Francisco Pereira, the prime accused in the serial desecrations across Goa in past two years, has been discharged by courts in 9 out of the 10 cases filed against him, leaving the police and the government red faced. When they arrested him, the police claimed they had caught the serial desecrator. Now the claim has turned out to be bogus. The courts found no evidence against Pereira. In some orders, judges made adverse comments on investigation and collection of evidence and advised the police and prosecution not to drag innocent people to court. The police appear to have relied upon Francisco Pereira’s supposedly confessional statements in custody which are not admissible as evidence in courts. Shocked by their defeats, the State is planning to appeal against the acquittals. However, that could be more a face-saving move than a sound step to get the trial court orders reversed.
Following a series of desecrations of Christian religious symbols, graves and a Hindu temple in the South Goa district, the police had arrested the 50-year-old Pereira on July 20 this year. The police had failed to find any clues in desecrations in the beginning. It caused the police and the government a great deal of embarrassment. There were apprehensions of disturbance of communal harmony. At one time, the police said they have got something in CCTV footage from a damaged cemetery, but little came out of it. The police at last claimed to have caught Pereira while he was planning to desecrate an idol in the Curtorim village. Once he was arrested, the police claimed that he had admitted to carrying out all the desecrations. Though there was scepticism about the whole thing, the demand by the opposition parties and civil society groups that the cases be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation for a thorough probe was rejected by Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar. Parrikar’s response was that he had full faith in the state police and their ability to crack the cases. However, with the police losing case after case against Pereira, the police claim has fallen flat that desecrations were the handiwork of a “one-man army” of Pereira, a view the Chief Minister also shared on police briefing. The question now being asked is: Was Francis Pereira arrested to divert the public attention and allow the real culprits to escape?
The police had claimed that Pereira, a resident of Curchorem, moved about in a Maruti van and selected his targets and then singlehandedly ‘destroyed’ them with tools including a hammer, which was seized by the police along with the vehicle. It was also the claim of the police that they found a piece of paper scribbled by him in the Guardian Angel cemetery where scores of tomb stones and crosses were destroyed. The state police chief Muktesh Chander had gone on record to state that the accused had confessed his involvement in the desecrations. The Chief Minister had said that Pereira was influenced by Israelis while in jail for a case of attempt to murder. It was claimed by the probing agencies that the accused had said that he was destroying crosses to release the souls. Though the desecrations stopped after his arrest, a few were reported even while he was in custody raising questions over the police conclusion that Pereira was the only person behind the desecrations. A church-backed fact finding probe had ruled out the possibility of a single person being behind the desecrations and called for a judicial probe to nail the culprits, a demand which was rejected by the government.
The acquittal of Pereira in almost all the cases should serve the police and prosecution authorities as an eye opener. They need to get better professional training in detection of criminal cases, especially in incidents where public sentiments are concerned. It is totally damning and extremely shameful for the police to face loss of nearly all cases against Pereira. Pereira claims he was framed in the cases and made to ‘own up’ desecrations at gun point– a claim, even if not true, that would only get credence with the gross police failure in getting him convicted. The state police’s professional ability to handle such a sensitive series of desecrations has come under question. If they cannot handle such apparently simple cases – supposedly one person running amuck to damage religious symbols and sacred sites – what hope there is that they can handle more complicated cases, such as those carried out by a criminal gang or hate organization? The people have a right to ask the government who did the desecrations if not Francisco Pereira. Will the government order an independent investigation into the desecrations to track down the real culprits?