By Romel Sutariya*
The Supreme Court, in a judgment on November 12, 2013, had said that it was mandatory for police to register FIR if a complainant approaches it for the registration of a cognizable offence. The five judge Constitution bench, headed by then Chief Justice P Sathasivam, said that action should be initiated against the police officer for his failure to register a First Information Report (FIR) on the complaint of a cognizable offence. However, a recent experience of the the Adivasi Kisan Sangharsh Morcha (AKSM) suggests that ground realities are totally different, and the Supreme Court order is still not being implemented in Gujarat. While an FIR was registered against a South Gujarat sand mining owner, who misbehaved with a tribal woman, this happened only after women staged a loud protest in front of the Pavi Jetpur police station.
Even after the FIR was registered, clearly, the matter did not end here. Instead of acting on the FIR, the police inspector sent summons to the activists of the AKSM to appear as witnesses under Section 160 of the criminal procedure code to appear as witness. Worse, the police inspector, KJ Jhala, asked one of the activists, Manisha Solanki, to sign up the FIR in order to corroborate what had happened. All this was the culmination of began on October 28, 2014, when in village Haripari, taluka Pavi Jetpur, district Chhota Udepur, following misbaviour with one of the women, the victim went to file an FIR against the person responsible, who happens to be the firm which has taken a sand mine on lease. Instead of filing the FIR, the woman was told that the complaint had no basis, and was therefore asked to go away. She was, in fact, abused for coming up with false complaint.
The woman who had approached the police station is illiterate. She got a professional stamp writer to prepare the complaint to hand it over to the police. After making her wait for three hours the FIR was not taken, and therefore she handed over the complaint to the police and returned to her village. On the next day, when Manisha Solanki and I accompanied by the son of the victim, Vijaybhai, approached the police inspector, we were told that the police was not bound to file FIR. We were also told that there was a difference between what the women complainant had told the police orally, and what she had given to the police in writing; hence the FIR could not be accepted.
Hearing this, I reminded the police inspector that the Supreme Court was clear enough — it is mandatory to register FIR in case of a cognizable offence. I also reminded him that the judgment was delivered on the basis of the recommendations by the Justice Verma Commission, and that the criminal procedure law has accordingly been amended in Parliament. I also said that the Supreme Court order says that in case the cops are allowed to use their judgment on whether to file an FIR or not, then there would be serious repercussions on public life, adversely impacting victims’ rights. Hence, the police cannot refuse to file FIR.
In fact, if the police refuse to file FIR, a case can be registered under the police official concerned for dereliction of duty, I explained. All this happened at around 10.30 am in the morning. The women who accompanied us argued that if the police behave like this with a 50-year-old woman, allowing a person with considerable political influence to go scot free, what would happen in case someone with so much power misbehaves with a young girl? Hence, they argued, come what may, the complaint must be registered. This was followed by large number of women reaching the police station in Pavi Jetpur and protesting against the police for not registering the FIR. They shouted anti-atrocity slogans, demanding justice to Dalit and Adivasi women.
All of this forced the police inspector to agree to file FIR. However, the game did not end here. On the next day, October 30, the police inspector, seemingly hurt and wanting to take revenge, asked me and Manisha Solanki, our senior activist, to appear at the police station for giving a statement. While this was conveyed to us on phone, we were issued summons, delivered to us at the AKSM office in Chhotaudepur town, by Jetibhai Rathwa from Pavi Jetpur police station at around 5.00 pm.
Our statement was needed, we were told, in order to substantiate what all had been written in the FIR. Thereafter, the policeman, strangely, asked Manisha Solanki to sign the FIR, registered by Gangaben, the victim. Manisha Solanki refused, asking what the police was trying to prove. This made the cop to go away quietly. Then, I phoned up the police inspector to find out why all this was happening, and I was told that everything would be explained once we reached the police station and gave them our statement.
The incident has made one thing very clear — that the inspector in charge at the Pavi Jetpur police station, instead of helping the victim, was seeking to put pressure on her. This way, he was trying to help an affluent and politically powerful person. One only hopes that, now that the FIR has been registered, investigation would take place under different sections of the criminal procedure code – 323, 354 , 147 , 148 , 504 , 506 (2) and114. And, in future, we hope, the police do not act like this by refusing to file FIR for a cognizable offence. One has only to wait and watch to see what happens.
*Senior activist with the Adivasi Kisan Sangharsh Manch, Gujarat