Tuesday 22nd Jan 2019
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POLICE ACTION From a Different Vantage Point

Cover Story

KAMRAN SHAHID ANSARI delves into the recent lathicharge unleashed by the police at India Gate on protesting civilians and argues that the resort to violence (which in the present case was used as the last resort), not even sparing women and children, is uncannily connected with the impunity which the uniformed men enjoy.

The peaceful protest at India Gate that was being hailed as the voice of the youth of the country and which witnessed the ever swelling numbers of the protesters turned violent on Sunday (December 23) when some lumpen elements joined the protest and started hurling stones at police officers stationed at the place. The protest started at 9 am and the numbers increased as the day progressed. Initially the crowd was mainly of college students, however later some unruly elements joined the protest. According to several women protesters, they (the unruly protestors) were drunk and even misbehaved with and molested the women around. They began pelting stones at police and even crushed government vehicles and broke the metal grills as well. Soon, when the situation went out of control and water cannons and teargas failed to disperse the crowd, the police resorted to lathicharge wherein many of the innocents and peaceful protesters got hit.

As many as 90 people got hurt during the clash and around 80 of them were taken to RML Hospital and the rest were taken to LN Hospital with majority of them having head injuries and fractures. A total of 250 teargas shells were lobbed and as many as 78 police personnel got injured. The saddest part of the whole episode however remains the death of the police constable Subhash Chand Tomar, the sole breadwinner of the family, who died of cardiac arrest at RML Hospital, allegedly because of the blows he had received during the clashes.

It is clear that the police resorted to lathicharge when provoked by the ‘hooligans’ and in return the other peaceful protesters had to face the brunt. It is true that at first it was the water cannons and teargas shells that were used and when they failed, lathicharge was done so as to bring the situation under control. Even many of the protesters sided with the police and said that they understood the action of the police as it was very difficult for them to decide in the crowd who are the ‘hooligans’ and who are the peaceful protesters and hence everyone bore the brunt but they all maintained that the police action was ‘excessive.’

Hence the question that pops up here is why the police went completely berserk after sometime and rained lathis on anyone that came before them. As we all know the protesters were mainly women, including aged ladies and young kids, why did the police start swinging their lathis without giving any consideration as to who is at the other end. There are many photographs of the protest wherein young girls and in many of them aged women are found to be at the receiving end of the batons of police. The Statesman (24 December) reported the statement of one of the women protesters who said, “I was dragged by my hair as policemen were using force on us. No women personnel was deployed to handle women and they were treating us like criminals.” To be honest, the police could have spared them, however it did not happen.

One reason which seems very obvious for such venting of anger is the frustration of the policemen as to how long they could control themselves and not retaliate. However, such venting of anger, when seen from the point of view of a law-enforcer seems a little inappropriate. It is true that sometimes the situation comes to such a pass that frustration creeps in and the person tries to respond in a similar way. But then it would reduce the difference between a common citizen and the law-enforcer, who obviously has a greater responsibility as being part of the machinery responsible for maintaining law and order.

The other reason, which some may find a little unrelated or disconnected with the present case, is the impunity which the men in khaki enjoy. If we take a look at the past cases wherein police officers and other security personnel were involved, we will find that in most of the cases there was a special protection that was given to them. And it is this special protection or rather armour of impunity that results in such kinds of action.

One of the constables is quoted in The Hindustan Times (26 December) as saying, “The senior officers have it easy while we, despite working round-the-clock face the heat and get suspended.” According to the constable, it is only the junior-level officers that get suspended or get any kind of punishment. The Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar however has given the assurance that no-one-will-be-sacked. Though in this case a dozen of police personnel have been suspended but one can easily infer from the statements of both, the constable and the police commissioner, as to how much is the culture of impunity that has crept in the machinery.

If we look at the data revealed by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) it shows that at the national level it is the Delhi Police which have the highest number of errant cops. Out of the 61,765 complaints against the police officials in the year 2011, 12,805 were against Delhi Police. The cases against the police include extortion and most importantly causing indignity to women. Again one can sense the issue of impunity playing a role here as despite having the highest number of complaints the number of dismissals is less.

Another important event to note in this whole episode is that the police deliberately attacked the media persons. Journalists have alleged that the police deliberately turned the nozzle of their water cannons towards their equipment (batteries, transmitting equipment, etc.) The OB vans were also attacked. The question again pops up, were the media persons and their OB vans ‘hooligans’ that they had to resort to violence. The Hindu (24 December) reported that the police did not leave even those who ran for the cover. When some crew members managed to enter the premises of Press Club, the four khakhi men entered the main hall of the club and when people resisted and asked them who has authorised them to enter; they then beat a hasty retreat.

The incident of rape in Shamseti village in Sukma district in Chhattisgarh testifies the impunity that the uniformed men take advantage of. The incident happened in 2006 when 200 policemen and SPOs raided the village and women were raped. Despite testimonies by the women who bore the brunt of the lust of the people in uniform, nothing was done. The complaints ran through dozens of pages, yet those SPOs which committed the heinous act have become constables and some are at other government jobs.

And as far as rapes are concerned, there are many instances of rapes in the police custody as well. The situation becomes worse in the ‘troubled states’ like Jammu and Kashmir and North East as the uniformed men receive full backing and hence the crime by uniformed men remains always high. The recent report ‘Alleged Perpetrators: Stories of Impunity in Jammu and Kashmir’ released by (Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons) APDP mentions around 500 officers from various security agencies (including state police) for being involved in 214 cases of human rights violations. The shocking thing about the report is that it accuses two major generals and three brigadiers of Indian army besides three lieutenant colonels, 78 majors and 25 captains. One could imagine how deep the impunity could be if such high officials are themselves involved in crimes.

Gopalgarh killing, which was far lesser than riots in a police action, is another example where the police unilaterally opened fire on the Muslims which claimed nine lives. Such a brazen act from the law enforcers is deplorable and the sole reason for such acts is growing culture of impunity. Forbesganj killing could be yet another example and honestly counting such incidents would in itself be a daunting task as the past is replete with such incidences.

In the recent years the acquittal of innocent youth who were falsely implicated by the police and other intelligence agencies is another example where one can easily find complete protection being given to those who wrongly implicated the youth. The report released by Jamia Teacher’s Solidarity Association (JTSA) ‘Framed, Damned, Acquitted’ with empirical data clearly proves as to how the men in khaki and other security agencies do their work. They fear none because they know no one could reach their collars because they have power.

One may find a little difficult to connect the issue of impunity with the present lathicharge by the police but if we see the fine print then it would become clearer and clearer that the raining of lathis on old women and children was indeed connected to frustration but the growing culture of impunity uncannily gave them a free rein over the peaceful protesters as well.

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