The Question Of Police Brutality During Lockdown In India

This blog is inscribed by Arunav Bhattacharjya.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a unprecedented global emergency. In this time, states have resorted to extra-ordinary steps in a bid to contain the situation and combat the virus. One such step is the order of a lockdown which was and is still an affirmative step that governments around the world have taken. A nationwide and different state lockdowns has been a common sight in India. The Centre invoked the Epidemic Diseases Act and the National Disaster Management Act to deal with people violating the norms set during the lockdown period. Under the garb of containing the situation, there have been numerous instances of police brutality exercised on innocent people since the nationwide lockdown on 24th March.   

While on one hand, the killing of George Floyd, a black American by an American cop led to severe unrest in the United States of America leading to widespread protests which was not just limited to the United States of America. On the other hand, it led to renewed calls for police reforms in India and overcoming the culture of abuse, custodial deaths and impunity within the police force in the country. The repercussions of the death of George Floyd was not just limited to United States of America, and subjects such as the predicament of rights of a black person and the role of the police force on accounts of excesses of force being centre stage questions in many protests. Racial injustice and police brutality were the driving questions in the various protests that took place around the world which was in solidarity to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests. 

Many such victims of police brutality has been the migrants workers, daily wage earners, street vendors and other working classes. In the month of April, a PIL[1] was filed before the Gauhati High Court by Rahul Sensua, who is an Advocate currently based in Guwahati. In the PIL, he sought the interference of the Judiciary on various accounts of torture and brutality inflicted upon by the police on innocent public in the midst of the nationwide lockdown and the incidents were cited in the petition. The High Court in this matter pronounced that given the facts and circumstances the country have been going through and the lockdown conditions imposed by the State machineries to contain the spread of the virus, the police should not subject innocent citizens to torture and inhumane treatment; given the sensitive and emotionally volatile situation the entire world is battling through. Even though police personnels working in the frontline are subjected to a greater risk of infection from the virus, they should not aggravate such inhumane treatment on the public. 

Many a times, the police forces are called out for its complicit system and shielding the abuses instead of ensuring accountability and transparency. In 2019, National Campaign against torture reported that 125 people died in police custody due to account of torture and other forms of abuses. Internally, the reports state that these deaths are due to underlying health causes or sometimes suicide. In 2017, the National Commission for Human Rights reported that violence in custody has become more of a daily routine

A PIL was filed by Advocate Firdouse Irani in the Bombay High Court, requesting the judicial body to direct the police authorities and intervene against alleged brutality the police force in enforcing lockdown norms. In the plea, he claimed that he and his family were attacked by local police officials outside their residence. In the light of the greater good of the public and the lack of security and safety of the common citizens in the lockdown period, he approached the doors of the court to rightfully intervene in the situation. In a bid to claim action against fallible police officials, the petitioner pointed out numerous complaints of Mumbai residents against alleged acts of police brutality and incidents of such excesses under the guise of enforcement of restrictions. On 17th August, the Bombay High Court said that police brutality during lockdown is just one side of the coin and many people did not follow the norms as set during the lockdown period. The division bench while hearing the matter said that there are ‘black sheep’ everywhere. The counsel for the petitioner argued that even if there are violators of lockdown restrictions, the same cannot give right to assault any person by brute force. ‘Every case cannot be painted with the same brush’, the court cannot decide which cases required force. The police is entrusted with the duty to safeguard the interest of the citizens. And if situation arises, they can use force like lathi. 

[1] THE GAUHATI HIGH COURT Case No. : PIL 25/2020

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