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THE UNRELENTING SURGE OF POLICE BRUTALITY

Article by Ritik Nandan

(Student of National Law Institute University, Bhopal)


There has been a spontaneous rise in the number of cases related to brutality inflicted by the Police, of late. It surely isn’t something to be baffled from, though. For a long time, in the garb of exercising the powers vested in them by the law, they have been tormenting people. Majorly, the victims of these brutal incidents belong to the oppressed and crippled sections of the society, who’ve been in a deplorable state since time immemorial.

The most recent incident that grabbed the attention globally, was the brutal killing of African American George Floyd, by the Minnesota police officers[1]. In what was a shambolic display of collapsing law and order in the State, the incident garnered massive reprimands and prominent outrage from the people. People took to streets to protest against the increasing brazenness of police authority and the despotic infliction of violence upon people. These moves are inspired and driven from abominable racially biased perceptions and an obstinate inclination towards asserting pseudo hegemony over the minor communities. In the States, various cases have surfaced in the recent years, which were based on similar pretexts of racial discrimination and unwarranted authority smothering people. For the past few decades, the sheer hatred spewed for the African American inhabitants has proliferated substantially and consequently, as more and more people harboured falsely construed aversion towards them, the more police have caused them agony. Not only have the African Americans been compelled to bear this misery, but also the Muslim inhabitants of the country, since the 9/11 attacks[2]. This prejudice has only aggrandized.

A potentially overlooked factor behind the sporadic surge in these cases has been the sheer ignorance in the approach of the people and the lacking inquisitiveness for seeking awareness regarding the rights and laws existing in the country. As the people became aware of the abhorrent hostility which was wrongfully imposed by the authorities, the mobs protested against them relentlessly. In the George Floyd’s case, an enormous amount of people gathered to demonstrate their outrage against the conspicuous prejudice and harsh discrimination, faced by the “Blacks” and the slogan “BLACK LIVES MATTER” was popularised. Even on the social media, people from across the world have vocalised emphatically to extend their support in combating this pernicious act.

India is no stranger when it comes to an alarming rise in cases concerning brutality and hostility foisted upon people, by the police. In recent times, these cases have surged very sporadically and their consequences have only exacerbated the scenario of turmoil in the country. In the last one year or so, more than 3 major instances of police brutality and public altercation with police have surfaced. Be it wrongful prosecution, unbailable incarceration or sentencing under duress from executive bullying, the prevalence of these practices has persistently plagued our malnourished and immensely burdened legal system. This disdainful approach only blights the rule of law, garnering unrelenting disrepute and dishonour to our legal mechanism, further scrutinising our establishment as a modern republic built on the foundation of an immensely articulate constitution, pervading all the facets of democracy.

India is a land well-endowed with diversity in all forms – cultural as well as social. A significant section of the population falls under the minority strata. A plethora of cases related to atrocities inflicted by the police have surfaced in the last few years. The biased practice of exercising despotic authority over the people belonging to marginalised sections of the society has been quite prevalent, mostly in the rural areas. On numerous occasions, the police have refused to pay heed towards the plights of victims belonging to minority groups, in cases of rape, assault and battery, hostility borne out of racial and cultural discrimination. A perception, tainted with strong bias, that more often than not the Muslim inhabitants of the society tend to be the miscreants or the assailants, has acted as an impetus in the steep rise in instances of police brutality, driven from discrimination.

The most recent notable instance of Police Brutality in India has been during the Anti CAA protests in the capital city, where scores of people were cruelly beaten and assaulted, supposedly in an attempt to contain the mobs and plummet their uprising[3]. In what was a pathetic demonstration of exerting despotic authority over the students of Jamia and JNU, the police incarcerated the protestors on false charges. Furthermore, they resorted to bashing the protestors even when they posed no threat, an act reminiscent of the Victorian prudish practices. Then, one of the most gruesome cases of police wantonness was the case of Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu where a father-son duo namely Jayaraj and Fenix respectively, were arrested by the police for keeping their cell phone open for a little longer than the regulated time. They were stripped and sexually assaulted by the police, their knees were smashed, their chest hairs ripped and sticks shoved in their anus. They sustained injuries and eventually succumbed to them. In Delhi, a boy named Faizan and four of his friends were forced to chant the national anthem and were cruelly beaten and bruised. Similarly, a Dalit couple was beaten to death by the police when their family was residing on a piece of land and the police went to clear the area, which fell in the ambit of land encroachment.

