Anyone who has had the misfortune of lodging a complaint with the police will tell you how difficult it is
Burking, as a term, has a quaint and macabre origin. In 1828, a man of Irish origin killed
16 Scots in 10 months. An average of one every 18 days. Since the records show that William Burke existed up to 1829, it is presumed that he was executed. But his name lives on, infamously. Why?
Burke had a modus operandi. His trademark signature was the method of his crime; suffocating his victims by compressing their chests. No blood drawn, no mess; a job as clean as any. So how come this murderer’s name has now come to be associated with the police?
Anyone who has had the misfortune of lodging a complaint with the police will tell you how difficult it is. The cops prevaricate, give excuses, intimidate, act as judges, give advice, ask the complainant to ‘settle matters’. Anything but lodge a complaint and create a record. Smothering is the name of their game.
Just like Burke. Smother. Hence the term, ‘burking’. A manic murderer gets linked to errant cops and English gets a new word.
FIR. First information report. What does it mean? When the police receive a complaint, it is their duty to record it. Do they? Must they? Here, we come across a few more terms. NC. It stands for a non-cognisable complaint; a notation in the station diary, of a minor complaint. The complainant is usually given a slip of paper with a number written on it, a rubber stamp and the initials of the officer who jotted down the complaint. Often, it means little and serves to blow off steam.
Then, there are serious crimes, cognisable offences; yet, the cops are loath to take notice. These have to be recognised, noted, acted upon, reported. But burking kicks in; killing the complaint by not acting on it.
You be the judge.
Someone goes to a police station with a complaint of, say, grievous assault. He has seen a person being beaten up. It being a constitutional duty, beside it being the right thing to do, he decides to approach the police. He neither knows the battered person nor the criminals. All he can say is that he saw it and name the place and give the time. Unless he can term it a murder, something he is not sure of, nine times out of ten, no one will hear him. The usual excuse is that the scene of the crime is not within the jurisdiction of the police station. In spite of orders from the Supreme Court that, no matter what, the complaint has to be recorded and passed on to the correct jurisdictional authority, the cops refuse to act. Now, if the matter of inaction came to you, as a magistrate, how would you decide?
Dereliction of duty by a public servant is a serious offence. The station house officer, or the person responsible, is liable to be punished. The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) has Sections 190 and 200 for the purpose.
But that is small comfort to the layman who wants justice, not only to be done, but seen to be done. The best thing, to do, then is to note down the name of the uncooperative police officer. They, usually, wear a name tag. There is no guarantee, especially in rural thanas, that the tag is genuine. Next, write down the complaint, with a detailed record of the harassment at the police station, and send it by registered post to the police station, remembering to send a copy to the commissioner of police. This usually works; though there have been cases where the letters have been returned, unaccepted. One can then move the magistrate’s court personally.
Agreed that this is a daunting process, but the fault, partly, lies with the public. Many complaints are frivolous. They are filed to settle scores. This puts pressure on the police and takes away time from important and urgent matters. Yet, if your complaint is genuine, a bit of effort will see you through. Sad that ‘burking’ is a term solely reserved for the police.