Three days after the hurried, post-midnight cremation of the 20-year-old Dalit woman who was allegedly gangraped in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s office has suspended Superintendent of Police Vikrant Veer, his deputy Ram Shabd and three other police officials. The Hathras Case has once again exposed all that is wrong with the UP Police.
It almost appears that the “drunk on power”, trigger-happy police officers encouraged by the state’s political class over the years, have become more hardened, more insensitive and audacious than ever, thanks in large part to the “free hand” given to them by the Adityanath government.
Such is the impudence that the police force now knows that it can pull the trigger, stage an encounter, overlook a riot, burn a body of a woman against the wishes of the family, book dissenters under National Security Act (NSA), stop the media from reporting facts, and even destroy and manipulate evidence to prove its theories — without being held responsible for any of it.
Now there are allegations of phone-tapping of journalists covering the Hathras case and of the woman’s family.
Why are telephone calls of journalists reporting on #HathrasHorror being tapped? BJP rep on #Newstrack spoke of elaborate process for phones being tapped by Govt. Under what provision of law was the call recording of a victim’s family member and a journalist leaked by police?
— Rahul Kanwal (@rahulkanwal) October 2, 2020
योगी सरकार ने एक बार फिर बहुत बड़ी गलती कर दी है। एक महिला पत्रकार और रेप पीड़िता के परिवार का फोन टैप कर सरकार ने स्पष्ट कर दिया कि उत्तरप्रदेश में निजता का कोई मतलब नहीं है। तनुश्री और परिवार के बीच कोई ऐसी बातचीत नहीं हुई जो गैरक़ानूनी हो पर फोन टैपिंग जरूर गैरक़ानूनी है।
— Rohini Singh (@rohini_sgh) October 2, 2020
And all this when Uttar Pradesh has once again reported the highest number of crimes committed by men against women, accounting for 14.7 per cent of such cases across India. This is the situation in a state that boasts of having the largest single police force not just in India but anywhere in the world, with 2.5 lakh personnel spread over 75 districts, 33 armed Battalions and other specialised wings, and branches relating to intelligence, investigation, anti-corruption, technical, training, forensic science and more.
With its response to the Hathras as well as the Balrampur ‘rape’ cases drawing widespread criticism, resulting in officers’ suspension in Hathras, the Uttar Pradesh Police is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
Since Yogi Adityanath came to power in March 2017, the UP Police reported 1,142 encounters in the first 10 months alone, with 38 people killed in those encounters.
In the last three years, there have been 6,145 such operations in which 119 accused were killed in almost scripted encounters, courtesy the “thok do (shoot them dead)” strategy. It is spoken of as “no nonsense, tough policing” posture and is even celebrated by many people, but it often raises a question mark over the conduct of the police force and its investigation into many cases.
In any case, this approach hasn’t served its purpose, with crime rate in UP at an all-time high even today.
In 2019, India’s most-populous state, with about 16 per cent of the country’s population, also accounted for more than 25 per cent of rape, gangrape and other crimes committed by men, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
UP also had the highest number of crimes men committed against girl children under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act with 7,444 cases.
Moreover, UP had the highest number of dowry cases (2,410), at a rate of 2.2 (per lakh population). UP also reported the most cases of atrocities against members of the Scheduled Castes – 11,829 cases, accounting for 25.8 per cent of the cases across the country.
Following a surge in encounters, the Supreme Court in January 2019 had termed it a “very serious issue”. However, in most of the magisterial inquiries carried out in these cases, it gave a clean chit to the UP Police. A closure report has been filed in most cases, which seems to have further emboldened the police force, giving it the courage to act with more impunity and pull the trigger without a second thought.
Their own laws
The Yogi government seems to be using the police force as a tool to run a state where there seems to be complete disregard for rule of law and due process, with little to no checks and balances and almost negligible accountability for the actions of the errant officers.
A recent example of this is the special force to be set up in the state with powers similar to the CISF (Central Industrial Security Force).
The force, called the Uttar Pradesh Special Security Force, which will cost the state exchequer Rs 1,747.06 crore, can search and arrest without a warrant.
This “dream project” of Adityanath, which the UP administration claims will strengthen law and order, will further give unhindered powers to the force of a state that is often found misusing them.
Apart from scripted encounters, the last three years have also seen blatant use of the National Security Act, which was invoked against those speaking against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in the state. NSA was also invoked in cases of cow slaughter.
That is not all. In order to “crackdown” upon these protesters, the Yogi government treated them like wanted criminals by putting up their posters to name and shame them, yet again giving the police a free hand to “bring them under control”.
Doctor Kafeel Khan from Gorakhpur, who in 2017 saved many children during a breakdown of oxygen supply in government-run BRD Hospital, too was booked under the NSA, so that he remains in prison, despite being cleared of making a provocative speech by a court on 12 February this year.
After spending eight months in jail, he was released by the Allahabad High Court.
Whether it is the attempt of the UP Police to try to twist the Hathras case by saying it was not rape or not letting the media or politicians meet the victim’s family by use of force, the unhindered power and constant pump from the administration to “fix things”, even if through undemocratic means, will break the system beyond repair.
Views are personal.