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Police Brutality: A Pandemic perspective

he Coronavirus pandemic has now more or less got the whole world in its clutches and India is no exception to that. India with a population of approximately 1.3 billion was forced to implement a 21-day complete lockdown in the country to contain the spread of the virus. The move was further extended for two weeks after assessing the prevalent conditions.

A week into the shutdown, when the Indian government was rushing against the clock for taking measures for the poor, reports of police brutality against the civilians started flooding the social media platforms. Several videos of commoners violating the norms of the lockdown being punished and beaten blue and black went viral. Notwithstanding the guidelines stated by the Central Government which explicitly allowed the sale of fruits and vegetables and the functioning of print media, policemen in uniform toppled vegetable carts and thrashed journalists in the guise of maintaining law and order.

At the time when the world is in dire need of hope and compassion, these continuous barbaric and gruesome accounts of violence and intolerance by the police force rattle one’s faith in humanity. It thus becomes pertinent to comprehend what legally empowers these cops a freehand to unapologetically continue these inhuman practices which prima facie look as a flagrant violation of human rights. Section 129 of Criminal Procedure Code authorizes law enforcement agencies to employ force to disperse an “unlawful assembly” i.e. assembly of five or more than five persons to maintain Public Order and Tranquility.

On several occasions, the Judiciary has timely intervened and strictly reprimanded police officials for their callous attitude towards human rights and has tried to ensure that these powers are not misused. A High Court in Karam Singh v. Hardayal Singh clearly outlined a certain threshold in the form of three essential pre-requisites which had to be met before the use of such force. Interestingly, in the context of COVID-19, none of them seem to get fulfilled. The cops can be sighted charging lathis on the lone civilians who possessed reasonable reasons to get out for procuring essential commodities to sustain their families. These people are neither found in large groups nor express any intention to disrupt public peace and order. In Anita Thakur & Ors v. State of J&K, the court held that excessive use of force by the police results in gross violation of human rights and human dignity. The Supreme Court in the case of Bhim Singh, Mla vs State Of J & K And Ors. came down heavily on the brazen abuse of power by the police authorities and did not mince words and held “Police Officers who are the custodians of law and order should have the greatest respect for the personal liberty of citizens and should not flout the laws by stooping to such bizarre acts of lawlessness. Custodians of law and order should not become depredators of civil liberties."

A simpler and more apparent outlook can also be pointed out. These savage acts are also against the basic human rights of the citizens enshrined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution which talks about the right to life principle. The apex court in Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India held that the right to life principle is very wide and includes the Right to live with dignity in its ambit. The cops by beating people relentlessly dismantle the very essence of Article 21. The police officials solemnly vow that the implementation of laws is equal for every citizen in the country but on a closer look it seems a façade. Recently, an MLA from the state of Bihar brought his stranded daughter from Kota amid a nationwide lockdown by issuing a special pass from the government. The celebrity or the VIP culture is so deeply embedded in Indian society that it allows people to enjoy certain special privileges whereas letting the lower strata suffer. This somewhere disturbs the crux of Article 14 of the Constitution which talks about the Right to equality. The unbridled power of the cops manifested itself in another form when a Madhya Pradesh police officer tried to shame a lockdown violator through writing words on the forehead of the man.

The UNHRC has also formulated and adopted some basic principles to discourage the use of disproportionate use of force to maintain law and order.

There is an urgent need now to restrict and stop the unnecessary and harsh caning of the citizens which has, in certain cases, led to several deaths in different states. The acute lack of institutionalized training and education coupled with little reverence to human values cause these untoward incidents. Many reports strongly claim that police brutality has devastating mental and physical implications in the longer run. Lockdown violators can also be dealt sternly with a more humane yet rational manner by imposing penalties as has been done in different countries across the globe.


Neelabh is currently a Second Semester Student of B.A.LL.B at Hidayatullah National Law University.

You can contact them at- https://www.linkedin.com/in/neelabh-niket-117309196

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