This article is written by Kavya Vijay and Muskan Tulsian from ICFAI Law School, Hyderabad.
“There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice.”
– Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Law
Who will police the police? The question posed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court four decades back has now come daunting on us and it is pertinent to figure out the answer to this question now more than ever. On June 23rd, 2020, a duo of father and son were brutally murdered in police custody. This was neither the first time nor was a rare incident. Jayraj, Benicks, Faizan, are just names of a few people who have died either while they were in police custody or in encounter killings. This is something that has been prevailing all over the World, POLICE BRUTALITY. Every country is agonizing with this situation, the latest Black Lives Matter (“BLM”) is an example of how police brutality takes colours of racism. In India, instances of Police Brutality go back to the 1960s. In the disguise of social servants who serve the country and are considered to be the guardians of society, they reek of racism and religious discrimination. Police have used this force to suppress the voice of protestors, to instil that though they are the ones who are supposed to protect the citizens but are in turn causing uproar and inflicting fear in the minds of people, defeating the whole purpose of their existence.
It is disconcerting that police brutality is not limited to the present day. Even during the British rule, Indians were punished for over 200 years for ‘non-payment of taxes’. There were horrific measures taken up by the Britishers to punish those who did not follow the rules levied by them. After 72 years of independence in India, the country is facing the same violence and brutality by the Indian Police.
While the world is trying to work through this pandemic, the role of Police becomes of utmost importance in controlling citizens and trying to maintain the peace within the country. However, the police have been using excessive force like lathi charging citizens for not obeying the rules. To maintain peace and to keep up the spirits of the citizens during this tough by brutally killing them is a whole new approach which should not go unnoticed and should be examined to its crux. To understand this, it is important to see how far there has been obedience with respect to Directives issued by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Prakash Singh’s Judgment.
How far have we followed Prakash Singh’s Judgment?
The description of custodial deaths, how innocent people were brutally murdered is spine chilling and the fact that this was done while being in the protection of the guardian of the fabric of society is much more threatening. Every successive government has tried to make the police station an inviting public space so that the citizens of the country could fearlessly approach the Police in case of any injustice happens, this is because most of the cases of violence are not reported hence crime goes unnoticed. Two out of five Indians are scared of Police. Every fortnight citizens are jolted by the stories of police brutality which inflicts fear in the minds of people and instead of portraying police stations as an inviting public space, it is considered a forbidden place.
The consequences of these situations go beyond one can fathom. The stakeholders are not only the citizens and the police fraternity but also the goodwill of the Country. It goes unnoticed how these circumstances affect a Country’s position all over the World. Due to multiple cases of police brutality against Journalists, the country’s ranking in the global press freedom index has declined, as reported by Reporters without Borders in 2018.
Crime is contagious. If a citizen sees police reprimanding accused or innocent people through brutality then that is what justice will mean for them. Instead of solving minor issues or any degree of issues through non-violent means, retribution will be their means of justice. It is very important that such activities are curbed. In the instance of Faizan, police lathi-charged him and his four other Muslim friends because they felt that these five people are a disgrace to the dignity of India. The message such heinous act promulgated is that unless a religious minority does not sing a National song to portray his patriotism, he does not deserve to stay alive or at the very least he is considered to be a traitor. As mentioned above, this is what promotes hatred towards other religions and fear of religious discrimination among minorities. The fact that police always somehow targets the Muslims (who are a minority in India) gives strength to those people who fail to understand the secularism of India. Another instance of Jayraj and Benicks proves that there is just one way to punish a person who disobeys the law that is torturing and killing them, irrespective of how minuscule of disobey it was. All of these instances set a wrong example within the society, the society inculcating these in their daily activities as a manner to resolve issues gives rise to more crime.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court through Prakash Singh v. UOI integrated recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission, Law Commission, Ribeiro Committee, Padmanabhaiah Committee, and Malimath Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System and framed a set of wholesome recommendations to combat the rise of police brutality. It recommended Limiting political control, Appointments based on merit, fixed minimum tenure, separate police functions, setting up a fair and transparent system, setting up a selection committee and the most important establishing a Police Complaints Authority in each state. It is not a shock that all these directions have fallen on deaf ears and that the implementation is dismal. There have been guidelines formed by NHRC on encounter deaths but they are also not obeyed. Time and again committees have been set up to see its compliance, yet there has been indifference in its implementations. In a report, it was found that only Seventeen states had passed laws in relation to the amendments. Further, no state had followed them in their full spirit, the binding effect of the authority’s decision was opted out by many States. It is worrisome how so many states even with a high number of custodial deaths have not implemented these.