What’s common in these cases is that the victim in all of these cases belong to the minority section of the society. However, the brutality does not remain confined solely towards the people from backward classes. People from all the sections of the society have had to bear the brunt of the boorishness of police. Such scenarios depict the viciousness of exercising unwarranted authority by the police over the mainstream society. But the powers vested in them are not unregulated or unchecked, as they have been derived from the law statutes and acts. This brutality stems out of their beliefs and perceptions of the society. The discriminatory tags like “black skinned – white skinned”, “Hindu – Muslim”, “upper caste- lower caste”, etc are quite prominently prevalent in their circuits and their pre-perceived notions further imbibe racial and communal hatred. Apart from that, most of the police officers are unaware of the human rights and the proper due procedure of law, as how to deal with suspects while in custody. A staggering 1530 deaths out of a total 1674 cases were reported as cases of custodial deaths[4]. In the last decade itself, close to 940 deaths were recorded in police custody[5]. With lack in training skills with respect to human rights, they believe that violence is the answer to curb the criminal activities. But this violence, which is unjust per se, extends to all- the suspects as well as the culprits, which only leads to uncalled for consequences.

A major factor behind the growing violence is also the part played by the media. The aggrandising and glorifying of such acts only encourages the police to carry out more of such “heroic acts”. For instance, in the Hyderabad gangrape case, the police encountered the culprits and garnered a lot of praise from the media as well as the people. Now, morally speaking, it may have been praiseworthy but speaking from a legal standpoint, it was violative of the due process of law. On one hand where the encounter of the rapists was appreciated by the media, at the same time the violence used by the police on the defaulters during lockdown was condemned. In both the cases, the police violated the due process of law but there is a certain dichotomy stemming from the media's reaction. Therefore, media plays a significant role in the way the police takes an action. [6]

The motto of judicial system is that injustice catered anywhere will be a threat to justice everywhere. The sheer lack of awareness among people has exacerbated the situation. As more and more people take the initiative to become aware of their rights and laws, we all shall successfully combat these pernicious practices. The public must not turn a blind eye towards such a flagrant abuse of authority by the police. Let us all strive to shun these evil practices prevalent in our society, take a stand for what is morally as well as legally wrong and seek for adequate measures to be taken by the executive to deal with the same. Its time for the police to cease from resorting to abhorrent means and yearn to restore the public’s faith in them.

[1] George Floyd: What happened in the final moments of his life, BBC (Jul 16, 2020, 01:17 PM), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52861726. [2] Islamophobia – understanding anti Muslim sentiment in the West, Anonymous, GALLUP (Jul 28, 2020, 13:50 PM), https://news.gallup.com/poll/157082/islamophobia-understanding-anti-muslim-sentiment-west.aspx. [3] Anti-CAA protesters allege harassment by Delhi police once again, National Herald India (Mar 04, 2020, 13:22 PM), https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/india/anti-caa-protesters-allege-harassment-by-delhi-police-once-again. [4] Torture in India, Asian Human Rights Commission (Jun 06, 2020, 02:30 PM), http://www.humanrights.asia/tortures/torture-in-india/. [5] National Human Rights Commission, India, Statistics of custodial deaths in India (Sep 13, 2018, 02:35 PM), https://nhrc.nic.in/press-release/nhrc-issues-fresh-guidelines-regarding-intimation-custodial-death. [6] Rohan Deshpande; What can India do to combat police brutality?, Scroll (Jun 22, 2020, 11:30 PM), https://scroll.in/article/964820/what-can-india-do-to-combat-police-brutality-and-bias.

Picture Courtesy - Gayatri Malhotra/@gmalhotra

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