Police atrocities

By Kuldip Nayar

AT A Standing Committee meeting on Home Affairs, I asked the Delhi Police chief whether third degree methods, practised since the British days, had been substituted by some humane ways. His reply in writing was: ``Over the years, this trend is on the decline. It has been made clear to the members of the force that third degree methods should not be used. Action is taken as and when any complaint is received''.

The same reply, I am sure, must have been given some years earlier and if a member were to ask the same question some years later, he would have got the same reply. The bureaucracy of any type has a set way of expression. It does not change with the passage of time. Delhi police officialdom is no different. The Chennai, Hyderabad or Calcutta police will give a similar reply if asked about third degree methods. That the police have remained stuck in the same mould and that they have not renounced the dictum spare the rod, spoil the child is not surprising. None in the force, at even the National Police Academy at Hyderabad, has ever seriously tried to find out the reason for it.

Once at a discussion at the Academy, I raised the question: why, during the Emergency, the police had readily become an instrument of tyranny in the hands of the Government? There was an ominous silence. What hurt me was that even the top echelons present at the discussion did not exchange a word at the lunch interval on the question. I was told subsequently that they did not like my accusation.

I concede that political masters make the police work in the most undesirable ways. They have to harass their opponents and they need the police. But why should the force carry out highhanded and arbitrary actions with impunity? Why have even the highest in the force never refused to carry out illegal orders? If they are content to be mere tools and willing to lend themselves to questionable objectives, there will never be a dearth of unscrupulous policemen.

An ordinary person's introduction to a police station begins with the beating. And as the police proceed further they take the suspect or the accused to a torture cell, an integral part of every urban police station. The Red Fort at Delhi has a wing where third degree methods are used. In Srinagar, there are torture cells, called Papa 1, Papa 2 and so on.

For the sake of propaganda, the police have opened human rights cells. It is comical that the cells have been put under the Vigilance Unit - probably the lowest rung in the hierarchy. Why should the Director General of Police himself not head the human rights cell? Human rights violations are a far bigger crime because they maim people not only physically but also psychologically.

Third degree methods are really an extension of police atrocities. The poor, the minorities, the Dalits and the tribal people are the main target. No amount of protests by the voluntary organisations has made any significant difference. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has not been effective either. It has not even sensitised the force which it was supposed to do. The media has played a role in exposing the excesses by the police but has failed to improve the force. Its basic instincts remain the same: mow down even a semblance of challenge to the authority.

A recent instance is that of the beating of reporters by the BSF when they were covering the fallout from blasts in Srinagar itself. Why should the Government think that an apology after inhuman behaviour is adequate? Why should some heads not roll straightaway? The BSF in Kashmir, understandably, is under pressure. But this is the argument I have been hearing from day one of the insurgency. There is a belief that punishment would demoralise the force. The effect would be the other way round. If the Government were to give exemplary punishments to those who indulged in excesses, policemen would learn a lesson. The public too would begin to have faith in the law and order machinery.

Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are the worst examples of police highhandedness. People, poor and backward, are hapless victims. Social tensions in these States have come to prevail because the upper castes use violence against the Dalit workers. The process of social democratisation, which is taking place in the districts, is being retarded. The vested interests are so powerful and rich - for example, the landlords - that the police are on their side. It is profitable for the police to do so.

Take a recent case in Uttar Pradesh. A sub-inspector of the Attarra police station in Banda district committed atrocities upon some of the Dalits at village Aau at the behest of the biggest landlord of that village. He had been defeated in a straight contest for pradhan by a Dalit woman's husband. The landlord was desperate to settle scores. He had the woman and her son beaten. The NHRC inquiry officer report confirmed that police dragged out both from the house. The son was beaten and the Dalit woman abused in foul language. The Commission said in its judgment it agreed with the inquiry officer and that ``the law enforcement authorities cannot take law into their hands and commit atrocities on innocent citizens and get away by mere transfer''. To inculcate discipline, the necessary disciplinary and penal action was warranted. The NHRC directed the authorities to take appropriate disciplinary action in accordance with law and to entrust the case for investigation to the State CID. In response, the police retaliated by registering a false case against a local activist who had pleaded on behalf of the Dalit woman and her son. The Commission passed yet another order that the case against the local activist be transferred to the State CID for investigation.

Even then the police did not give up. They sidelined the case of police atrocities against the Dalit woman and her son. The activist has blamed the District Superintendent of Police. ``If he (the SP) embarks on a campaign to target upright citizens and good institutions for raising their voice against police atrocity, then he has in effect set himself up as a dictator, and we might as well say goodbye to democracy and the rule of law.''

The story of police atrocities against the Adivasis at Mehndikheda village in Bagli tehsil (Dewas), Madhya Pradesh, is worse. Four adivasis were killed in the police firing. A team of the People's Union For Democratic Rights, which went to the village to inquire about the incident, has put the blame on top Government officials. The report says the decision to ``crack down'' that led to the death of four Adivasis in the Mehndikheda firing as well as beating, looting and demolition of houses in the villages of the area was taken at the highest political level. The minutes of the meeting convened by the Chief Secretary clearly state the order to take strict action in the districts of Khandwa, Khargone and Dewas. ``After singling out the villages associated with the Adivasi Morcha Sanghathan'', the report says that action should be taken ``to its logical end''. The logical end is presumably firing, demolition and looting.

In protest against the destruction and looting of the Adivasi houses, the report says, the Adivasi Morcha Sanghathan organised a dharna and blocked the road near Jamasindh village. ``The administration turned a blind eye and rejected any opportunity for talks while continuing raids on the villages on flimsy grounds. Subsequently, a large police party raided Mehndikheda. On hearing of the raid, villagers from the dharna site rushed there. Stone pelting started from both sides, using catapults. The District Forest officer claimed that the Collector gave the order for `effective firing', says the report.

What Amnesty International has said in its latest report beats what even human rights activists in India have said: ``Authorities in India are failing to prevent violence against women and sometimes take an active part in it. These women often suffer a double discrimination on the basis of caste as well as gender.'' It is a serious allegation and it cannot be just brushed away.

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Referred by: Sashi kanth
Published on: May 23, 2001
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