It may not come as dismay that even after the deaths of so many innocent people and judgements by the Apex Court of the Country, police officers are still able to find their ways through such acts. The Indian Laws protect the public servants and thus police officers as well. This has become a major exit option for many officers while being brutal. These situations call for the urgent need of educating young children about Human Rights. These youngsters grow up and become Police Officers and these teachings could be their resorts to identify what is wrong and what’s right and not to act inhumane. Further, there is lack of discipline while handling such issues and the ability to defy in case of such violation of these. Perhaps, India is also waiting for its BLM to bring about the change.
The suggestions are divided into five underlying themes. The themes are based on 5 main stakeholders who can help in combating Police Brutality. They are the Government, the Society, the Judiciary, the law enforcement, and the media. The cause of these infuriate acts of policemen is because of the lack of anger management which results in issues that the policemen are facing difficulty to deal with, or of the pressure from the top level management including the political pressure to close or resolve the cases as fast as possible, or, to fulfil the propagandas of political parties. Hence, a pressing need for amendments and introduction of stricter laws to strengthen the protection of citizens from the cruel and outrageous acts of the police.
(a) The Government – The role played by the Government in this scenario is of utmost importance because the Police department comes under the State Government and the Central Government for States and Union territories respectively.
- Framing guidelines with proper instructions. The instructions should include that the officers should exhaust other options before resorting to deadly force. For instance, establishing a duty by officers to intervene if one of their colleagues is using excessive force, and requiring officers to report all uses of force or attempted use of force. Inculcating guidelines promulgated by the Supreme Court as imperative in some sort of legislation or guidelines.
- The Government should ratify the UN Convention against Torturing. Even though India became a signatory long back (1997), it is important that it ratifies the Convention for proper implementation and accountability to the UN which will result in reduction in cases of torture.
- Appointment of more female officers. A study has shown that the presence of female officers reduces the fear of the use of force and attracts less excessive force allegation.
- Organizing seminars quarterly to emphasize on the need to respect Human rights.
- Improving the pre-screening procedure. Most of the police officers do not receive Human rights training, this creates a gap between what they perceive and what ought to be perceived regarding various societal norms. The prejudice towards various castes is deep imbibed in the society but when a police officer becomes a part of the Police Department it is important that such prejudices are met with proper training, which is caste-sensitization so that it does not affect its functioning.
- Before appointment, it is important to understand their perceptions regarding juvenile delinquency and incidents of mob lynching. This is because most of the cases of police brutality highlight religious discrimination or racism as the core reasons.
- Appointing Psychologists to analyze the main reason why Police Officers act so brutally towards innocent people.
- Allowing the National Human Rights Commission to independently conduct investigations of such acts so that remedies could be sought and officer could be held liable It is to be noted that even though reliefs are sought under the NHRC, these reliefs are not binding which makes them less effective. Therefore, the reliefs shall be made binding. Surprise visits to the Police Stations to make sure all the above guidelines are strictly followed.
- Human Rights as a subject should be taught in elementary schools to make it easy for the citizens to understand the gravity of these activities and to understand what is the right thing to do.
