Understanding police brutality in India

Click Smart: Essential reports to read following the Sattankulam custodial killings

(Representative Image from Pexel)

Welcome back to Rayaan Writer Newsletter!

(My hands were tied and I missed sending a post last week. So big thanks for waiting for this mail)

A fortnight ago, news broke out that father-son traders Jayaraj and Benicks at Sattankulam, Tamilnadu died of mysterious circumstances while in custody. Our nation was left in shock when later reports found that the police had tortured them to death. In this edition for the “Click Smart” section, here’s a compilation of important articles to read to understand the crisis.

  • The Hindu in, "When protectors turn perpetrators", explained in detail the timeline of the murders. If you still don’t know what happened, then this ground report will help you figure out as it covers all aspects of the incident from the time the traders were taken away by cops to the torment they faced at the police station and the legal disputes that followed.

It is worth mentioning that Indians are quick to offer solidarity messages across social media—like for the killing of the black American man George Floyd—but nobody gives a damn to the regular brutality of our own cops.

"The policeman in India is a law unto himself and for him – constable or officer – beating up people without any fear of being held accountable is a routine matter. No superior is going to question him, no politician is going to call him for an explanation and citizens will also take it in their stride. If anything, many Indians may agree with the police, even applaud their initiative," the writer, Sidharth Bhatia, says.

  • Vaishnav Roy, a senior editor at The Hindu in her column, "Learning to bend a knee", began her piece with disturbing statistics.

"Last year, 1,731 people died in police or judicial custody in India, which translates into some five deaths a day. Almost 75% of those who died in police custody had been tortured. The details of the methods used are not pretty to read: nails were hammered into them; chilli powder applied on their private parts; they were branded, stripped, urinated upon; violated with batons and more," she found.

She pointed out that most of us responded to the Sattankulam case because: “And why did the beautiful people of social media, the divas, actors, and chic columnists, get bothered by the deaths of two people whose names they could not pronounce in a city whose existence they had not heard of? Because George Floyd," she wrote.

Soon, media started publishing opinion pieces written by experts who called for reforms of the police department.

  • In an article published by The Diplomat, "Why Can’t India End Police Brutality?", the writer said, "A horrifying case from Tamil Nadu once again demonstrates the lack of accountability for India’s police".

"What happened to Jayaraj and Benicks is only the tip of the iceberg in a country that has a history of such custodial deaths and that offers continued impunity for police officers who callously decimate human dignity. The governments at the center and in the states have failed to implement clear accountability mechanisms that can punish such officers who repeatedly abuse their powers," the writer says.

  • The Observer Research Foundation (ORF) had published an article in 2018, Why India needs urgent police reforms”. The author wrote, “Internal security is very much a prerogative of police and efficient policing is needed in order to tackle threats. But for that, the police system needs to be efficient, effective, and technologically sound.”

Citing data from numerous government authorities such as the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), the writer said, “Existing police system suffers from myriad deficiencies. From problems relating to police organisation, infrastructure and environment to obsolete weaponry and intelligence gathering techniques to shortage of manpower to corruption, police force in the country is not in a good shape.”

"The debate over police misconduct in the United States has captured the attention of people around the world. Surprisingly, this has failed to spark a debate about instances in India of police bias, unfair treatment and brutality, as well as selective persecution of particular communities," Rohan said.

Some also spoke about the need to employ technology to keep police in check.

  • Former CBI Director, RK Raghavan in his op-ed for The Hindu, “No More Sattankulams”, wrote, “India may not be able to put a complete end to police violence, but it can take steps to reduce its incidence”.

Raghavan suggested, “Technology can help a little but its utility cannot be exaggerated. Body cameras, such as the ones used in the U.S. and the U.K., on beat policeman can ensure police restraint. India could experiment with such devices.”

Another interesting recommendation was on data which experts believe may help in controlling police brutality. (While the report was based on America’s police force, the lessons offered are applicable everywhere).

  • Analyzing stats issued by the Philadelphia Police Department, The Harvard Political Review in its report, How Data Can Be Used to Prevent Police Brutality, found: “To make a significant change in ending police brutality and misconduct, there needs to be more effective and transparent use of data.”

Likewise, experts believe that the police recruitment process needs a change and also blamed casteism within our law enforcement agencies as a major concern.

“Corruption and power keep the system going. Police forces are supervised by the political executive—headed by home ministers of respective states. Recruitment and career advancement are directly overseen by political leaders, making the police accountable to the politicians and not the public,” the writer said.

Bam! This marks the end of today’s newsletter.

See you soon! Stay home, stay safe, wash your hands, and spread love.😊❤️

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