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Normalizing “George Floyd” In India – Who To Blame, Society Or Authority?

“Activism works, so what I’m telling you to do now, is to act”  – Greta Thunberg

Police brutality has never been off the hook from society. There is a spate of unfettered atrocious acts happening all around humanity, but, the recent and most talked of all is the infernal behavior of Minneapolis police, resulting in the wretched death of George Floyd.  This event has once again stirred the slumbered debate of police brutality and protests are rushing the streets all over the world including India calling for justice.

This is when “global change starts at home”  an eminent quote by Mother Teresa seems to be of utmost relevance. This despondent death of George Floyd is not an isolated event of such police brutality. India has been witnessing a series of such episodes from last December to this moment. Anti – CAA protests, kicked off in December 2019, reported at least 31 fatalities ensuing from police brutality.  Subsequent to these protests, this lockdown too, saw images of people getting brutally thumped by lathis, healthcare professionals being thrashed and vegetable vendors being slapped around. But, do we see any kind of protest against these incidents?

Many Indians and prominent personalities jumped to cry out the miscreant of racism abroad, but their prolonged silence on the atrocities in their own country is deafening. Not only the general public but also the official responses to such brutalities suggest how normal it has become for the police to attack and manhandle whomsoever they want. Deliberating upon such brutal policing actions, this article discusses the legality of these incidents and also addresses the numbness of the society towards these acts.

PERFIDIOUS POLICING OF POLICE

In February 2020, India experienced one of the most spine-chilling mob violence that morbidly crippled the districts of North East Delhi. This savagery ended with at least 42 casualties and over 250 wounded.  Amidst this violent vigilantism, some visuals, uncloaking the brutal nature of Indian police authorities, broke the internet. Here, a policeman was seen viciously thrashing and ridiculing the already injured protestors prone on the road, and among these protestors was Faizan, a 23-year-old boy, who died after two days of this act. The family of Faizan said that the police called them to collect Faizan and what they got from them was a battered body, bleeding through its skull, with the jaw broken. Faizan’s brother-in-law, talking to News 18 said that his brother, on the night before he died, murmured in pain the whole time “police beat me up. They beat me up.”

Further, in the month of March, another act unfurled the inhumane character of Indian police. Safoora Zargar, an anti CAA protester, was arrested under UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) in her third semester of pregnancy.  Since then there have been several pleas for months concerning the bail on humanitarian grounds, but the Supreme Court, even after knowing the vulnerability of the accused, quashed all of them. Recently, the American Bar Association raised the concern in this matter and reported it to be against International Law.

Moreover, the highlight of the whole anti CAA and NRC protests was the barbaric nature of police against protestors. Images of police forcibly entering the libraries, dorms, houses, and shops and destroying everything in sight are evident of the savagery police bestowed upon them.

Now, the most recent of all is the custodial death of Jayraj and his son J. Bennicks. Both individuals were beaten barbarically for hours in custody. Eyewitnesses even say that they were sodomized as they were bleeding copiously from their rectums.

POLICE AUTHORIZED BRUTALITY

Besides these acts that marked the active participation of police, there are instances of “Police Authorized Brutality” and “Passive Participation of Police” which are evenly treacherous. Apparently, protests in Delhi reported members of ABVP (Akhil Bhartiya Vidya Parishad) joining in with the police and bombarding the protestors. Mudita, a student of Indraprastha college, while talking to “The Caravan” said that “as two ABVP women were dragging me by the hair, women constable of Delhi police stood motionless right there, not doing anything.”

Another such instance of police authorized brutality is the Palghar Lynching of two sadhus and their driver.  The video proof of the act clearly showed how the police officers handed over the sadhus to mobs and then acted as a bystander while they were hammering the life out of them.

Even more disturbing fact is the conviction rate in these crimes. As per the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) statistics, of all the reported custodial deaths, only 5% of cases reach a conviction.

