Over the past two months, we've witnessed an outrage erupt in the world, especially in the west, since George Floyd became a victim of police brutality in America and died on May 25, 2020. Indians, too, collectively chimed in and condemned this act of human rights’ violation and with it, any instances of systematic mistreatment and racial bias by the police. Indian celebrities also supported the Black Lives Matter movement. Even so, the situation in our backyard was completely ignored.
The BLM movement is of great of significance, but that does not allow us to deny the urgency and severity of police brutality in our nation.
WHAT EXACTLY IS POLICE BRUTALITY?
Police brutality is legally defined as “a civil rights’ violation where officers exercise undue or excessive force against a subject”. But police brutality is not just limited to violence, it goes further to misconducts like bullying, physical or verbal harassment, physical or mental injury, property damage, false arrests, false coerced confessions, unwarranted surveillance, false and spoiled evidence, sexual assault, corruption, witness tampering, death and the list goes on.
Some infamous incidents of police brutality in the last few months were:
Jamia Incident, December 15, 2019: As the nationwide protests against Centre’s CAA and NRC raged on, the nation witnessed an obscene abuse of power when armed police and paramilitary forces stormed the gates of Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University, to forcibly quell the student protests.
Northeast Delhi riots, February 23, 2020: Claiming 53 lives, this was another gory blotch on Delhi’s history that witnessed large scale bloodshed and violence. Out of the 53, two-thirds were Muslims, and by mid-March, several from the community were missing.
Jayaraj and Bennix case, June 22, 2020: The gruesome killing of a father-son duo after alleged torture by police personnel at Sathankulam Police Station in Tuticorin district of Tamil Nadu.
NORMALISATION OF POLICE BRUTALITY
Only a few cases sparked outrage and sympathy, and were only talked about for some days and then forgotten. No matter how horrific and heinous the incidents are, they do not come to us as a surprise. The idea of police brutality has been so severely normalised in India, that the fact that cops abuse their position in unspeakable ways has been ingrained in our psyche.
GLORIFICATION OF BRUTALITY
Police brutality and brutality in general has always been celebrated by the mainstream media in a comedic or heroic way. Be it the Indian cinema showcasing the police beating the life out of someone and the audience cheering and applauding them for it or how it's so normal and acceptable of teachers and parents to hit children and justify it as a way of disciplining them.
Many studies have given ample evidence that physical punishment leads to increased aggression, antisocial behaviour, physical injury and mental health problems for children.
The case is no different from the police who gaslight the minorities making them lose their ability to fend for themselves and live in constant fear.
THE PRIVELEGED AND THE UNDERPRIVILEGED
Our ignorance in these matters arises from our privilege. We don't care as much as we should simply because it does not affect us, as our privilege protects us. But not everyone shares this blanket of protection. How the police treat you depends on your caste, class, religion, gender, sexual orientation, wealth and profession.
As per the Common Cause survey, "Half of all Indian police officers believe that Muslims have an instinctual tendency to commit crimes. These prejudices also extend to scheduled castes, tribes, Adivasis, Dalits and Transgender people".
125 deaths took place in police custody in 2019, 75 of which belonged to poor and marginalised communities- 14 from Dalit and tribal communities, 13 Muslims and 4 women (who were routinely tortured for sexual violence)- from India: Annual Report on Torture 2019" published by NCAT, source: The Hindu.
WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN?
Indian Police laws based on the colonial British model
The Indian Constitution will turn 67 in a few weeks. However, Indian police laws are based on a British model created 155 years ago which was designed for foreign conquerors to rule over a native population, with scant reforms that allow the police to enjoy carte blanche just as they did in the colonial legislation. [Source: humanrightsinitiative.org]
There needs to be policy actions that deconstruct police brutality and legitimate authorities that monitor the enforcement of laws.
However, police brutality in India cannot simply be resolved by laws and amendments but rather require a systematic change starting from education.
Qualification to be the police
A very crucial step for better policing would be a change in the recruitment and selection process for officers. In India, other than some high ranked positions, police are recruited based on their physical abilities, without any background checks relating to criminal history.
It is often observed that people with criminal records enroll themselves in the police and continue their deeds from the inside.
Furthermore, psychological factors that candidates must possess while dealing with sensitive situations every day aren't looked for or trained to develop ahead in the job.
Low salary and inferiorization inside the departments
Other common factors like inter-departmental bullying by higher officers and the low salary variant is also why we see the police take out their frustration on the powerless. We see teenage boys being beaten up by women police officers but that has always been something we always tend to ignore.
Brutality isn’t just about male ego.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recorded a staggering 1,674 cases of custodial deaths in 334 days (11 months) between April 2017 and February 2018, which implies over five deaths in custody per day.
POLICE BRUTALITY IN THE LOCK DOWN
Cases of police brutality are at peak since the lock down. It has reportedly led to 14 deaths. We saw Ahmedabad and Delhi cops tipping over vegetable carts. Even migrant labourers walking thousands of kilometres to reach home weren't spared as police using violence on them were seen in many states. We've seen innocents simply going out to buy milk for their families being beaten to death and yet no was seen talking about it.
WHAT SHOULD BE OUR TAKE ON THE POLICE?
There are no good or bad officers, the police are simply goons made to
follow orders of their superiors, as we saw happen with the Delhi's Jamia
students, during the CAA NRC protests, and the Nazi regime.
India’s attitude towards police violence has been retributive rather than
preventive. Other than the policy actions and reforms, we need to cut back
on how we glorify the police and violence, in movies or otherwise.
Anything brutal is traumatising, dehumanising and can never be rationalized.
Speak up for things because they need to be spoken about, irrespective of it
being the new trend everyone is talking about. Stick to your values.
End Police Brutality for the unnamed George Floyds of India.