6 oct 2011Despicable it might be, yet it is a relatively irrelevant incident in India. The latest is the case of Firoz, a 12-year-old boy who is now reportedly suffering from serious psychological trauma after being forced by a Head Constable of the Railway Protection Force (RPF) to gather the severed remains of a human body run over by a train in Indore, Madhya Pradesh state. The incident happened on 26 September 2011 in full public view. According to the psychiatrist, Dr Ramghulam Razdan, Head of Department, Department of Psychiatry, at the MGM Medical College, who examined Firoz, the boy could be suffering from a “permanent phobic reaction” or that he has developed a “psychotic behaviour” as the direct result of his horrific experience. Firoz is reported to be a rag-picker boy, living in Indore, who initially refused to do the illegal job, but was forced to by the police constable, who also paid him Rs 100. DNA, an independent media group reported the incident on 1 October 2011.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is aware that this is not an isolated incident or an exception in any form in India, Madhya Pradesh in particular. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, Madhya Pradesh is on top in the list of states concerning crimes committed against children in the country.
The AHRC is also aware that the RPF and the state police regularly resort to similar illegal methods when they have to deal with dead bodies of persons run over by a train or in cases where the state police have to deal with persons found dead in unnatural circumstances. For instance, the state police in Tamilnadu often pay Rs 100 and offer a bottle of illegal liquor to children who are ordered to ‘pack-up’ unidentified and unclaimed dead bodies, often found in different stages of putrefaction.
Mr Louise, living in Pavitram village of Thiruvannamali district, who is now aged 20 years used to do this ‘job’ for the RPF. Louise was first forced to do the ‘job’ when he was 12-years-old. He continues to do so and today he is the person ‘who handles the dead’ in the village and has now made it his profession. The AHRC and its partner organisation in West Bengal state, MASUM have been reporting about how inhumanly dead bodies are handled in state-run mortuaries in that state. MASUM has documented dozens of cases in West Bengal, where it is a Dom – name of a particular Dalit community in India, who undertakes the ‘autopsy examination’ using crude tools, whereas the medical doctor would observe it from a distance. MASUM and the AHRC has also reported cases of dead bodies left unattended, putrefied and body parts eaten away by dogs and rats in government morgues in West Bengal. Despite the reportage, the state government has done nothing so far to improve the situation. Illegal it might be for the authorities to engage a boy or a private person to deal with a dead body in what is in essence a crime scene or a scientific examination. But in India, this is how things are.
Lack of discipline and dereliction to duty that is often condoned by the superiors in the law enforcement agencies; relative absence of accountability; lack of skills and equipments; and the overall belief of impurity associated with dealing with dead bodies often based on caste beliefs along with the practical convenience for the police of having not to physically deal with the dead are the reasons why such practices exist in India today. In essence, Firoz is one more victim of the systemic culture of neglect, lack of accountability and the resultant culture of impunity omnipresent within the law enforcement agencies in the country. In that the Head Constable who forced Firoz to do this despicable job and paid him for it had been acting quite naturally and normally as far as India is concerned.
Shocking the incident might be, yet it must not be a surprise to anyone in India. Take for instance the Indian Railway itself. Despite the country having developed nuclear weapons and scheduled to declare itself as ‘developed’ by 2020, the Indian Railways is the single largest network of open toilet on wheels in the world.
Human faeces, sprayed on rails and rail sleepers (cross-tie), is a common sight in every railway station and on every inch of the rail network in the country, which is the largest in the world. In that, the Indian Railway still is to realise that there is something called a ‘closed closet’ technology invented and used widely in the world today, that toilets inside transport vehicles do not cause a hygiene hazard to the public. The concern for the Indian Railways for the ordinary people including its own employees is most visible once again at railway stations where manual scavengers, clean with a broom, human faeces from the rails. In that, the Indian Railway is the single largest employer of manual scavengers in the world – often recruited from the Dalit community and railway stations are the largest open toilets in the country. One of worst predicaments of the Dalits in India is indeed the practice of manual scavenging, repeatedly documented by rights groups, but equally denied by the Government of India.
It is reported that when several people who witnessed the brutal and inhuman predicament of Firoz, complained about it to the RPF, the RPF suspend the Head Constable from service pending inquiry and transferred five other officers. From experience, about the manner in which dereliction of duty is dealt within the law enforcement agencies in India, it has to be assumed that the only reaction by the authorities concerning this incident would be just this transfer and the temporary suspension of the Head Constable.
The reaction by Firoz when he learned that complaints have been made regarding the incident is to flee from home. Understandably this is the best a poor person in India could do, if the person becomes the cause for ‘trouble’ to a police officer – run, as far as possible, beyond the reach of the officer! It is reported that Firoz fled to a place called Omkareshwar, about 85 kilometres away from Indore fearing that the Head Constable would come for his blood.
Given the manner in which complaints are dealt with in India, it is possible that the Head Constable produces – and if there is an inquiry, it concludes – that Firoz did the job, on his own volition. The RPF might also produce Firoz’s signed statement in support for such a defence and statements of similar rag-picker boys, or probably of a shopkeeper and a few other ‘chance witnesses’.
Madhya Pradesh state has a Child Welfare Committee. It needs to be seen whether the Committee would take any sensible action upon this case. At the very least, will the Child Welfare Officer, having jurisdiction upon the police station where the incident happened, would take any action on this case?
There would not be an inquiry how and why the Head Constable picked a rag-picker boy to do his job. None would bother to ask how a rag-picker boy becomes so vulnerable to brute exploitation by the very same officer who is also paid to prevent it. It will be nobody’s worry why there are so many children in Indore and other cities in India, who make a living picking rags and climbing over piles of trash when they should be at school? None would try to contact the Madhya Pradesh State Commission for Protection of Child Rights having its office in Bhopal and dare speak to its Chairperson and former Judge of Madhya Pradesh High Court, about what could the Commission do in the present case, and further for the poor and destitute children of the state.
While this statement is being read, there would be several other ill-fated children like Firoz, who are either forced to do similar jobs for a living or for fear of torture; or trafficked along the length and breadth of the country or trying to curl down with empty stomachs since their
parents are unable to find them a meal at least once a week. Yet, India repeatedly hear the hollow rhetoric that the country’s children are its asset and the country’s investment for the future.
The question is, would children like Firoz count in that account?