DISREGARDING LEGISLATIONS AND PRECEDENTS

There are several legal provisions and rulings that concern atrocious policing actions. Section 188 of Indian Penal Code,  Section 132  and Section 129 of Criminal Procedure Code overtly address the nitty-gritty of using force by police. These provisions allow the police to resort to force (that too civil) only while dispersing an unlawful assembly. Neither of these justifies the contemporary actions of police as happening all over the country. This ferity raises a substantive human rights question and is in violation of the right to life. Article 21 is the most fundamental among all the fundamental rights, however, the government and the police seem to be indifferent to this fact.

Additionally, precedents set by the judicial authorities also annul acts of excessive force and misconduct by a policeman. Cases such as Saheli v. commissioner of police, Delhi,  Nilabati Behera v. the State of Orissa,  PUCL v. union of India, and many more have blatantly asserted that these acts clearly infringe upon the fundamental rights, and sovereign immunity cannot be used as a defense in such acts.

Considering all such brutal policing, just ask yourself a question “are these occurrences different from the actions of Minneapolis police?” If not, then ask yourself again “why are we not en-masse against such gruesome violation of human rights?” The answer to this might be our history and the way our society functions, which has carved our minds to normalize such brutality.

WHY SO UNBOTHERED?

This indecorous behavior of the Indian government of giving rights from one hand and snatching them away from the other is somewhat similar to our sacred mythological tales of Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh. The story of Lord Brahma giving boons to the ascetics and then eventually Vishnu and Mahesh somehow nullifying the boons, has opinionated our minds of the fact that it is okay if the government transgresses on our rights to suppress chaos. Not only our mythological tales but the colonial rule too have sculpted our minds to normalize the rule by force. The colonial policing practices used to maintain the public order have now exported to India’s police authority. Earlier it was Britishers thumping us and now Indian police. nothing much has changed.

Beatrice Jauregui, an acclaimed criminologist and socialist, in her paper Beatings, Beacon and Big Men: Police Empowerment and Delegitimation in India,  relates this normalization to the inherent presence of violence in Indian households. She said Indian society’s rigid belief in the use of violence for cultural correction of misbehavior explains their indifferent behavior towards police brutality.

Bollywood’s portrayal of a Cop is another reason for this normalcy. Movies like Dabang, Singham, Rowdy Rathore, and Simba have corrupted the image of an Indian cop by sketching them as a revenge-seeking personality. They present the belief that violence is the only way of bringing change in a distorted political system.

Another aspect of this indifference is the ease with which the mainstream media or even the official authorities address it. Pertinently, when questioned about the actions of police, GP Singh (ADG of Assam police) said, “if a couple of bullets can bring the situation to normalcy, it is ok.”

These atrocities in no way should be normalized. It’s time for people to understand the prowess of being united. The precedent being the beating of Rodney King (1991) in Los Angeles.  Here, originally the police officers in the video, who were clearly seen to be assaulting the African Americans were held not guilty by the court. However, after this decision, LA erupted in anger and the court was forced to begin a new trial convicting the police officers.

CONCLUSION AND SUGGESTION

Violence has been part of our community since the fight for independence, but India has evolved and it’s time to eradicate such transgressions from our society. Normalizing such acts deeply diminishes the virtue of life and undermines the regard for human dignity. This persistent increase in the politicization of the force implants a culture of indemnity among the police authorities and erodes its credibility.

India’s stance concerning police brutality has always been retributive instead of preventive. Besides simply hollering concerns, there is a pressing exigency of stringent laws that can put police brutality under the microscope and rein its normalization. Our society as a whole needs to accentuate the significance of moral and political education being part of a policemen’s training. Until we achieve so, it doesn’t matter how many laws are enacted against police brutality, this problem would still persist. We need to stand up against gruesome state-authorized brutality, otherwise, the worst is yet to happen.

This article has been authored by Siddhant Dubey and Umang Sethi,  they are the undergraduate students of Institute of Law, Nirma University.

Also Read – Police Accountability In a Democratic Society

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