“All police action shall respect the principles of legality, necessity, non-discrimination, proportionality and humanity”
This quote is straight out of a handbook published by the United Nations Commissioner For Human Rights, concerning the measures police have to maintain while patrolling neighbourhoods, ensuring proper safety to citizens.
Unfortunately, reality has been a far cry from the idealistic standard of ethics mentioned, with multiple incidents of police brutality spread out across the globe.
The custodial death of two men, Jeyraj and Fennix, at the hands of Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) police force saw social media blow up with rage; the masses demanding the imprisonment of the officers responsible for committing this atrocity. Hashtags are spread all over posts, Instagram stories filled with illustrations asserting the need for justice, but what happens when all this mellows out as it always does?
And this wasn’t the first (and only) instance of police brutality in India’s recent past. The attack on the Jamia Milia campus, violent attacks on citizens and essential workers during the pandemic and inhumane treatment of demonstrators at the CAA-NRC protests are a couple of well-known examples of misconduct brought about by ruthless police officers. Around 1,700 people have died as a result of custodial torture in India during 2019, according to a survey held by a consortium of NGOs. Numerous instances of psychological torture, callous baton use, shootings, etc, have been reported from all over India (read more about these instances here).
Surely, these harbingers of justice have valid reasons for acting out like this?
Whether a person could be guilty of committing a felony or not, resorting to brutal tactics with complete moral disregard is not the way to go about things. In the name of ‘teaching a lesson’ through lathi-charges, officers believe they are above the law and avoid due procedure in enforcing it.
Selective bias and persecution of communities is a common point in the topic of police brutality between India and America. However, the lack of accountability, the glorification of police torture in films, the conscious ignorance of the subject occurs what separates both nations with the issue.
People with a lower-income background, Dalits, Transgender people, religious minorities, migrants face the brunt of this, hence, you, the (possibly) privileged English-reading, smartphone-wielding, ‘woke’ citizen won’t likely ever face such a situation. This leads to most of us remaining complicit with the atrocities faced by those who aren’t as fortunate.
As a result, these custodians of law, ironically, have become the ‘people you need laws to be protected from’.
So from a legal standpoint, what can a civilian do to ensure the procedure is followed if they are involved in a police encounter?
What are the rights that can protect us from police excesses?
Let’s first take a look at the word ‘ARREST’. The word ” ARREST” is not defined in Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. But, Section 46 of the same legislation explains ”how arrests are made”. This gives officers the complete privilege to arrest citizens through all possible means with full impunity.
Section 41 provides a checklist to be followed when an arrest is made without a warrant. But the subjectivity of what an arrest means that this is easily misused.
The act is filled with vague and general language that doesn’t translate well in all contexts, leading to the police exploiting it for many reasons.
Surely, there are ways to combat corrupt practices arising from the police exploiting this law?
- According to an amendment made to the Act in 2009, when a person is arrested and interrogated by the police, he shall be entitled to meet an advocate of his choice during interrogation, though not throughout the interrogation.
- Article 22 of the Indian constitution states that “No person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest nor shall he be denied the right to consult and to be defended by, a legal practitioner of his choice.
- Remedies can be sought before the High Courts and the Supreme Court under the Constitution of India for violations of fundamental rights. Lack of accessibility is what hinders this; only cases with an outstanding amount of evidence are allowed to be pursued in these courts.
- State enactments look over disciplinary proceedings and punishments for police who have been called out for abuse of power. But since most enactments are made as a result of the Police Act of 1861, a primitive legislature which didn’t look into police discipline, officers generally get off scot-free.
While human rights are enshrined in the Constitution and while we have procedures to go about arrests, loopholes and a general lack of accountability protect the police. Enforcement of laws has been shoddy, to say the least, with some states not even having basic Human Rights councils.
Unlike America, our response to such cases has been dismal. If we are to learn anything from the George Floyd/BLM protests, it’s that we need to take it into our hands to ensure modern reforms are made to these half-baked laws. We need to address the situation of prevailing police brutality in our country and hold the police responsible.
#JusticeForJeyarajAndFenix might be all the rage now online, but how can we ensure they actually get the justice that was robbed from them? Spread awareness for each and every case of police brutality, sign petitions, hold your local legislators responsible in ensuring that strict punishments be made for the abuse of power, this must not die down with the forever-changing news-cycle.
We cannot let the dereliction of police duty be the downfall of the rule of law and human rights.
Written by Robin Cherian
Image Credits (in order): Twitter (@1DOwnsMoiHeart)