By Aditya Ojha
Ajeenkya DY Patil University, Pune
“When you have police officers who abuse citizens, you erode public confidence in law enforcement. That makes the job of good police officers unsafe”.
-Mary Francis Berry
The murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police department shook the world to its core and with support pouring in from all over the world the issue of police brutality took over peoples minds. Though not being the first case of police brutality against a black citizen one can find the roots of institutionalised racism to be in the systemic slavery which people of colour have faced for centuries by the “white” people. The first instances of slavery being followed can be found during the British colonial days, with America starting it in 1776 all through 1865 until the 13th Amendment was passed. Under the law a slave was the property of a person and could be bought, sold or given away. Slaves were imported (trafficked) from Africa to several colonials of the British Kingdom to work in cotton fields which could not be grown in Britain. Though slavery has been abolished for roughly 200 years coloured people seem to be still treated the same way in countries with a larger white population. The police especially in USA harass black citizens under the guise of them resembling a criminal or being in a posh neighbourhood or a neighbourhood which is pre-dominantly a “white one”. Even after slavery being abolished for 100 years the KKK a white supremacist hate group famously known as the Klu Klux Klan flourished in the 20th century with members ranging from common people, police officers to army soldiers and high ranking officials in the government. In India the same discrimination takes place on the basis of caste, creed, sex and religion which is in direct defiance of Article 15 of the Indian Constitution which states no discrimination should be done to any citizen on the basis of race, religion, caste, sex and place of birth. A person of a lower caste is faced with discrimination in nearly all of aspects of daily life in a rural society with people mostly taking matters into their own hands and killing them for minor things as small as them eating in front of a person of a higher caste. The police in most of these matters do not investigate or cannot investigate due to the higher caste men being the sarpanch of the village or being wealthy due to which they are able buy off the person filing the case or the officer investigating the case.
Factors affecting a policeman:
• To enrol in a police academy in a majority of countries one does not require much experience or knowledge . In India one has to be a graduate in any field(with no specific percentage criteria) and between the ages of 21-30. No mental check-up is done prior to them enrolling in the academy nor after they qualify. A person could be a psychopath, schizophrenic or a racist and still qualify as a policeman. His/her personal opinions which might affect their judgement on duty is not taken into consideration.
• The ranks of the police force is still based on the colonial systems with each level enjoying their certain level of power and the jurisdiction in which this power is applicable. With corruption running rampant in nearly all government sectors it is impossible to not see bribing and favouritism. A policeman of a lower rank who does not get much in the form of salary might sway his decision to apprehend or release a criminal for money or a certain favour. Politicians and people of wealth exploit this and do anything and everything that comes to their mind facing no consequences. Many policeman in order to get a promotion and get a rank higher use these politicians and their influence to achieve it.
• To a normal citizen the hierarchy will be confusing as acting out on one’s conscience comes to their minds first. A policeman carrying out orders given to him /her from his/her senior official is merely a person doing their job. Their Conscience and empathy kicks in on the fact of them being a human being but if one refuses to do it they can get a hundred others who will agree in a seconds notice . With lower ranking officers scared of disobeying their seniors and suspension one does not get much choice as to what he/she is doing is ethically right or not.
• A big part in anything nowadays is played by the media houses as people from all over the country cannot actually be present at the place where some atrocity has took place. The general public sees whatever image the anchor wants them to see. As most media houses have become propaganda based TRP loving maniacs the real essence of news reporting is lost. Nearly all media houses have become a machine to push out political ideology, that ideology could be of the news channels owner or a benefactor as most are backed by a politician of either the opposition or the ruling party.
• A new face of police brutality was paraded on the news after the initial lockdown was put into place to curb the novel coronavirus with the policeman’s job being to keep a 132 crore strong population in their houses under a days notice. A population who’s daily time pass is to take a walk in their lane or society keeping them in would take some drastic steps. Multiple videos emerged of police lathi charging the citizens to keep them inside with a number of them succumbing to their injuries. One of the recent cases being from Santhankulam a town in South India where timber shop owners P Jeyraj and his son J Benicks were sexually assaulted and later succumbed to their injuries after being detained for keeping their shops open a mere 15 min after the state issued curfew.
• The concerned state governments need to implement a change in the salary structure of officers as they are usually payed a sum which is not satisfactory to the amount of work done. A police officer has no specified work hours they have to be present on duty whenever there is a need, they need to put their life on the line without hesitation or any thought about their family members.
Can it be curbed?
To safeguard the citizens we need to understand the framework for pursuing grievances against police brutality. To help the people including the compensation that the government owes, can be sought before the High Courts and the Supreme courts under the Constitution of India for violations of fundamental rights. However it is not possible for everyone to gain access to these courts as they usually take cases where there is a lot of proof against the offender. A citizen of the country can always seek justice before the National human rights commission set up under the Protection of Human rights act, 1993 but their conclusions are not binding on the respective governments. Keeping in mind the incompetency of certain government sectors it was found that three states did not have State Human rights commissions. The commissions were completely dysfunctional in two states and the post of chairperson was vacant in ten states.
Complaints can be lodged against the officers for offences under the IPC, 1860 but there is no procedure for an independent investigation. Multiple cases have been found in which multiple officers either refuse to file a complaint, never file a complaint or harass the person filing the complaint due to camaraderie. The safeguard under section 197 of the criminal procedure code, 1937, is also often misused as it requires prior authorisation from the concerned government when a public servant which includes police officers is alleged of any, offence committed in the discharge of official duty.
As the police comes under state authority with respect to the constitution, disciplinary proceedings and punishment for accused officers such as suspension, removal or deduction of salary is provided under state enactments. These proceedings too are often not useful as they lack independence and impartial oversight. Keeping in mind most enactments are based on the Police Act of 1861, a Victorian-era legislation under which disciplining the offenders was not a priority.
It is fairly difficult to examine the multiple loop holes in any government sector as most of the people working in it are inclined towards making a living rather than protecting the citizens they have taken an oath to protect. With respect to the current cases of police brutality in a social media age proves that unless there is a protest or a movement which is supported by a good majority of people the offenders are never brought to justice but even those cases are a dime a dozen everyday there are cases happening in rural areas with none of them getting attention because of no representation by the media or simply because there won’t be a huge cry on a lower caste person being shot to death, or a person not getting justice after his sister has been raped due to them being of a specific religion. Unless there is order among the people and the one’s who are given the duty to uphold the integrity of law, any and every crime will be avoidable.