What’s wrong with asking women to learn martial arts

A government that can’t prevent women from being molested on the streets is unlikely to do better against criminals and terrorists.

Excerpt from today’s DNA column:

Imagine the Indian Army begins to conduct training camps to train all of us on how to use firearms to defend ourselves against foreign attacks. Imagine they provide booklets on how to make grenades that you could throw at invading soldiers. Imagine the army chief saying that our soldiers can’t be expected defend every single part of the country, overstretched as they are, having to go abroad on UN peacekeeping missions, helping census officials, conducting elections, delivering humanitarian relief and constructing buildings for events like the Commonwealth games. Would we buy this logic?

Yet, this is precisely what we are doing with respect to our police forces. In the face of rampant sexual harassment of women (let’s not trivialise these crimes anymore by calling them ‘eve teasing’) the Delhi police force has decided to rely on D-I-Y methods. It is training women in self-defence techniques, martial arts and handing out pepper-spray recipes outside schools and colleges. Some may see these measures as practical and pragmatic, but they should worry us deeply. For they represent an abdication of the State from its fundamental responsibility – using its monopoly on the legitimate use of violence to ensure that there is rule of law. [Read the rest at DNA]

Restoring order in Jammu & Kashmir

A new Takshashila discussion document charts out a thirteen point plan

You can download Takshashila fellow Sushant K Singh’s 13-point plan here (185 KB, PDF).

The immediate goal for New Delhi and Srinagar should be to restore peace and security in the violence-affected districts of Jammu & Kashmir so that normal activity can resume. This has to be done by suppressing violence, arresting ring-leaders of protesters and actively countering separatists’ plans to direct the pace and scope of social, economic, political and religious life by issuing protest calendars.

The political process in the Valley can only be reactivated fully once the security situation has been brought under control. However certain steps can be initiated to restart the political process immediately. These will have to be undertaken at many levels simultaneously within the state. [Takshashila publications]

Policing is a state subject

Centralisation is not a silver bullet. Citizens will get internal security only when they demand it from their elected representatives.

In this month’s issue of Pragati, Ajit Kumar Doval, former chief of the Intelligence Bureau, argues that the “structural architecture of India’s legal-constitutional framework” poses a challenge to evolving a national counter-terrorism policy. He points out that

(While) national security, including internal security, is the responsibility of the Centre, most of the instruments—like powers to maintain law and order, the criminal administration system, police and prisons—are controlled by the constituent states. The states, keen to preserve their turf and apprehensive of the central government’s political interference are unwilling to provide any space to the Centre that could empower it to take direct action in security related matters. This renders the task of a holistic tackling of internal security threats difficult.

While the states lack capabilities to cope with these threats on their own they are unwilling to allow any direct intervention by the Centre. This seriously limits the Centre’s ability to formulate, execute, monitor and resource national counter terrorist policies in an effective and comprehensive manner.[Ajit K Doval/Pragati]

It is tempting to see a solution in shifting the responsibility to the central government. The new National Investigating Agency (a poor choice of words, “investigations” would have been better) that is now in the process of being instituted is likely to take this route. Now, it makes sense to charge a central agency with the mandate to investigate inter-state crimes like terrorism, drug trafficking and counterfeiting. But the need for a new agency was debatable—and because the parliament passed it in the wake of the terrorist attacks on Mumbai, it did not sufficiently debate this. Couldn’t the existing Central Bureau of Investigation have been given additional responsibilities, powers, resources and most importantly, independence?

While central agencies have a role to play, it is the police forces of the states that are on the frontline in the battle against terrorists. Literally, as Mumbai showed. So improving the quality of local policing and equipping them for the twenty-first century is the main act. Seductive as it is to push policing to the central government, it insidiously changes the centre-state balance. This is undesirable in principle, at least not without careful debate. But it is also dangerous: just imagine a scenario where policing is fully centralised and another Shivraj Patil is in charge.

