In America, there were huge protests over the murder of a black man, George Floyd, by a white police personnel of Minneapolis Police Department, which made a discomfiting observation because its root cause lay in two nefarious practices: racism and police brutality. The combination which killed George Floyd.
Racism refers to superiority of one race over another, while police brutality is a civil rights violation where officers of the law exercise excessive force against a subject. Racism is common in America even across the globe, same type of unethical conduct is faced by people in the name of gender, class/caste, or religious discrimination.
In India, this discrimination lies in casteism, but in the past decade, there appears to be a turn towards religious discrimination (communalism) as well. This discernment becomes more problematic when it is exercised by state apparatus.
In India, we all know about police beatings and custodial deaths. In the last few years, India has witnessed widespread police brutality inflicted on students, protesters, minority communities (especially, Muslims), migrant workers, as well as anyone holding anti-establishment views. Many incidences of police brutality against citizens have been recorded and circulated in social media. In fact, an instances similar to the manner in which George Floyd was treated was seen in Jodhpur on June 5.
There have been several reports of police high-handedness, beating with lathis and humiliating the citizens associated with minority communities and lower castes. It is perhaps then not a surprise that studies have shown Indian police personnel to be ridden with anti-Muslim bases as well as casteist attitudes.
For instance, in 2018, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) found that around 50% of all Indian police personnel think Muslims are more likely to commit crimes. It was also found that the police believed people from Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Schedule Tribes (STs) to be more “naturally prone” to committing crimes.
Fact-finding teams from Karwan-e-Mohabbat, an NGO headed by Harsh Mander, collected data about police brutality during the large-scale protests against the CAA in UP. The teams presented their findings before a people’s tribunal comprising Justice A. P. Shah, Justice Sudarshan Reddy, Justice V. Gopala Gowda, Shanta Sinha, Irfan Habib, Deb Mukherji, Chaman Lal, N.C. Saxena and Anirudh Kala at the Indian Society of International Law on Jan 16. According to their report, in western UP, 16 people have been killed by the police with bullets, belonging to Muslim working-class families.
Recently, on March 23, lawyer Deepak Bundele was beaten up brutally by MP police while he was on his way to the hospital. Police officials told Bundele that he was beaten up because they had wrongly identified him as a Muslim man.
Apart from this, police atrocity shake up common people also. While enforcing lockdown, several videos surfaced in which the police officers were seen forcing people to do squats or scramble on their hands and knees. In one of them, a cop is seen throwing away the holy water of a senior citizen and making him do frog march.
On March 26, Sonu Shah, a pickup-truck driver ferrying potatoes in Patna, Bihar, was shot by the police after he reportedly refused them a bribe. Incidents of such misbehaviour have been reported from across the country with numerous reports of policemen mercilessly beating the poor, often starving migrants making arduous treks to their villages.
Under Section 129 of the CrPc, the police and armed forces can use force to disperse only a crowd of five or more people, which has been legally designated as an ‘unlawful assembly’. In Anita Thakur and Ors. vs. Govt. of J&K & Ors., Supreme Court had remarked that the use of excessive force by police results in violation of human rights and dignity. Even the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials emphasise that the use of force should be commensurate with due respect for human rights and needs to be implemented with the utmost discretion only in unavoidable circumstances.
India’s policing system is governed by Colonial-era Police Act (1861) that came into effect four years after India’s 1857 uprising against the British. Therefore, the nature of police culture is rooted in systematic oppression. Abusive behaviour of police is only a provocative form of their routine behaviour.
It is because, the supervisory system is handling huge amount of issues and have a soft corner and little time to spare for such complaints.
Secondly, historically, in India, the state existed for the ruler, not for the ruled. All the agencies of the state, particularly the army and the police, existed essentially to repress their own people than to protect them from external threats or depredations of criminals.
Third, there are psychological reasons as well for the high-handed behaviour of cops, especially the lower-level, relating to the lack of social prestige associated with the job.
Fourth, most of the police personnels are poorly trained and have a lack of patience to deal with the public. Particularly at the junior level, there appears to be inherent bias against the Muslims and lower castes that is related to their mindset and sometimes for immediate benefits.
Police misbehaviour makes people lose any modicum of respect for this important arm of the state. All this mess needs a proper reform as there has been almost 30 years of debate on policing and its reforms, with several government-appointed commissions submitting reports and recommendations to the government.
The most comprehensive recommendations came from the National Police Commission (1979-81), with eight reports and a draft of a Model Police Bill, but this was not moved forward. Despite of all these controversies, there is hope when citizens storm the streets and ‘police’ the police.
This article was first published here.