The evil that comes with power.
Updated: Aug 12, 2020
Tears rolled down my eyes, my head started to hurt and I had experienced jolts of electricity all over my body causing goosebumps as I kept reading the details of the incident that shook the nation with the horrifying nature of the brutality endured by the Late Mr. Jayaraj and Late Mr. Fenix.Their suffering was not inflicted by some psychopathic killers who don’t possess a shred of conscience. The fact is that, such a brutal incident happened in the hands of those people who swore to protect the citizens and uphold law and order. Their crime – allegedly kept their shops open past the curfew which is now debunked by the eye witnesses saying that the police approached them some half hour before the official deadline. The reality – Fenix refused to sell a mobile phone to the cop through EMI because everyone knows cops don’t pay up for their purchases. What the police did to them, it is too traumatizing to even mention.
What is even more daunting is that this incident is not an isolated incident.From the misuse of power vested in them to coercing people into accepting crimes they never committed, from tampering with evidence to fabricating FIRs, the police force in India as well as all over the world left no stone unturned in appalling us with their actions. Some of those whom we trust to protect us are also the ones who are harming us. Be it Jayaraj and Fenix or Satyam Babu (accused of rape and murder of Late Ms. Ayesha Meera, acquitted after serving 8 years in prison) who was coerced into accepting a crime that he never committed or the encounter of the accused in the 2019 Late Ms. Priyanka Reddy’s case, innumerable incidents reflect the boldness with which the law and order upholders are capable of anything.At least one new incident pops up everyday.I have just read another incident where a gang rape survivor and the two activists supporting her were thrown into jail because the lady (victim/survivor) refused to sign the statement without the presence of the activists supporting her reading it.
During the 2019 late Miss. Priyanka Reddy case, the whole nation applauded the actions of the police. The four accused were not given a fair trial at the courts before they were encountered on account of them trying to escape the police custody. Where did the law that said innocent until proven guilty go in this case? Was that the right way to seek justice..?? What if the accused were innocent and could have been acquitted..??
A lot of Indian movies also portray characters of uniformed officers that defy the norms, practice unethical means to get justice and the audience go gaga over those heroes and their acts. Where do we start to put an end to such acts..??
Over the last few months since a lockdown came into place, we have seen numerous instances where the police have acted deviant beyond their call of duty.On a personal note, I wish to recollect an incident I was told about, sometime during the early days of the lockdown. A friend of mine who works as an Assistance Motor Vehicle Inspector was boasting about how she hit some people that day on duty. I asked her why she had to hit them. In one of the cases where she hit three people, she did so because they were triple riding on a bike. I in no way support triple riding or the breaking of curfew. But what is the normal punishment for such an offense..?? A fine? A little lecture on safety of the passengers..?? Either the Traffic Police or Road and Transport Department personnel usually deal with such offenses by collecting a fine and creating an awareness on safety. So, where did my friend get the authority to hit someone..?? When I told her to have a care and not abuse people, the lady was extremely offended. I understand government working hard at keeping the virus spread at bay. I understand the police trying to uphold the curfew strictly.I understand the exhaustion and frustration that the law enforcement is facing. I also understand the fact that people are supposed to be cooperative with the government during such times.In times such as this, both the government and its people are supposed to work in synergy. But how could they abuse people the way they did..? They had no care of the age or the circumstances in which the people were coming out when they were hitting people. Would they impose the same punishment on their loved ones..???
Another point is that the police were not just harassing the civilians but also the essential workers. Two incidents from Hyderabad have been stuck in my mind. One was where a doctor rushing to the hospital after receiving an emergency call was obstructed and abused. The other was where a lady doctor who was going on a night duty call was misbehaved with.
Where are the rules that state physical harm can be inflicted upon the accused…? No, there are no rules that give them authority to inflict cruelty, physical harm, shaming, etc. Four days of being beaten, tortured and sexually assaulted, bleeding through their clothes, denied medical aid, passing away like that was not something Jayaraj and Fenix deserved or anybody else for that matter. Let us say that Jayaraj did violate the lockdown norms by keeping the shop open beyond the permissible timings. What would the punishment for that be..?? Penalty? Imprisonment ?? Who gave the policemen the authority or the right to do what they did to Mr. Jayaraj and Mr. Fenix? Why did the Magistrate not question the detainees and send them to judicial custody..??