Even financing police (linkthanks PE)through the central government’s funds carries a moral hazard—states are likely to abdicate their fiscal responsibility (or rather, never develop such a responsibility at all), and with it, begin to point fingers at New Delhi for their own failures. Citizens must hold their MLAs and state governments accountable for maintaining law and order. Central overreach disrupts this basic constitutional relationship of democratic accountability.

India didn’t suffer from this campaign of terrorist attacks because it lacked a NIA. The proximate cause is a grand mismanagement of internal security under an incompetent home minister and an ineffective prime minister. The fundamental cause is that there has been a systematic under-investment in improving policing and intelligence over the last three decades. Unless voters hold their elected representatives to account, matters will remain much the same.

Related Post:Towards a new national counter-terrorism policy

Indian pond organisms

A particularly obnoxious variety

It takes a particular type of politician to insult a policeman killed in the line of duty and then try and play a cheap trick on the family of the deceased. That particular type of politician is Amar Singh, leader of the Samajwadi Party.

“His comments have hurt our honour and disrespected my late husband. We did not go begging to Singh and we will not accept the cheque now that he has publicly said that he gave us money—as if I am making my husband’s death an excuse to earn money,” said an angry Maya Sharma, widow of the officer.

Interestingly, the cheque that was handed out to the family had an error in it. “In numbers, the amount mentioned on the cheque was Rs 10,000, while Rs 10 lakh was written in words. When we brought this to Singh’s representative’s notice, he asked us to add two zeros to the cheque on our own. She added that I told him that such things are not befitting of respectable people like us. I thought it was an honest mistake. So, after we insisted, his representative took the cheque back for correction. Now, we don’t want it back,” said Maya. [TOI]

Also this:

Maya Sharma said the announcement of Rs 30 lakh given to the family by Delhi Police has been over-hyped. “That money was the accumulation of his GPF, other benefits and ex-gratia amount given to every officer who dies in action. It was no special compensation.” [IE]

Trying to wipe the egg off his face, Mr Singh announced that his party might consider withdraw support from the UPA government if the Jamia Millia Islamia university were found innocent. It is grandstanding yes, but the message to the UPA government is palpable.

After terrorists, their apologists strike (2)

Fact-finding civil society teams and their predictable findings

One would have thought that the death of the leader of the police team involved in the shootout with terrorists in New Delhi’s Jamia Nagar would silence the predictable apologists for who every “encounter” is a false one.

It turns out that Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma’s death was not sufficient. No sooner had the shootout ended than civil society teams had already launched ‘fact finding’ teams that pronounced the predictable verdict. The encounter had been staged and innocent Muslims had been targeted. Why, a Coordination Committee for Indian Muslims was formed (an unfortunate nomenclature, for the separatists in Jammu & Kashmir have their own Coordination Committee), and one of its leaders boldly announced that “it is pretty clear that Sharma was killed by his own men at very close range from behind. It was the mistake of the police to rush 2500 policemen into the narrow lanes of Batla House.” So here we have a bunch of sundry political activists and university lecturers acquiring the competence and authority to offer definitive opinions on how police conduct their operations. [See Retributions]

What is worse, such presumptuousness goes unchallenged.

The abjectly communal reaction of these worthies—from self-appointed fact-finding teams to office bearers of the Jamia Millia University—not only damages the prospects of a united, national battle against the radical Muslims who are resorting to terrorism. It also damages the interests of the Muslim community itself. Ajai Sahni is right when he says that “there are grave dangers for the country’s future in this.”

The argument has been put forward that ‘innocent Muslims’ are being targeted in the spate of recent arrests – but no evidence has, at any point, been cited, to support the thesis, other than an undercurrent of sustained denigration of the Police. Crucially, the responses of enforcement agencies are increasingly being held hostage to an irrational media backlash that follows both the failure to act and effective action.

