Police personnel baton charge on the students of Jamila Millia Islamia University as they started pelting stones
Representational image | Police personnel baton charge protesters in an anti-CAA agitation | ANI
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For most Indians, the best cops are the ones who beat bad guys. The more angrier and violent a police officer, the more agreeable and upright he or she is. Pop culture’s portrayal of such cops is cheered on by the public, depiction of police brutality savoured like justice. The alleged custodial torture and ‘murder’ of a father-son duo, Jayaraj and Bennix, in Tamil Nadu is just one of the repulsive fallouts of that culture ingrained in India’s police system.

In 2019, custodial torture claimed lives of 1,731 people in India; in 2018, a total of 1,966 people were killed this way, according to ‘India: Annual Report on Torture’ released by a consortium of NGOs.

But as citizens happy with ‘instant justice’ — which is mostly carried out against poor people, members of lower castes, and all those unable to pay bribes — we have played a key role in perpetuating this culture of gratuitous violence by the police either through vocal support or mostly through our silence.


Also read: Madras HC takes cognisance of custodial deaths of father-son, directs police to file report


Police brutality is cheered 

In the beginning of lockdown, families sat and watched videos and clips of police officers ‘punishing’ violators — raining lathis, making them do sit-ups and hop like frogs. On social media, commenters approvingly wrote, “Yehi hona chahiye aise logon ke saath (such people deserve this treatment),” happy in their ignorance that their support is not for ‘justice’ but for a system of oppression, which could make them one of its victims too.

The police were clearly flexing their muscles on the poor by forcing them to do these humiliating acts that the public and media cheered without batting an eye. Many roadside shopkeepers and people who had stepped out of their homes just to buy milk and vegetables — termed ‘essential goods’ by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the start of the lockdown — were beaten up black and blue, with some even allegedly dying as a result of the beating. The rage was justified as police ‘just doing their duty’.

The concept of justice in India is itself violent, with people baying for blood by calling for public hanging of the accused. The common opinion for the police to teach criminals a lesson, instead of taking them through the defined course of justice and correction, is very strong. The widely celebrated act of Telangana Police shooting dead four people accused in the Hyderabad rape case in December 2019 is a case in point.


Also read: Used lathis on vehicles to check if they have coronavirus: Police to Telangana HC


‘Teach them a lesson’

The protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) became an open call for India’s police to put its barbaric side on full display. Lathi-charge and custodial abuse became a norm. From students in universities to citizens on streets, no one was spared.

When the Delhi Police entered Jamia Millia Islamia to beat up  students in a library, a section of the crowd celebrated the thrashing because, according to it, the police were teaching ‘anti-nationals’ a ‘lesson’.

Congress worker and social activist Sadaf Jafar was tortured by the police in custody but failed to get any support from the public.

Who can forget the gut-wrenching video of five injured men being forced to sing national anthem by officers of the Delhi Police during the northeast Delhi riots? One of them died but four months later, not a single officer has been charged for the crime captured in a video and widely shared.

At least 31 anti-CAA protesters were killed all over India, one as young as 17 years old. He was allegedly shot in the head by the police. Videos of Uttar Pradesh Police firing upon protesters in Kanpur were also widely shared. But the government of Yogi Adityanath continues to be celebrated for giving its police a ‘free hand’ and presiding over what is being called an ‘encounter raj’.

It is this active support to police violence — by the public and the State — that has emboldened violent officers to think they will get away with torturing citizens such as Jayaraj and Bennix. Perhaps they will and this culture will continue to persist because all of us are tweeting Black Lives Matter over the police brutality in the George Floyd case.


Also read: Minor arrested for anti-CAA protests in Feb freed after HC says he was ‘languishing’ in jail


Dalits and Muslims main target

Police brutality is caste and class sensitive. While the middle and upper classes or privileged upper castes can’t even imagine getting thrashed by the police in broad daylight, Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims, and labourers live with this reality.

A Common Cause and CSDS report on the ‘Status of Policing in India’ found that 50 per cent of police personnel have a bias against Muslims and think they are more prone to committing acts of violence.

This is reflected in the many instances of police atrocity against Dalits and Muslims in India. Police in Kashmir can shoot citizens ‘point blank’ for allegedly ‘fleeing’ security points without facing any consequences. Personnel such as IPS officer Bhagyashree Navtake proudly declare filing false cases against Dalits and Muslims.

These are not isolated cases. Of the 1,731 people killed in custody last year, 60 per cent of the victims belonged to marginalised communities.


Also read: Budgam villagers scared to return after J&K police ‘attack’ their homes and shops


Need for police reforms 

Indian police is imperialistic because it is based on the model devised by British colonists more than one-and-a-half centuries ago. It was designed to oppress anyone who raises their voice against the colonial rule, and the Indian State uses this to its full advantage.

About two in five personnel in Bihar and one in five surveyed in other states received no formal training on human rights. Training in modern concepts of justice and in human rights is the need of the hour.

