The Police Are

Out of Control!

The recent police custodial killings in Tamil Nadu had the nation up in rage. India has had a perennial issue of police violence. The police, truly, is out of control.

CHARU PRAGYA

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This past month, the countries in the West reckoned with a fact they’d known for far too long: the police are out of control, and they have always been. Indians too chimed in to condemn the state of policing in the USA and elsewhere, all this while they continued to ignore the ways in which police brutality has become normalized in their own country. The police in India kill and torture people from disadvantaged and marginalized communities, especially religious minorities, Dalits and Adivasis with near total impunity.

They regularly violate civil liberties, clamp down on protests at the behest of their political masters, terrorize and arrest protesters and journalists. Despite the recent reports and images showing the police running amok during the pogrom in Northeast Delhi, arresting anti-CAA protesters all over the country, and meting out violence on dispossessed migrant-victims during the Covid lockdown, there has been no sustained backlash against the police. Until now.

There has been massive public outrage over the custodial killings of J Jayaraj (59), and his son Bennix Immanuel (31). They were subjected to brutal thrashing and torture, including sexual violence, which caused rectal bleeding and death of the two men, within days of each other. Bennix owned a small mobile shop in Sathankulam town in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district. On June 18, they got into a verbal altercation with the police for keeping their shop open beyond permissible hours due to the lockdown. 

They were picked up on June 19 by the police and booked under Section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) and Section 353 (use of force to deter public servant from duty) of the Indian Penal Code. Several eyewitness accounts and Jayaraj’s wife, Selvarani, has lodged a complaint that police brutality has led to their death. Trade unions, activists and the public at large have condemned the police atrocities and demand the arrest and conviction of the officers, rather than a mere

suspension. 

As [Georgina] Sinclair argues, the Indian police was “certainly the first and largest colonial-style police force to be shaped by the [Royal Irish Constabulary]”. The colonial police shaped itself as an instrument of coercive power of the establishments and is continuing this functioning, as if citizens do not wield any power over them even today.   The Indian Constitution will turn 67 in a few weeks, yet many of the problems with its policing system can be traced back to the colonial era where the British Raj deployed the police largely to discipline the local population. The Indian police laws are based on this British model created 155 years ago with scant reforms, which allows the police forces to enjoy carte blanche just as they did under colonial legislation.

The present backlash is especially important because very few cases of police torture spark widespread public outrage no matter how dramatic, shocking, and egregious the details; institutionalised police brutality is a fact of life in India.

“It is the rule rather than the exception and is condoned and even celebrated by the political class cutting across party lines as an effective tool of enforcing law and order and frightening citizens into compliance."

Torture in police custody is endemic in India and the police regularly tortures suspects to punish them, gather information, or coerce confessions. India has both failed to ratify the United Nation’s convention on human torture and refrained from passing the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2017.

 

A large number of incidents of torture and custodial deaths are a direct result of the police forces’ virtual immunity from prosecution for human rights violations. A total of 1,731 people died in custody in India during 2019; this works out to almost five such deaths daily. The following slides have some data from the report ‘India: Annual Report on Torture 2019’ published by National Campaign Against Torture (NCAT).

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