In my quest to find answers to questions like these, I was flabbergasted to learn that ‘India: Annual Report on Torture 2019’ has identified 15 trends of torture and impunity which reveal how torture has also become a systemic tool of oppression, extortion and silencing dissent. According to The Wire, the NCAT (National Campaign Against Torture) laments that despite the large number of cases of annually reported incidents of torture, “the Government of India has no intention to ratify the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) or enact a national law against torture despite the Law Commission of India submitting the draft Prevention of Torture Bill, 2017 for enactment.” In its opinion the refusal of the Supreme Court, in its judgment of September 2019, to issue directions to the Centre to enact a national anti-torture law has further emboldened the government to not ratify the UNCAT.
Do you know your rights..?? Why are these rules not helping the victims..??
Article 20(3) of the Indian Constitution provides for the right against self –incrimination which includes right to remain silent and extends even to interrogation during the investigation and also both to the accused and suspect accused equally. Did you know that confessions made to the police are not admissible in courts as evidence..? A person who is arrested has a right to deny what the police claim to be recorded as his statement if such statement was not made or was made under threat.
Article 22(1) of the Constitution states that every arrested person has a right to be informed of the reason for being detained and also a right to hire and consult with a lawyer of their choice.
Here are a few more things that everyone should know.
According to the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr PC) Section 50,
1. Right to be informed of the grounds upon which a person is being arrested
2. Right to bail for any offence that permits bail
3. Right to inform (Cr PC Sec50A) –Every person has a right to inform a person regarding the arrest as soon as he is brought to the police station.
4. Cr PR Sec 54 – Right to medical examination
5. Cr PR Sec 56,57 – The arrested person should be brought to the magistrate within 24 hours of the arrest
Special Rights for Women:
1. Sec.51, Cr PC - A Female can be searched by only another female with strict regard to privacy and decency
2. Female suspects must be kept in a separate lock-up in the police station. They should not be kept where male suspects are detained.
3. Sec.437, CrPC - When a female is arrested for a non-bailable offence, even if the offence is very serious(punishable by death penalty even), the court can release her on bail.
The law seems impeccable on paper but the practice of this seems very different. At least 591 people died in police custody in India between 2010 and 2015, according to official data. According to The Hindu, a total of 1,731 people died in custody in India during 2019, which is almost five such deaths daily. Despite the Supreme Court issuing strict guidelines on how to conduct police work, interrogations and treatment of arrested persons, the police are often seen flouting the arrest procedures, inflict torture and ill treatment.
These things are happening because police enjoy coercive powers. Whereas such coercive powers are essential for maintenance of law and order, it has to be understood that these coercive powers ought to be exercises for the essential purpose which means these powers have to be exercised not for the sake of establishing or enjoying the power. All police are not power struck. But those of them who use power irrationally and excessively make the general public lose confidence in the police system in the long run which is neither good to common man nor good to police system. Civilians have stakes in police system. In this regard I applaud the Black Lives Matter Movement in the USA in which the local citizens took up a stance and stood by the victims. Justice is due for Jayaraj, Fenix and everybody else against whom the police misused their powers. Very commonly, even if an FIR (First Information Report) is filed against the offending officers, in practice they receive no punishment. There are so many pending cases in this regard but never a conviction. The colleagues refuse to testify against coworkers or the police sometimes threaten the victims and their families and prevent them from going forward with their allegations. Even if the National or State Human Rights Boards get involved in it all they do is only to recommend inquiry and compensation but seldom take disciplinary action or prosecution because they are only recommendatory entities.
Citizens have to respond with a sense of responsibility. Always remember that if it happened to them, it may happen to us too. We are just as vulnerable. Citizens need to distinguish between right functions done and wrong procedures. Excesses cannot be appreciated even if the ultimate outcome is what you desire. Thus in Priyanka Reddy case, as much as everybody dearly wanted justice for her gruesome death one cannot end up applauding the out of procedure justice. Applauding Priyanka Reddy type justice without due procedure deprives their moral authority to condemn excessive and brutal actions getting justified in the name of securing civilian discipline.
I am eager to wake up on a day which assures me that Public matters to Police as much as Police matter to General Public. Then I would be rest assured that power only helps me and not destroy me or a fellow being.
Sravya Roy, Mechanical Engineer