The death toll in the anti-CAA protests across the country has crossed 20. Situation in many parts of the country is tense and governments have imposed section 144 in many places.
While people at most places are fighting for protecting the Idea of India enshrined in the Constitution, reading the preamble and feeling proud of our diverse heritage, the police have been brutal in most of the cases particularly in the BJP-ruled states and Delhi.
There is no doubt that the force used has been excessive and unwarranted. It is doubtful whether the police and administration know how to manage people in 21st century or they suffer from the mindset of 18th century when people, who challenged the government or the power, were brutally repressed through various means.
We hope, the saner people, the judiciary and all those who speak about police reforms will look at the videos of the police actions in different parts of the country and suggest what can be done.
I don’t think we can get away with merely critiquing the police and ignoring those who actually are the real villains. The political leadership of this country has always used police for their political gains. Police officials are at the whims and fancies of the government and hence pressure on them to prove more loyal. They have a duty to uphold the Constitution and not to look upon people who are protesting as anti-nationals or criminals.
But what seems to be happening is that a large number of police officers are 'suffering' from the ruling party's narrative about the opponent and hence we see their aggressive face. When no demonstrations or gatherings are officially allowed then how is Narendra Modi being allowed to hold a big rally in Delhi. A law should be same for all but then expecting police to stop PM's political rally will be asking for too much.
Now look at the nature of police violence. A glimpse can be found in Jamia Milia University as well as in AMU where the police entered the hostels and were accused of firing, a charge the senior officials flatly deny. In Mangalore, we saw videos of police lobbing teargas shells inside a hospital and in Uttar Pradesh we saw videos of police personnel indulged in smashing vehicles.
Even if authorities want to suggest that these videos are not from the authentic sources yet I feel that time has come when all this should be fairly investigated. The DGP UP police has said that police did not fire a single round. Similarly, Delhi police too claimed it did not fire on protesters. If this has not happened then why are so many casualties everywhere particularly in the BJP-ruled states. It needs to be investigated by a sitting judge or a retired judge of the Supreme Court.
The problem is that there seems to be a big divide now. The people who abused police during the 1990 anti-Mandal agitation mostly organised by the savarna Hindus, today feel that police is doing good job to beat up the 'protesters' as they are spreading lies and rumours.
We also saw during Anna's agitation in 2011 that police handled the agitation very well and the slogans were in the air that police have sympathy with it. Why is then that police have been more brutal in its action at the moment. Is it unable to understand the enormity of the protests or is it under tremendous political pressure or is there a deep-rooted prejudice among its officers and jawans against Muslims and Dalits?
Policemen too are human beings and so are the protesters. Both are citizens of this country and have faith in the Constitution. The regular political interference in the work of police has made them look like the armed political worker of the ruling party. This must stop. It is important that police be trained in handling political protests and should not treat political opponents as goons.
Two photographs will haunt all those who believe in democracy. One, the students of Jamia Milia University being forced to come out of their hostel with their hands up and heads down when the police raided it. The second is of Ramchandra Guha being physically pushed by the policemen and taken away during an interview. These are not great signs of a vibrant democracy when police become high-handed in dealing with the peaceful democratic protests.
It is important for all the state governments and political parties to ensure that police be trained in crowed management and treat protests as part of robust democracy though I can say that even among the protests there are many who instigate violence and hence it is essential for all to ensure that the protest remain peaceful. Here the main issue is that when protests are peaceful then why are they not allowed to pass through the heart of the city? Is it because the leaders of the ruling party don’t want the protests to happen in the heart of the city?
Most of the time, this becomes a bone of contention giving the anti-social elements to aggravate the tension and the crisis. There is a dire need that all those who are responsible to maintain peace must be updated on international treaties and covenants of which India is a signatory so that they know that each act of theirs is being observed and watched internationally.
There is no doubt that police have acted very reasonably in the states which are not ruled by the BJP or NDA. It clearly indicates that police highhandedness on protesters is not really the making of their own but of the ruling parties in the states and Centre.
We desperately need police reforms otherwise we will only see chaos and blood on the streets whenever there is mass protest. Will our 'leaders' allow the police and paramilitary to be professionals and not becoming their party cadres. It is time for judiciary to take a call on this and ensure that police become professional so that democracy remains vibrant and no innocent life is lost during any peaceful protest.
(Published on 06th January 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 01)