New Delhi: Early this week, people of Kerala heard in utter disbelief that the state government has filed an appeal against a High Court order granting Rs 1.5 lakh compensation to an eight-year-old girl who was humiliated by a Pink Police officer in Attingal, Thiruvananthapuram district, in August last year. This is the Left Front government which spends lakhs of rupees in hiring top-class lawyers from Delhi to fight murder cases, mostly political, involving CPM workers. This is the government led by a Marxist Chief Minister who is facing anti-graft cases in the state Lokayukta for unlawful allocation of funds running to lakhs from the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF). So the decision of the government to challenge compensation of such a meagre amount to the daughter of a Dalit daily wage earner who has no land or house of his own. stunned the people of Kerala. Ironically, the decision of the government came just two days after the Supreme Court questioned the legitimacy of the state government providing life-time pensions, which run into crores, to ministers’ staff completing two years of employment, a practice the State Governor Arif Mohammed Khan had questioned just a month back, kicking off a political controversy in the state.
The incident involving the eight-year-old occurred on 27 August last year when 38-year-old G. Jayachandran and his minor daughter were out on the streets near Attingal to watch a huge trailer lugging massive equipment to ISRO’s rocket launching station in not so distant Thumba. Suddenly, a woman police officer, noticing that her mobile phone was missing, accused Jayachandran, who was standing next to the patrol jeep, of stealing it. She said Jayachandran must have passed on the mobile to the little girl who, the police officer suspected, was his accomplice. She tried to grab the girl threatening to take both father and daughter to the police station. By his time, a huge crowd had gathered on the scene. Even as the policewoman was raving and ranting, and the child weeping, the phone rang from inside the jeep. But the officer was in no mood to repent and even went on to say that the two (father and daughter) look like seasoned thieves, in a way justifying her action in suspecting them. Fortunately, the entire sequence of events was filmed by a bystander who shared it on social media and it went viral. By evening, the vernacular TV channel Asianet took up the cause of the father and daughter with the policewoman clearly in the dock.
On 31 August, Jayachandran approached the state DGP Anil Kant, seeking action against the police officer. He pointed out that his daughter was still in a state of shock and was undergoing counselling. Kant promised action and followed it up by asking IG, South Zone, Harshita Attaluri, to conduct an inquiry. Soon it was announced that action had been taken against the official by giving her a ‘punishment transfer’. However, it came to light that the officer had in fact been transferred to a station close to her house and no other action was taken against her. Interestingly, the IG never bothered to talk either to Jayachandran or his daughter to find out their side of the story. Aggrieved, Jayachandran and his daughter sat on a one-day dharna in front of the State Secretariat demanding action against the police officer and justice for the girl. Finding the government unmoved despite growing public resentment, Jayachandran moved the High Court.
The court on 22 December last observed that the eight-year-old girl who was humiliated by a Pink Police officer must be compensated by the government. However, the court pointed out that it was not possible to provide a compensation of Rs 50 lakh sought by the girl as “it was an exorbitant amount”. Justice Devan Ramachandran observed that the girl was wronged and certainly had to be compensated under the public law remedy. The police officer’s action had “created havoc” in the mind of the girl, who was terrified. In the order, the court observed: “We cannot let our daughters grow up in anger. Hence, immediate remedial steps should be taken. No one can dispute that her Fundamental Right under Article 21 to lead a dignified and full life was violated. It is not in a contest that the event has traumatized her. It doesn’t matter if she (the officer) acted vindictively, viciously or deliberately…The fact that the eight-year-old Devipriya went through a harrowing experience that could leave a scar on psychological well-being is ipso facto sufficient to grant her reparation under public law remedy.” The court then granted a compensation of Rs 1.5 lakh and asked the state government to further pay a sum of Rs 25,000 as legal expense.
More significantly, Justice Devan Ramachandran also directed initiation of disciplinary proceedings against the errant officer in question. The court said that “till the disciplinary proceedings are initiated and concluded, the officer shall be kept away from duties which would require her to interact with the general public”. The Court further directed that she (the officer) should be given necessary training on interpersonal behaviour and said that the petitioner and her father can proceed with any other litigation they may want to initiate against the officer. The State government on its part had tried to defend the police officer saying that she, as part of the Pink Police meant to ensure safety of women, had not misbehaved or done anything that could have caused mental agony to the little girl The State in its report claimed that there was no material on record to prove the girl was humiliated. To which the Court scoffed and said “a new spin is being created by the state. It is a good spin, a googly.” Despite the court order, the state government has not taken any disciplinary action against the officer so far.
It is against this single bench order that the mighty State government has filed an appeal in the division bench of the High Court. This is an ill-advised move which, as former judge of the Kerala High Court Justice Kemal Pasha pointed out, the whole of Kerala should rise up in unison and defeat. Jayachandran in his humble way has offered to donate a part of the amount, if and when the government gives it, for empowering adivasi children and another portion to the CMDRF.
But the government move points to more dangerous trends happening in the state. Kerala police is perhaps the most politicised in the country. That the government is unable to even take the disciplinary actions mentioned by the Court against the officer shows the clout the police unions enjoy in the government. In this context it needs to be remembered that during the previous Pinarayi The Vijayan government, on the annual police day function a group of officers came clad in red, CPM uniform for its Red Volunteers. The chief minister and the then DGP were on the podium. No action was taken against those officers. Then there is the accusation made by Annie Raja, senior leader of the CPI which is the second largest partner in the ruling Left Democratic Front. There was opposition from her own party when she said that men with RSS ideology have infiltrated the Kerala police force.
Whatever the truth, the actions of the police force in the state under the direct control of the chief minister who is also the home minister, has been an embarrassment for the Left Front government in the past six years. Either the chief minister should handover the home portfolio to someone else or he should take active interest in the day-to-day functioning of the force.