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Monday, April 12, 2021

Why don’t Indians come out to protest police brutality?

Custodial deaths of the father-son duo P Jayaraj and J Fenix in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi or Tuticorin has created massive uproar across the country. Systemic oppression clubbed with police brutality has been a concern in India for ages now. While the recent brutality has shed more light on the problem, this issue has haunted the country for over decades now. But why is that our fellow countrymen don’t often come out to protest for this regular problem unlike citizens abroad as we saw after the death of George Floyd. Why don’t Indians come out to protest police brutality? Let’s try and look at it from the roots of the problem.


Police brutality is a thing across the world

Even in the midst of a health crisis and the subsequent lockdown, lakhs of Americans stepped out of their houses across cities to protest against the killing of George Floyd by the police in Minnesota. Obviously, social distancing rules weren’t followed when they marched in solidarity against the systemic oppression carried out by the police. Their collective anger was against the racism vetted out the police, which the citizens believe is a more harmful problem than any disease. George Floyd was an African American who worked as a security guard in Minneapolis and he succumbed to death when police personnel kneeled on his neck. There were several videos all over social media of the crime and George was also heard saying he can’t breathe several times to the officer. The policeman, who was seen kneeling on George was arrested and charged with murder. There were three other policemen at the scene but they haven’t been charged with anything but let go off from service.

Why don't Indians come out to protest police brutality?
We Can’t Breathe. Black Lives Matter. Protest Banner about Human Right of Black People in America (shutterstock.com/MikeDotta)


Why no protest in India?

However, we didn’t see anything similar in India when the father-son duo was killed in Tamil Nadu, not that anyone is saying people should violate social distancing norms to protest against brutality. Neither have we heard anything from our beloved politicians who have still chosen to be silent on state violence. Only some have spoken against the blatant brutality. Referring to the same case, the Indian Police Service (IPS) Association condemned “acts of violence against citizens in police custody”. “We exhort the investigation agencies to investigate the case of Tuticorin district expeditiously and fairly,” the association’s handle tweeted.

Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi said: “Police brutality is a terrible crime. It’s a tragedy when our protectors turn into oppressors. I offer my condolences to the family of the victims and appeal to the government to ensure justice.”

What about solving the problem eventually?

But just speaking out against it doesn’t help solve the age-old problem, proper action needs to be taken which is not the case here. Let’s talk about when the Supreme Court of India, 12 years ago, in the Prakash Singh vs Union of India case, had directed all states to establish Police Complaints Authorities for both district and state levels. As per the SC’s directive then, these authorities should have the last and final say and their recommendations against police officers should be binding. However, several reports have found later that these directives were not put in place in over 50 per cent of our states. For example, a study by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) published in 2018 had stated that a meagre number of 18 states only had passed new Police Acts since SC’s directive in 2006. While other states were found to have issued certain notifications or even orders, none among them had actually incorporated the directives in line with the Court’s scheme.

In the recent Jayaraj-Fenix case, the Tamil Nadu Police has already dismissed more than 80 police officers in the Trichy range for want of “interpersonal skills” while dealing with the masses. “We are removing 80 police personnel in the Trichy police range who need behavioural correction to improve their interpersonal skills. They are taken off duties involving direct public contact as their track record in that aspect is found wanting,” Deputy Inspector General of Police (Trichy Range) V Balakrishnan told several news agencies. The DIG also added that these officers would be gradually reintegrated into regular duties “only after completing a specially designed course with CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)” that would comprise of a component to improve “the way they deal with the public.” This might show that the authorities are gradually taking the issue seriously and doing the needful.

Pop culture also has a role to play

In all of this, popular culture too plays a significant role. Bollywood, which is considered to be a mirror image of our society and held at high standards to retain the moral ground, often fails to do so. A lot of films portray the police as the hero and show rampant torture of suspects in custody even if there is something called the censor board or conscience maybe. The concept of hero worship in Bollywood is the root of a lot of problems that have the ability to mess up the public’s minds. When the movies show cops hatching a plan to conduct an encounter to avenge some personal grudge, or beat up the suspect while arresting them — they don’t realise that all this fall under the purview of police brutality. There is a judiciary to uphold the law, police cannot in real life take it in their own hands.
There is also a stark difference in what the middle classes deal with especially in the cities during their experiences with law enforcement compared to what the poor or the minorities in rural areas or suburbs face. Someone who seems to be well-connected hardly faces a hateful police officer than what someone from a lower economic background would. We saw a recent example of that when the poor migrated from cities to villages they would get beaten up for petty reasons or sometimes for even no reason at all. But that is basically is not the case for the middle classes and so they don’t feel the need to come out on the streets.

Citizens need to know their rights

When someone is being arrested, locked up or detained it is important that they know some of their rights.
Right to know the grounds of ones arrest: Section 50(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure provides, “every police officer or other person arresting any person without a warrant shall forthwith communicate to him full particulars of the offence for which he is arrested or other grounds for such arrest.” Apart from the provisions of CrPC, Article 22(1) of Constitution of India states, “No person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds of such arrest nor shall he be denied the right to consult, and to be defended by, a legal practitioner of his choice.”

When a person is arrested, he/she cannot be detained for over 24 hours as the constitution requires that the person be produced before a judicial magistrate within 24 hours of his/her arrest. As per law, a medical examination is mandatory for the arrested and a doctor is required to list any pre-existing injuries that the person might have. If they happen to have new injuries and the doctor notices then it can be proof of custodial abuse. The judicial magistrate is also required to examine the well-being of the arrested person. According to a Live Law report, the magistrate in the TN father-son duo’s case did not notice their wounds as the magistrate reportedly examined them “in dim light inside the police vehicle”. It further alleges that the magistrate also transferred them to custody even though according to the law “people can or should only be detained for offences punishable by up to seven years in prison when it is deemed necessary”.

So, we come to the final question, as to how do we uproot this problem? Unless the importance of moral and political education is deemed necessary as a part of police training, it won’t likely get any better. No matter how we laws we pass or directives are given out, police brutality will remain a social evil until uprooted.

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