There has been a constant clamour about investigative failures to solve the major terrorist attacks over the past over two years. But when a case is actually solved, there is immediate and unverified uproar over the ‘targeting of innocent Muslims’, and altogether bizarre conspiracy theories abound. Worse, it is more than evident that enforcement agencies in India have simply failed to acquire the skills and acumen necessary to deal with the intrusive, increasingly frenzied, and overwhelmingly ignorant media, and this has only further fed a rising panic in public perceptions.

The institutional paralysis is deepened manifold by opportunistic and unprincipled political responses – variously based on tactics that seek mobilisation through appeasement or escalation of tensions between communities – as well as through strategic advocacy by a number of sympathetic communal formations. [Outlook]

That civil society groups should involve themselves in fact-finding is a good thing. It is a good thing regardless of the fact that it is selective—for few civil society groups found it necessary to conduct fact-finding missions to investigate bomb blasts and terrorist attacks. But before their conclusions are amplified by the hyperventilating media it is necessary to subject them to intense scrutiny. In an environment where conspiracy theories and narratives of victimisation create more terrorists—a fact that even the Coordination Committee member concedes—an credulous, undiscriminating airing of ‘facts and findings’ is more dangerous than merely irresponsible.

Related Post: An earlier edition

Peering into the criminal mind

A revolution in investigative affairs?

The use of brain mapping in investigation, and most recently the acceptance of brain mapping reports as evidence by Indian courts has raised many eyebrows. Today’s New York Times has a report by Anand Giridharadas on this:

The Brain Electrical Oscillations Signature test, or BEOS, was developed by Champadi Raman Mukundan, a neuroscientist who formerly ran the clinical psychology department of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences in Bangalore. His system builds on methods developed at American universities by other scientists, including Emanuel Donchin, Lawrence A. Farwell and J. Peter Rosenfeld.

Despite the technology’s promise—some believe it could transform investigations as much as DNA evidence has—many experts in psychology and neuroscience were troubled that it was used to win a criminal conviction before being validated by any independent study and reported in a respected scientific journal. Publication of data from testing of the scans would allow other scientists to judge its merits—and the validity of the studies—during peer reviews.

“Technologies which are neither seriously peer-reviewed nor independently replicated are not, in my opinion, credible,” said Dr. Rosenfeld, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Northwestern University and one of the early developers of electroencephalogram-based lie detection. “The fact that an advanced and sophisticated democratic society such as India would actually convict persons based on an unproven technology is even more incredible.” [NYT]

The use of this technology for investigation should be of relatively lesser concern, especially when the alternatives are of the unpleasant sort. But Dr Rosenfeld does have a point, especially when it comes to admissibility of these reports for securing convictions.

It is difficult to understand why Mr Giridharadas’s report does not quote any Indian scientist on the subject. It leaves out an important point: on September 6th, The Hindu reported that “an expert committee studying the efficacy of brain mapping criminal suspects has concluded that it is unscientific and should be discontinued as an investigative tool and as evidence in courts.” Rakesh Maria, Mumbai police crime branch chief, has been quoted as saying ‘that while BEOS was a useful technique of examination, it couldn’t achieve conviction all by itself. “The technique needs to be corroborated with other evidence.”‘

Police-public partnership in Surat

How a city beat the terrorists

No less than 18 bombs were discovered and defused in Surat. That’s nothing short of an amazing achievement. It happened because citizens and the police force enjoyed a relationship that made it possible for the city to react quickly (linkthanks Swami Iyer). Now there is something that needs to be investigated further.

The chief of the city’s police force, R.M.S. Brar, lauded residents for taking the lead in providing information to investigators that resulted in the recovery of 18 live bombs from 10 locations, most of them around the diamond hub of Varachha.

The people in turn believe the police should be given credit for succeeding, so far, in averting a tragedy and saving innocent lives, unlike in Ahmedabad where a series of 16 explosions on Saturday killed dozens.
[Calcutta Telegraph]