Protests, Police Brutality and Abuse of Administrative Powers

Trigger Warning: Mention of rape and sexual assault 

The tale of nationwide protests began to pen down its comprehensive chapters since the protests seeking justice for ‘Nirbhaya’ in 2012 took place. The inhuman acts witnessed by the capital of India shook the country’s conscience. The outrage was channeled by means of public protests. People chose different paths, but their aim was one- enforcement of strict and better laws ensuring the safety of women in India. In the end, all this helped in some way to act as a deterrent to people who might indulge in such heinous actions in the future. It is hard to assume that the concerned authorities would have worked so swiftly and attentively if the cries for justice had been restricted only to the victim’s relatives.

The Right to protest peacefully is enshrined in Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India. Article 19(1) (b) assures citizens to assemble peaceably and without arms. From the times of anti-colonial struggle, peaceful protests, dharnas and silent marches are being practiced to raise awareness, structuralize public opinion and express dissent against the authorities in question. Satyagraha and the Civil Disobedience movement are some of the most common examples that will find mention here. By this, people of the country are meant to serve as watchdogs and keep a check on governmental activities, power and accountability. 

I believe governments should take this as the most-valuable, collective feedback, to work on all the departments they are failing to perform well in. Instead of appreciating the acts of these citizens and taking it in a positive way, they feel it to be an insult to their work and integrity. Voices of dissent are called seditious in nature. Anyone who does not support their decision is casually given the title of ‘anti-nationalist.’ The term ‘protests’ is found synonymous to ‘extreme chaos’ in the government’s thesaurus and branded as attempts to besmirch the reputation of the ruling party by the opposition. 

The misuse of administrative powers in the current political scenario serves a firm testimony to the above-stated opinion. The imposition of section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code is no more a way to prohibit an assembly of four or more people. It has become a way to stifle the voices asking for just and fair decisions. It has become a way to suppress dissent and curb the protests. It has become a way to stop the light of truth from reaching every single person who lives in this “democratic” nation. 

Citation of prohibitory orders, without any logical explanations, does not surprise us anymore. It has become common parlance for the administrative authorities. It seems like we are not a part of the system anymore. We are not supposed to have any knowledge about how a particular incident is being handled. According to the officials, we unnecessarily interfere when we ask for information. The system is failing to understand that it is our right to know. There is a need for fetters to be placed on the abuse of administrative discretion practiced by people sitting in a position of power.

Another department which is abusing its discretionary powers is the Police Department. In recent times, cases have come up where people were subjected to torture and cruelty by the police officers, all around the world. Whether it is the case of George Floyd or Jeyaraj and Felix, we have seen worldwide usage of excessive force by the cops. 

The pace at which Police brutality is increasing in India is evident from the Victorian-era’s “The Police Act, 1861” which India follows and where disciplining the police is not regarded as a priority. Many recommendations have been made over the years to make adequate amendments in the act, but no significant outputs have been achieved. As a result, in the period 2010-2019, 935 people died in police custody. Fake encounters are rising in the country behind the shield of ‘instant justice.’ Majority of the policemen believe that it is right to use violence to extract confessions, and there is no harm in adopting a violent attitude towards suspects and criminals. The same attitude and high extent of brutality have led to people succumbing to physical injuries. They fail to realize that the use of unnecessary violence amounts to human rights violation. Even in protests, the strategy of cops has become an aggressive one rather than a defensive one. There is hardly anyone left who is not aware of the extensive use of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stones on peaceful protesters by the police personnel in the last couple of years. 

In Hathras, a 20-year-old Dalit woman was raped by four men and left with severe wounds, including fractures and spinal injury. After struggling for a fortnight, she died in a hospital in Delhi. The administrative officers observed the rising public fury. From that time, they have investigated this matter with a different kind of sincerity. The UP police alleged that there was no rape, but the claim has been questioned by experts who pointed out that the samples were taken 11 days after the incident.

In an attempt to curb open exposure of the whole issue, Hathras was sealed. No person, including journalists and politicians, were allowed to enter the place as it may “incite violence.” The state police cremated the body of the girl without her family’s consent, in the dead of the night, drawing massive criticism. They justified the act by saying that it was done “to avoid large-scale violence” the next morning as informed by intelligence inputs. Such behavior neither seems acceptable to me, nor to plenty of other Indians.

Police forces, from five neighbouring districts, were deployed to control the situation. It is hard to understand how well the authorities used their powers that it led to the pronouncement of suo moto cognizance of this case by the Allahabad High Court (Lucknow Bench) and legal notices were issued mentioning the “inhuman behavior” of Hathras Police.

The prevailing rape culture in India needs to stop now, at any cost. We can’t let a gruesome crime like this to get normalized in our society. The negatively-traditional and orthodox society of our country should understand that there is no fault of the rape survivor in the case of sexual assault. The burden of the blame should be borne on the perpetrators, not the survivors. There shouldn’t be any sympathy for the perpetrators who commit such a heinous act. Voices need to be amplified. Every case should be dealt with utmost sincerity. Strict laws should be implemented and enforced to ensure the safety of all. Consent classes and sex education should be provided to reduce cases of sexual harassment (like it has helped in Kenya, where there has been an average of 51% decrease in the rape incidents.)

Often, questions like these are raised: India has a large population, how can these laws and classes be implemented? How will all this be monitored effectively? How can the thinking of the extreme conservative society be changed?

If we have an efficient administrative system where power is not misused for personal or political gains, it is possible to become a nation where every human being feels safe. Every aspect needs to be administered well not only in theory but on the ground level too. If everything goes well, adequate changes will be visible on a societal level in not much time. It will no longer remain an ideal condition. 

- Prabhav Tripathi