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On Police Brutality: A Spectre That Has Haunted India For Decades

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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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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