The entire world is marching in protest of the despicable killing of George Floyd by four police officers in Indianapolis, USA. From the death of Trayvon Martin in 2014 to George Floyd, police brutality against African Americans has been a truly horrific series of seemingly unending events. Ever since Floyd’s death made the news, there was widespread outrage from Indian citizens; celebrities and regular people alike.
People are angry—as they should be. However, why are they silent when their compatriots are subjected to the same horrors?
The lockdown has been a time of uncertainty for everyone. However, with the cases of coronavirus rising by the daily comes the rise in cases of police brutality in the country—two things that should not go hand in hand.
The lockdown came with certain restrictions which called for policing measures.
India invoked Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which prohibits the assembly of four or more people in order to ensure that the lockdown isn’t violated and the spread of the virus can be contained easily. Those who violate Section 144 can be arrested and detained by the police. However, the right to the use of force was never granted to them.
Videos of police officers beating people for violating the lockdown restrictions have been circulating on social media ever since the imposition of the lockdown. These videos have stirred up outrage from citizens over Twitter and even managed to get the attention of our politicians, such as Shashi Tharoor.
According to a study by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, 12 people died after being assaulted by the police during the first week of lockdown.
Tharoor, a member of the opposition party, penned a public letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stop police from using violent force. “I have no doubt that most police personnel are doing a commendable job in these difficult times. However, those who brutalize citizens are bringing disrepute to the efforts of all others,” he said in the letter posted on Twitter.
I wrote to @PMOIndia @narendramodi this morning to raise some immediate concerns on management of the #COVID19 #lockdown raised by professionals of the All-India Professionals’Congress @ProfCong, relating particularly to problems faced by professionals: pic.twitter.com/QjXbasFMv6
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) March 27, 2020
Migrant workers have faced the most of this brutality. With nothing but foot to travel on, they have—on many instances—been charged with lathis and made to crawl by the police.
On June 19, a father and his son were taken into custody in Sattankulam, Tamil Nadu for violating lockdown restrictions by keeping their shop open. On June 22, the son, Fenix, complained about breathing problems. He was admitted to a local hospital, where he died on the same day. His father, Jayaraj, also died due to illness the following day.
According to their relatives, they were beaten up in the police station. They said that the officers also sexually assaulted Fenix. Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister, Edappadi Palaniswami, subsequently announced the suspension of two of the police officers involved, along with a relief of Rs 10 lakh to the victims’ family.
In a time when it is more than required for the police officers to help distraught citizens, the uniform-clad officials are inflicting pain on the very people they swore to protect.
The CAA Protests
The CAA protests showed the extent to which the police could go in order to impose what they felt was order. Cases of Muslims being victimised and targeted during these times were swept under the carpet by most of Indian mainstream media.
They were beaten with lathis and later arrested. Allegedly, FIRs were filed against them on false bases. What they went through while in custody was nothing short of horrific. According to accounts given by social activists in UP who were arrested, Muslims and non-Muslims were segregated inside prison. Omar Rashid, a reporter for The Hindu, alleged that a police official threatened to harm his beard. Others imprisoned were called Pakistanis and were subject to beatings, according to accounts given by the inmates. In Nagina, Uttar Pradesh, five minors were arrested and tortured in custody. All of them happened to be Muslim.
A people’s tribunal in UP said in January that “it is convinced that the entire state machinery, led from the top, acted with grave prejudice and perpetrated violence targeting one particular community, the state’s Muslim population, and the social activists leading the movement.”
The imposition of Section 144 and using lathi charges should be enough to control large crowds. The police, however, decided to use tear gas on protestors. In December 2019, 450 shells of tear gas were fired at a gathering of CAA protestors in Delhi. In April 2020, after labourers in Surat protesting the COVID lockdown started pelting stones at the police, they were met with tear gas shells fired by the police.
The use of tear gas in warfare was classified as a war crime in the Geneva Convention of 1925.
What does India’s population think about police violence?
Despite all the evidence for the extent of police brutality, the Indian population doesn’t seem to care. In fact, according to a 2014 survey conducted by Amnesty International, 74% of Indians feel that it is justified to use torture to gather information. To provide some context, the final results of the survey said that more than 80% of the participants wanted strong laws against the use of torture.
According to The Status of Police in India, 2019, 50% of Indians condone police violence, based on the answers of 15,000 people interviewed.
The Plight of Minorities
According to India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), widespread custodial torture and killing of Dalits, rape and sexual assault of Dalit women, and looting of Dalit property by the police “are condoned, or at best ignored.”
This is nothing short of systemic casteism. Adequate laws for the protection of human rights for minorities do not exist, nor does there seem to be any political will in doing so. As long as they don’t exist, such cases of brutality will go unchecked.
According to The Status Of Policing in India, 2019, when asked if Muslims are naturally prone towards committing crimes, 50% of police personnel agreed to varying extents. 35% of police personnel were of the opinion that Dalits were naturally prone towards committing crimes, and 31% thought the same about Tribals.
Minorities in jail are over-represented. While they make up 39% of the country’s population, 55% of prisoners are either Muslims, Dalits, or Tribals.
In a 2019 report by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, former prisoners belonging to minority communities were asked if they were falsely arrested. 35% of Dalit respondents, 27% of Tribal respondents, and 47% of Muslim respondents claimed that they were falsely arrested.
According to an answer given in the Rajya Sabha by the Minister of State for Home Affairs on 26th June, 2019, 427 people died in police custody between the years 2016 and 2019.
The Status of Policing in India, 2019 report also says that 83% of police officials feels it is best to use violence to extract confessions from the accused.
Indian celebrities are quick to post a black square on their social media with the caption saying Black Lives Matter, but are afraid at taking a political stance on events happening in their own country—often citing ignorance about said matters as an excuse.
What is shocking is the fact that the police in this country are allowed to get away with such inhuman acts, isn’t as scary as the fact that a vast majority of Indians seemingly support these atrocities.
How is change possible in a country that doesn’t believe change is required in the first place? There is no life that is worth more or less than another. No one deserves to be treated as lesser because of the religion they practice, or what caste they belong to in an archaic and discriminatory system.
Are the lives of our own citizens not worth the same as George Floyd? Are our cries for justice limited only for those who do not belong to our country? Is the suffering of our fellow Indians not equivalent to that of Americans?
Is our outrage reserved only for the social media cry of other countries?
To know more about how to stay protected against police brutality, click here.
Written by Tanya Jain and Rushil Dalal for MTTN
Featured image by Bhargabi Mukherjee for MTTN