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Shoot On (A Chosen) Site: Encounters, Brutality And Broken Police System In India

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While one end of the spectrum lauds our police force as COVID warriors for their fearless presence to ensure lockdown runs smoothly and curfews are executed well, there remains an underlying darker side to the system.

In all fairness (pun unintended), Indians have every right to activate their anger towards anti-racial police brutality some 6000 miles away. You cannot decide what issue should move who. However, it’s only logical to know how your back garden operates first. #BlackLivesMatter garnered great attention worldwide, even in a year that has its hands full with a pandemic. We just don’t stop making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

However, with no discount to the history behind the BLM movement, there is a need for one movement within this country. While one end of the spectrum lauds our police force as COVID warriors for their fearless presence to ensure lockdown runs smoothly and curfews are executed well, there remains an underlying darker side to the system. Indian police brutality under the garb of ‘encounters’ happens in bulk each year in our very own backyard. Our country didn’t register when a word like encounter, translated from a noun into a verb, and occasionally a standard operating procedure in a lot of cases across our landscape. Often encouraged, sometimes awarded by the governments in power, “encounter specialist” is a coveted term and no longer a job hazard.

Ishrat Jahan probably didn’t even know a 1000 people in her entire lifetime, to imagine 10,000 attending her funeral in Mumbai. Who was she? A 19-year-old young woman, hailing originally from Bihar, pursuing Bachelor of Science from Mumbai’s Guru Nanak Khalsa College. She tutored young kids, did small embroidery jobs to support her family after her untimely demise. She used to work with Javed Sheikh partly, as his secretary, handling accounts. On June 15, 2004, she, along with Javed Sheikh, Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar, was encountered (read: brutally murdered) by the Gujarat Police in Ahmedabad.

Overnight, she was declared a woman ‘Fidayeen’, the first of her kind in the country. Her blood soaked-body, along with the three other men, was placed on display by a group of Ahmedabad-based cops, alleging them for an attempt to murder the then CM of Gujarat, Narendra Modi. The attempt was publicised as a radical response by extremist groups like LeT for 2002 Godhra riots. A Special Investigation Team (SIT) was established to look into the legitimacy of the encounter. In 2008, Gujarat High Court shook the country declaring it a fake encounter. However, it is an ongoing case, with investigation transferred to CBI. In February 2013, GL Singhal (a Gujarat cop) is arrested on charges of fake encounter.

While there were multiple to and fro, the current status remains a no-shocker for a country which has accepted politics as a way of life. CBI arrested the officers for a few months, but currently, they are all out on bail or reinstated to their initial positions. Godhra remains a mystery forever, especially for those who refuse to acknowledge our capabilities in cover ups, but the Gujarat government received enough flak from Human Rights groups for this tradition of encounters over the years. Three can be attributed to the lone reason of protecting Mr Narendra Modi.

But why discuss a dusted case from 2004 today? Simply because every protest that’s fought online, and currently there aren’t many alternate options for the same, should be supported by information on the world you live in. The millennial generation of our country is very quick to pick on battles that require trending hashtags and slacktivism of any sorts, however it’s equally important to know the system that surrounds you.

Naresh Paras, who hails from the same town of Agra as me, is an RTI activist. Having worked with children and prisons in the city, he filed for an RTI on a hunch. Depleting numbers of prisoners made him enquire about the exact number of deaths in Uttar Pradesh in a mere span of five years (2010-2015). It was 2600. There is a prisoner dying every 26 hours [RTI filed by Naresh Paras, 2016]. Almost 50% had ongoing cases and the causes of death are as foggy as it can get.

Another RTI filed by him revealed 211 fake encounters registered by NHRC between January 1, 2015 and March 2019. Andhra Pradesh, closely followed by Uttar Pradesh, holds the notorious position of topping the list. Odisha, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh follow the steps. Mind you, these are registered cases of police atrocities and cover ups. Maximum deaths, captures aren’t calculated under theatrical killings, and recorded as natural deaths in jail or fire fights between the police and accused.

The system is so complicated that even Bollywood censors how higher officials in the police are represented. Slumdog Millionaire was asked to edit a scene that captured a police commissioner torturing a detainee in custody. They didn’t want an officer beyond an inspector’s rank to be shown engaging in torture of the kind. The issue is so deeply entrenched, that irrespective of the party in power, there have been cases nearly every year, every district. Besides these cases being tortured and killed in custody, or murdered to avoid build ups of chargesheets, the issue doesn’t end there.

The very recent “encounter” of Dubey is by public records, 119th such encounter since 2017 under Yogi Adityanath’s regime.

Another systematic approach, highly employed since the BJP has been in power, is the scenario of communal targets. The most recent example was of Deepak Bundele, a diabetic lawyer, on his way to meet his doctor a day after the lockdown, mercilessly beaten up by Delhi Police. When they learnt he was a lawyer, on his way to his physician with no aim to jump the curfew, they pleaded with him to withdraw the case. Another police inspector paid a visit to his house to convince him to withdraw the case. Since he was “misjudged” for being a Muslim, the inspector was basically doing his duty in these polarised time.

The incident has stunned communities, but like every other situation of extremism towards certain sections of the society, it will collect dust in the backlog of courts. Policies and laws like Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 only help brew the problem a little more. The very recent “encounter” of Dubey is by public records, 119th such encounter since 2017 under Yogi Adityanath’s regime.

A French writer, Andre Gide wrote, “Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and begin all over again.” We have always had our mythology overburdened with innovative justice systems. Whether it was Krishna explaining Arjuna why it’s fair to kill, or Ravana murdered despite being a pious man, everything has an explanation. The police have had their narratives for years on these encounters. Usually, the criminal is caught between a scuffle, attacks the police, and the police has no option but to protect itself. Usually, in the staged process, a constable or two get wounded. And if movies are to be believed, it’s always in the legs.

But no amount of paperwork, manipulation is capable of justifying these beastly deaths by the very people we trust our system to. This isn’t why an oath on admissions is taken by the officers. The tragedy remains that our police system, largely recruiting officers from varied castes, becomes a victim to caste politics. If Rana Ayuub’s Gujarat files are referred, a large number of Dalit officers are left with no choice in the matter. Follow unwritten orders or get transferred, or worse.

I am too young to offer solutions to an issue so deeply entrenched in our country. But since all of us are fighting our wars online, and sometimes those wars do win, maybe it’s time to open your back door and not choose plausible deniability.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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