The bombings in London on 7 July killed 54 and injured several times more people. Significantly, they shook the British society raising questions about its claim for multiculturalism, pluralism and diversity. The retaliatory attacks on mosques and gurudwaras along with the growing threats on anyone resembling an Asian ethnicity are disturbing signs. Apart from killing innocent people and terrorizing the people around the world the suicide bombers appeared to initially succeed in driving a wedge amongst the British people.
However, the quick detection of their identity and success in making an arrest of one conspirator testifies to the excellent investigation done by Scotland Yard. Within a short period the police not only found irrefutable evidence of who did these barbarous attacks but also unearthed their modus operandi and tracked their movements on that fateful day. The four suicide bombers have now been identified as young Muslims who traveled from Leeds to London to carry out their attacks. The evidence collected from their home is being pursued to determine who were their handlers and how, where and when the conspiracy was hatched. The fact that all four were British born Muslim young people who were indoctrinated in Pakistan points towards an extensive network of jihadis. They are unlikely to stop at these four bombings and most likely will be planning their next target. Nevertheless, by any standards this is an investigation of the highest order and the British police deserve all the praise that can be given.
This is a case where India's police officers were able to produce quick results. The SIM card of a mobile phone used by one of the terrorist was recovered and examined. This led to the detection of other accomplices and helped trace the movement of the attackers.
Undoubtedly the IP officers were part of a colonial regime that formed the bulwark of the British Raj. Their challenge was to maintain complete hegemony and ensure no challenge to the British rule in India. Despite wide spread public support for revolutionary violence the police were able to handle this challenge without resort to 'encounters' and our current law, POTA. While the objectives of the IP could not accepted as these were to serve the British, their methods and police work were undoubtedly of high professional standards.
After independence the politicisation of service and the breakdown in command structure reduced the same police organization to one of servitude and partisan misbehaviour. Senior IPS officers are shifted unceremoniously for political reasons. More significantly, the police are acting at the behest of politicians in selectively harassing or assisting people due to their opposition or links to the other politicians. No more are its investigations and detections accepted by the Indian society as they reek of political influences. Whether it is the changing accusations in Best Bakery case, the Hawala case, the Telgi stamp matter or even the never ending saga of Bofors, Indian police investigators, including the CBI, all have sullied hands. Even in cases where investigations have been done professionally, the conclusions have not been without question, like the Rajiv Gandhi murder case.
A major reason for questions about police investigations in India is the lack of forensic and scientific evidence. A vast majority of cases are built upon witness and co-accused statements made to the police officer, since a confession made before a police officer is inadmissible in the court under section 25 of the Evidence Act. But witnesses often retract their statements at the time of trial because they are tutored by the police and change their story under cross examination and in an open court. Moreover, the trials take so long that the offenders are able to threaten or bribe witnesses. Retraction itself is therefore not surprising, but this leaves police with no additional evidence to prosecute offenders.
In contrast, the London bombings were carefully investigated. The police quickly cordoned off the places of occurrences, including a major street in London, carefully scrutinized these places for physical evidence like clothes, papers, traces of bombs used and hundreds of other such items. The results were gratifying- the evidence led to the detection of valuable papers that identified the offenders and established their modus operandi. The police were able to construct the way in which the offenders entered London, met at Kings Cross station and took their separate deadly routes.
The video surveillance routinely kept at the station was examined for more than 5000 photos that were taken before the incident. These photos helped identify the faces and identity of the perpetuators. This was followed by quick trace of papers such as their birth certificates, railway and airline tickets that all helped track their movements. The police conclusions were not disputed as these were overwhelming. If the police claim was made without any of these accompanying pieces of evidence it would have been easy to conclude that the police, acting at behest of the ruling party and to save face was maliciously targeting the Muslim community. This scenario is familiar in India where political motives are ascribed and largely believed. Since Indian police are able to present their case only on the basis of statements and little of physical evidence, their conclusions are difficult to accept even by the faithfuls. The London police displayed another way of building their case.
A uniform betrayal
Reporting the crime : FIR
Ironically, the softwares for many of these systems are being developed in India! Even though the utility and advantages of an automated society are known to us but we seem reluctant to adopt these methods. The Indian police rarely collect physical evidence from the crime scene. In the Gujarat communal riots where mobs burnt, looted, killed and raped for days the police investigators could only summon a few witnesses to build their cases. It is not surprising that almost all witnesses turned hostile and there is no prosecution forthcoming for the murder of almost 2000 people. Despite hundreds of photographs taken by the media that could help locate presence of participant offenders or even eye-witnesses, despite use of bottles, knives and other instruments in these ghastly attacks from which fingerprints would have conclusively helped identify the perpetuators, the police did not collect these physical evidence.
Perhaps the Gujarat police was not interested in acting against the criminals as unfortunately happens in many cases. Yet, even where the will is there, as happens with conscientious officers, the lack of such facilities prevents following the scientific path. Very few police departments in the country have access to rudimentary forensic facilities. Even the services of dog squads are lamentable. It takes virtually days to requisition the dog in rural and small towns of the country. In Bihar it is still not unusual to call Patna for sending the dog that will in all probability take 1-2 days to reach the spot. By then all the scent would have evaporated!
The facility of taking photographs and fingerprints, of getting records from the motor vehicle departments, from municipalities are as difficult for the police detectives as is for the common people. Apart from the reasons of non-cooperation and turf battles the fact is that most such departments do not even keep their records properly. To find out the address of someone from the post office, getting information about money transactions from a bank, information about vehicles from a petrol pump are all common forms of inquiries that the police make. Yet, it is almost impossible to get these details in a timely and reliable manner.
It is not that there are no instances where the police have not been able to produce results. This is amply demonstrated in the recent Ayodhya case where the SIM card of a mobile phone, used by one of the terrorist was recovered and examined. There is nothing more compelling than some kind of physical evidence to link a suspect to the scene of crime. The calls made from this cell phone led to the detection of other accomplices and helped trace the movement of the five attackers.
Considering that India faces threats of terrorism perhaps greater than any of the western societies it is imperative that the government, police and private sector come together to modernize the society, improve its archaic systems of record keeping, and focus upon scientific investigation. Only when this begins to happen will the trust in police investigations increase and help combat terrorism and other forms of virulent crimes in the country.