(b) Society – It is important that society does not become bystanders of such crimes and take some actions against it. Police brutality is not limited to Police Stations, there are people killed in open spaces in front of spectators. The fact that police officers are praised for such acts because it matches with the perceived notions of society with that of a sect of citizens is detrimental. Human lives and dignity are above and beyond the plane of animal existence. The society should make sure that these officers do not go unattended. There should be more inclusive responsibilities of the citizens of the country to make sure that the laws are obeyed in its full sense. The citizens should also be given opportunities to propose their ideas on how to combat it. Citizens should also educate themselves about Human Rights and its violations as this will help them to identify the wrong and the strength to stand against it.
(c) Judiciary – The Courts have indeed played their part by formulating directions to combat it, outlining guidelines to make sure that Fundamental Rights are not violated, and pronouncing landmark judgements where the acts of police brutality were held violative of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, and made sure that the laws are accepted in its full spirit and any violation is punished .Yet they cannot sit back and let the country become a cesspool of gross human rights violation. Further, these cases should be dealt by Fast Track Courts to make sure that justice is not delayed. It is pertinent that through the inherent powers vested in the courts, it may hold the officers liable for such brutal acts by going above and beyond the realms of law while protecting human rights. The Court should also review the policies and laws covering this sect which are redundant now and make them more inclusive as per the current situation.
(d) Law Enforcement – Their role is to make sure that the guidelines and laws are followed properly. Instances where police officers hide the wrongs of their superior and where they fail to register proper complaints against their colleagues should be discouraged. Further, if there is any deviance observed by any officer, there should be flexibility and freedom given to all the officers to report this to the higher authority without fearing any repercussions. More inclusivity is much needed.
(e) Media – Media is relied on by all the citizens, be it social media or news channel. Therefore, it is very important that they highlight the achievements. Due recognition motivates the officer to do the right thing, the right way. However, this does not mean that the acts of police brutality should not be reported. Along with these incidents, it should also promote civic sense, national spirit, and humanism among the people as well as the police.
The suggestions are not exhaustive, however implementing these could be a great start in combating Police brutality.
The Indian Police plays a vital role in maintaining peace, liberty, justice, equality, and stability in the society. There are no exceptions as to misuse of these Sovereign powers vested in the policemen. Their primary function is to uphold and enforce laws, laws that are made to protect the citizens from any sort of crime and in case
of any violation reprimands the wrongdoer with punishment. These powers must be functioned in a manner that every citizen of India feels safe in their vigilance, rather than being intimidated by their existence in an adverse way. The invisible hands of police must be for health, morals, and safety, and not for brutally letting out frustration and outrage on the suspects based on preconceived ideas.
“Can we prevent such incidents in future?”, Well, to avoid such incidents in future there must be a concept of equality which has to be strengthened in the eyes of these civil servants, to prevent the brutal acts which are born out of racism, religious discrimination, or any other form of social stigma. The Torture behind the bars has to stop. Nobody wants another Faizan to be killed to understand the gravity of these acts. Further, segregation of powers, which is the basic principle of the constitution, has to be recognized because the power to punish the convicts or to hold an accused liable rests with the Judiciary and not with a policeman.
Few measures like introducing criminal psychologists and police counselling in every region are necessary to avoid outrageous brutality in the society. Providing compensation for the torture and loss to the family is the least expected by the State and should be done. However, this nowhere justifies that a human life can be valued in terms of money. Moreover, accountability of the police must be of the primary objective to ensure that policemen are adhering to the standards set under the law. Also, the measures and guidelines given under the landmark judgments must be followed by the policemen that will consequently uphold the dignity of the police department in the eyes of citizens. The police uniform must invoke the perception of strength and justice.
This rise in the episodes of custodial death and torture have started to show up on the feeds again, it is the right time that these do not go unnoticed and are fought against, if not removed from roots at least a substantial decrease is achieved. Therefore, as a member of this society, every citizen, the Government, the Media, the Judiciary, and the law enforcement must join hands together to make this society a safer place to live in.
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