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It’s High Time We ‘Police’ The Police And Change The System!

Police spraying disinfectant on migrants.
There have been several reports of police high-handedness, beating with lathis and humiliating the citizens associated with minority communities and lower castes.||Credits: Outlook India

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.

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.

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.

Reasons Behind Police Misconduct:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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