According to the Status of Policing in India Report, Indian police officers have 15-hour shifts and function on 77 per cent of the ideal strength. Personnel’s work conditions are physically and mentally taxing, and lower-ranking personnel are grossly underpaid.

The coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed lives of at least 60 police personnel, has affected the police force too just like everyone else. In such a scenario, mental health briefing and regular counselling becomes a necessity.

But while such measures can improve the daily lives of personnel, a bigger, more impactful intervention is needed to overhaul the daily policing and officers’ attitude towards citizens and justice.

Because we have failed to hold the police accountable even as they have acted as state-appointed goons out there to subjugate voices of dissent.

Violence now runs in the veins of Gandhi’s nation. It demands lynching of those who eat beef and beats those who don’t sing the national anthem in cinema halls. Jayaraj and Bennix’s brutal killing shouldn’t shock or surprise us but it must wake us up to demand for a policing system that doesn’t take the law into its own hands.

Until systemic changes are brought in, India’s police officers sworn to uphold the Constitution will keep doing what an imperialist system knows best — oppress, subjugate and even kill. Because as a public, we expect and support police violence. That’s the problem.

Views are personal.

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15 Comments Share Your Views

15 COMMENTS

  1. I think it;s high time that the police functioning is completely revamped – use of violence by them is totally unacceptable, under whatever circumstances. Punishment of any kind on any citizen of the country should be as imposed by the courts after due process of scientific investigation and trial – the police have no business to indulge in any violence (physical or even verbal) against anyone – period. These guys as well as the rest of the administration should be reminded in clear terms that their salaries are being funded by the public – the public are thus the masters – and no one ever dares to hit their masters, right? It’s as simple as that!

  2. All indians and people across world know Muslims are violent. What the author does is add world dalit with Muslims to muddy water. Its insult to Daits to equate them with a community unpopular in the world. The author could have kept saying muslim this and that and this article would have got no reaction

  3. Great viewpoint, I do believe these heinous acts of police brutality, misconduct and custodial deaths are a by product of us. When we cheer and support policemen hitting public for petty issues we are basically accepting police misconduct. In such a society, it is only a matter of time a few bad apples become too emboldened and we get another Jayaraj and Bennix.

  4. I think the delay in delivering justice is one of the main reasons why people cheer when police or for that matter public in some cases take law into their hands to punish the bad guys on spot-Hyderabad case is in a point. I am not at all justifying police brutality, but see the delays in delivering justice in our system. And most of the time the rich and powerful managed to slip out, and I think this fact is told recently by an outgoing SC judge. How many innocents are languishing in our jails, poor people and those who fell out in favor to the ruling class. We all forgot an upright IPS officer is locked inside the jail with a life sentence slapped for his alleged role in a 30 years-if I remember correctly-old case. And as I heard lately, no one wants to hear his pleas for appeal!!! Is our whole legal system under siege? From when we started to punish officers responsible for custodial death in a three decade old case? If we have such a fine system then it is so good and you know the case is not so. If we can be proud of such a system then be it 30 years, 40 years or even 50 years old culprit would have faced the long arm our law. But do we have a system like that? In such cases our law officers should catch first the killers of Hiren Pandya , then most of the unresolved cases will come to their legal conclusion. In these chaotic system one cannot squarely blame the public for cheering the police when in most cases the culprits are punished then and there. Police reform is badly needed and its high time; but it should be comprehensive which should include our legal system. When a plea for SC’s directive sought to the plight of the poor migrant labourers can be adjourned, but not the plea of Arnab Goswami !!! I know the matters I have put here is very much not in order and sorry for that.

  5. Confused author mixing up issues. The police are cheered when they deal with criminals by dishing out instant justice. Everyone liked it when Telangana police got rid of the rapists because nobody is under any illusions as far as the judiciary is concerned. Cases even involving heinous murder, rape, etc meander in courts for ages. Make no mistake the police are the first point of justice and law and order. No country’s law and order system can afford criminals not fearing the police due to a dysfunctional judiciary. This has nothing to do with police wrecking vengeance in innocents or people being associating violence with justice. No need to indulge in pop psychology without evidence.

    • How do u know all these encounters and gangster justice involved were really carried out on the actual criminal? Without a trial we have no clue.. and the police have checkered history of closing cases by coercing witnesses and sacrificing the weak and the vulnerable.

  6. If courts take 20 years to punish the guilty, and many guilty escape the law, the common man will want the police to punish the criminal directly. Courts should punish the guilty within 30 days. Otherwise, this won’t end.

    • Sorry then next time it will be you or your loved ones illegally detained in a locked station, beaten, tortured, sodomized by a bunch of bad apples from the police department

  7. Mam, if a case lingers for 20 years, there will be fake encounters to control the criminals.. If you are concerned about the humanity, please raise your voice against the prolonged delay in Judiciary. The first thing that we require is Judicial reforms and not police reforms.. Dont raise your voice only when some death occurs, please raise your voice against judicial delay.. Stop writing in media that “the long arms of Judiciary” it is a shame to get someone punihsed for their mistake committed 10 or 15 years ago.

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