One of the aspects of the political mayhem that the country is experiencing today is police brutality. Police brutality is an umbrella term to describe any unjustified physical/mental assault or death suffered due to interactions with the police.
On December 15, 2019, Delhi Police stormed the campus of Jamia Millia University and has been accused of responding to students peacefully protesting against the newly passed Citizenship Amendment Act, with disproportionate force. They have allegedly attacked students with batons and used tear gas against them, even in places such as the library and bathrooms.
Since then, similar cases have been reported on numerous occasions in light of the anti-CAA protests being carried out in the country. On January 5, 2020, about 50 masked men, allegedly belonging to ABVP (the student wing of the ruling BJP) entered the campus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University and attacked students, teachers and vandalised buildings and public property (something the ‘peace-loving’ liberal population of the nation seemed to vehemently oppose during the earlier phases of the anti-CAA protests).
The police have been accused of failing to intervene and control the situation. Its complicity when it is a legal obligation of the police to act while such attacks are being carried out against students should be counted as a moral act of violence too.
However, police brutality is not a problem of today. There have been countless incidents in the past, for example, the unleashing of terror by the police on students in the 1970s in Kolkata in order to quell the student movements, or the Bhagalpur incidents in 1979 and 1980 when the police allegedly blinded 31 individuals under trial (or convicted with crimes according to some versions) by pouring acid into their eyes.
In spite of numerous laws being passed in the parliament and the Constitution guaranteeing human rights specifically for the persons accused of crimes, police brutality is still exists as a problem in India. Reports show that 427 people died in police custody in India between 2016 and 2019.
The issues regarding police brutality seem to be unjustly underrepresented by the mainstream media. Police brutality has been unfairly normalised in our society. The Policing in India Report 2019 showed that three out of four policemen believe that the police are justified in being violent with criminals and four out of five believe that they are justified in using violent means to get extra-judicial confessions out of persons accused of crimes.
It also showed that one in two civilians condone police violence. Not only this, the glorification of police brutality is embedded in our popular culture too.
Bollywood, which is apparently the conscience keeper of the Indian society plays a major role in this. The quintessential roles of any Bollywood cop in any blockbuster film involve beating the accused to a pulp while making arrests, using violence to get confessions out of them – all of which are categorised under police brutality.
This tendency of the entertainment industry to glamorize the aspect of the police turning themselves into the judge and executioner seems to persuade both the self-image of many police personnel and ordinary citizens. As a result, police violence does not agitate the common public much, on the contrary, it earns public approbation.
An aspect of this problem is the simplicity with which it is interpreted by the mainstream media and/or the opposition parties or even the general public who are against police brutality. Many argue that the problem exists because the police are controlled and influenced by the politicians for their interest.
It is indeed true, but only to a certain extent. The issue is not just them being influenced by politicians in power, but also them being influenced by the politics and the political narrative running in the country. We cannot see this just as a law and order problem outside the ambit of politics.
We need to understand the problem of police brutality by analysing the policemen individually as common citizens of the country first, who have a right to vote, and thus hold their own political bias and prejudices. We need to understand that they too are common citizens of this country, holding popular political beliefs and morals.
They too have fallen prey to the mass political unconsciousness and demagoguery which defines the state of the country’s politics today, except, unlike most others, they hold power, they have the right to bear arms, they have been bestowed with the authority to use brute force whenever they think is justified.
Imagine an authority which has been bestowed with the power of controlling you and your actions and with the power of using violence as a means to curb your freedoms as it may deem fit while having absolutely zero moral or political education other than what they have probably learned in school. That is what the police is and this is the root cause of the problem of police brutality.
Without proper political and moral education, a policeman or a soldier is potentially a criminal. They are indeed capable of killing people, just like murderers except, unlike the murderer’s actions, theirs are approved and justified by the law.
We as a society need to emphasise the importance of moral and political education as a part of the training to become police officers. Until we do so, no matter what the number of laws against police brutality passed is, the problem of police brutality will never be uprooted.