The year that was 2020: How the police confused brutality with justice
Incidents of police brutality have been ongoing amidst the Coronavirus lockdown this year.
The murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the US, at the hands of police officers triggered massive protests in the US, as well as across the world. A white police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes as he was handcuffed and lying face down, while he continued to say that he couldn’t breathe. Moments later. Floyd lost his life. While the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement garnered support from India as well, the incidents of police brutality back home haven’t been rare. With a rocky start with the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) of India, and riots in Delhi at the beginning of the year, incidents of police brutality have been ongoing amidst the Coronavirus lockdown and the subsequent farmers’ protests at the end of the year.
1) Delhi police forcing nationalism during riots
As riots flared in the north-eastern part of Delhi at the end of February this year, with bloodshed in Muslim-dominated areas, a video of policemen thrashing five injured people lying on the ground, forcing them to sing the national anthem started circulating on social media. The policemen, dressed in riot gear, were seen hurling abuses at the men on the grounds using the word ‘Azadi’. In a fact-check report published by them, AltNews verified that the video was shot in Delhi’s Jafrabad during the riots in February.
The video was a specimen of police brutality during the Delhi riots, as well as during the anti-CAA/NRC protests in Delhi and all over the country
2) Police brutality during Coronavirus lockdown
Following the lockdown that was imposed across the nation to contain COVID-19, many videos showing police brutality surfaced on social media. The police used force and lathi charged citizens for merely stepping out to get even essentials or medical care. Moreover, constant notifications about updated curfew hours and allowances on stepping out for essentials failed to reach the citizens on time. This caused confusion among citizens and led to chaos.
In Mumbai, a man had stepped out to get daily essentials for his family, which was allowed under the lockdown relaxations. Despite wearing a mask and maintaining social distance, he was lathi charged by the police. In UP, one man was brutally lathi charged for going out to get milk for his children. In both cases, the police did not ask the men about the reasons they stepped out for, and just started using force against them. Several such cases were reported across the country.
3) Dramatic arrest and encounter of Vikas Dubey
On July 3rd, during an attempt to arrest Vikas Dubey (gangster-turned-politician in UP) and his men, eight policemen were killed, following which a drama ensued, wherein it was speculated on whether the police would arrest Dubey or kill him in an encounter. Dubey has been arrested several times earlier, but always managed to stay away from jail. After his arrest on July 9th, Dubey was killed in an encounter the very next day. It was alleged that the vehicle carrying him was involved in a road accident, and he tried to escape, due to which he was killed by the police.
4) Custodial death of Jayaraj and Benicks in Tamil Nadu
In June, two men died in police custody in Tamil Nadu's Thoothukudi city. Father-son Jayaraj and Benicks were arrested by the police on June 19th for reportedly keeping their mobile shop open beyond 8 PM despite the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. Both were allegedly beaten up, stripped of their clothes and sodomised in custody, and no one was allowed to see them. Within three days of their arrest, both men died in hospital. After the incident gained attention from the media, an investigation was launched. The CBI filed a chargesheet establishing that the two men were brutally tortured by the police.
While the incident received criticism from across the nation, activists pointed out that this was certainly not a very isolated one, and that police brutality in the country needed serious attention.
5) Dehumanisation of Hathras rape victim
On September 29th, the Uttar Pradesh Police cremated the Hathras rape victim without her family’s consent, after she succumbed to her injuries after a 15 days fight. The 19-year-old young woman from the Valmiki community in UP’s Hathras village was denied justice, both in life and in death. On September 14th, the victim’s mother found her daughter without clothes and wounded, and her family took her to the police station for registering an FIR. The woman was asked to be taken to the hospital without an FIR. Though she was moved to Safdarjung Hospital (allegedly without the parents’ consent), the woman died after 14 days, after which, the police took it upon themselves to cremate her body, while the family demanded postmortem. The family members were not even present at the cremation, as according to media reports, they were barricaded inside their house.
After the incident, police also allegedly went as far as to say that the victim was not raped. The case was later handed over to the CBI, and the investigation agency recently released a report that stated that rape cannot be ruled out in the Hathras case. It faulted the police in delaying the victim’s medical examination and ignoring her statement. The incident received flak, as police neither registered a timely FIR, nor did they take the victim to the hospital or take medical samples when the family alleged rape. The incident, and many more which have been coming to light from UP, have highlighted UP Police’s treatment of Dalits and minorities.
6) Detained activists and NIA’s apathy
In October, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy from his residence in Jharkhand, in connection with the Elgaar Parishad case. The 83-year-old activist had requested through a video that he cannot travel to Mumbai repeatedly for investigation due to his age and health, before he was arrested. After his arrest, Swamy had filed an application seeking permission to allow him a straw and sipper in prison to drink water as he is unable to hold a glass due to Parkinson's disease. The NIA first asked for 20 days time to consider the plea, and then said that they did not have Swamy’s sipper cup and straw. This response drew outrage from across the nation, and a movement was started on social media to send straws and sipper cups to Taloja Central Jail where Swamy is imprisoned. Finally, in December, the activist was provided with what he needed.
Several intellectuals have been imprisoned by the NIA for the past couple of years, many of whom are old with several health issues. Taloja Jail administration also received flak when detained intellectual Gautam Navlakha was denied access to the new spectacles sent by his partner, after he lost his own. Moreover, the lawyer of human rights activist GN Saibaba recently wrote a letter alleging that the Nagpur Central Jail refused to accept several essential things that he brought to the jail for Saibaba, despite approving earlier.
7) Water cannons, batons against a peaceful farmers’ protest in Delhi
In September, when the Central Government passed three farm reform laws, farmers in Punjab and Haryana rose in protest against these laws, which would lead to corporatisation of agriculture. At the end of November, the farmers began marching towards Delhi. However, they were met with brutal treatment from the police as well as the government, as trenches were dug in the highway to prohibit farmers from reaching Delhi, and water cannons were used against them.
One of the defining moments of the protests was the photograph of a paramilitary personnel swinging his baton at an elderly farmer protester. The image that went viral defined how the government has been responding to the peaceful protests by the farmers.
8) Love Jihad Law and the UP Police
While we saw that the UP Police did not seem to have enough time to register FIR or conduct a medical examination, or even postmortem for the Hathras rape victim, they have been seen to be highly proactive while dealing with cases registered under the latest Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020. There have been multiple instances wherein the UP police arrested Muslim men, even students, just for hanging out with their female Hindu friends. Upon further investigation in many of the cases, it was discovered that the families of the girls did not have any issues with the Muslim men arrested. Some also said that they were forced to register complaints. A couple was taken from their wedding to the police station, as police said that they had received a tip of an interfaith marriage, however, it was later found that both bride and the groom were Muslims.
In UP’s Moradabad, a Hindu woman was sent to a shelter home, after her husband was arrested under the love-jihad law. The woman had stated that they had married in July, around five months before the law was enforced in the state. However, the police still made the arrest after a right-wing group took the couple to the police. The woman alleged that she faced torture in the shelter home, due to which she also had a miscarriage.