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Reel vs Real: Let There be Rule of Law, Not of Singhams and Lady Singhams

File photo of Vikas Dubey encounter

File photo of Vikas Dubey encounter

In the topsy-turvy world of many cops and netizens what is wrong for children is right for adults.

Something is rotten in the statecraft of India. For even the basic principles of civilization have been forgotten. One of them is that the job of cops is to apprehend the law breakers, charge them with the offences concerned, and take them to a magistrate for prosecution. It is the magistrate who acquits or punishes the accused. Few, alas, remember this principle and fewer respect its sanctity, as evident from the glorification of Singhams and now even at least one ‘Lady Singham.’

Consider the story of Gujarat constable Sunita Yadav who recently became the toast of the social media. In fact, it was the netizens who christened her as Lady Singham, after 'Singham', a popular Hindi film in which an honest, upright policeman thrashes bad guys. Her claim to fame? She took on the son of a state minister. So far, so good. It is one of those David-versus-Goliath stories all of us have grown up hearing. But the devil — evil actually — is in the detail.

In Surat on July 8 night, during curfew, she reportedly saw some people moving in a vehicle. She stopped them to inquire about the reason for their coming out during curfew hours. Talking to India Today, she said, “Movement is allowed during curfew for genuine reasons. But these people did not have a genuine reason. They apologized to me saying ‘sorry.’ I thought of letting them go unpunished but as per law I had to do something. I had no challan slip, so I thought a few sit-ups would be enough for their violation of the law” (emphasis added).

Gujarat Health Minister Kumar Kanani’s son, Prakash, is a friend of the alleged violators. He soon arrived and had a tiff with Yadav. The video of the heated exchange between Prakash Kanani and Sunita Yadav went viral, making her a cyber celebrity. It didn’t occur either to Yadav or to her fans that she was, by her own admission, not just breaking the law — by herself punishing the accused — but also violating the basic principle of civilization that cops don’t punish the guilty.

Nor did it occur to anybody how humiliating it is to be punished in public in such a manner. Even school kids were spared corporal punishment by law. But in the topsy-turvy world of many cops and netizens what is wrong for children is right for adults.

If Yadav was not carrying a challan slip, it was her fault, not that of the alleged offenders. If a cop doesn’t have handcuffs, is he allowed to shoot down the accused person instead? In this case, she could have noted down the registration number of the vehicle the alleged violators were commuting in.

It is astonishing that Sunita Yadav’s highhandedness has not even been noticed, let alone penalized. Worse, she is being lauded on the social media. She is uttering rubbish, and that is also being covered: “Minister’s son comes into the scene and tells me who he is. If they feel VVIP [entitlement then] our system is responsible to some extent. Public is responsible because we treat them as VVIP.”

She is partially correct, though: public is responsible for its own misery. If people at large themselves don’t take their rights seriously, and if they are convinced that a law-enforcing officer should have the right to exercise undue force and punish the alleged culprits, then civil liberties and human rights lose all meaning.

Yadav reported resigned from police. She told India Today, “Right now, I am under so much of stress that I cannot think of anything. Becoming an IPS [Indian Police Service officer] was my goal even earlier. I wanted to be an Army officer but I could not become one for some reasons.” If she fails to become an IPS officer, she would try to become a lawyer or a journalist.

One would wish her the best of luck with a caveat: whatever she may become, it would be good for her and for the country if she learnt the basic principles of the rule of law.

When we accept that it is correct for policemen and policewomen to dispense with instant justice on the roadside for petty offences, we encourage them to do the same for heinous crimes like rape and murder. Therefore, it makes sense to highlight and criticize irresponsible behavior by cops right from the beginning. The least we, the people of India, can do is stop glorifying cops who exceed their brief. Let there be the rule of law, not of Singhams and Lady Singhams.

Disclaimer:The author is a freelance journalist. Views expressed are personal.