busy road while she was returning home from work. Unable to recover from her injuries, the girl died on September 13 leaving the family traumatised and the general public extremely angry.

“We registered the non-cognizable case according to the statement of the victim on the night of September 1, and on the very next day we issued notice under section 149 Cr.P.C. to the accused.” informed Inspector Madhukar Gite, Police Officer in-charge, Ramnagar Police Station. Notice under section 149 Cr.P.C. is issued as a warning not to commit cognizable offence in the future.

The real question that demands answering is why did the Ramnagar Police Station fail to protect this girl? Why was the offence not registered under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO)? This special law was passed to protect children upto the age of 18 years from all forms of sexual offences including harassment and stalking. Section 11 (iv) of POCSO clearly states that A person is said to commit sexual harassment upon a child when such person with sexual intent … repeatedly or constantly follows or watches or contacts a child either directly or through …any other means.

Ramnagar police also failed to invoke Section 354D IPC which directly pertains to ‘stalking’. This section was introduced through the Criminal Amendment Act, 2013 by which any man who follows a woman and contacts, or attempts to contact such woman to foster personal interaction repeatedly despite a clear indication of disinterest by such woman has committed a cognizable offence.

The application of POCSO and Section 354D IPC would have set the criminal justice system in motion – the offence would have been registered as a cognizable offence, an FIR would have been written, the man would have been arrested, police would have had to inform the matter to judiciary as well as the Child Welfare Committee within 24 hours. If all these steps would have been followed diligently, it is quite likely that the victim would have been alive today.

Having identified burking as a serious lapse, it is expected that the government will now take extremely strong action against officers who indulge in such poor policing. A police officer who fails to take cognizance of an offence under proper legal sections in effect fails to perform their most fundamental professional duty. Not only should strong be taken but it should be seen to have been taken, if public confidence in the police is to be restored.

– Paromita Goswami