We, the citizens of this country, seem to follow double standards. We are the same society that burst into celebration when four rape suspects were killed in police encounter in Hyderabad. The nature of that crime is different, but we must not let emotions and mass hysteria affect our moral judgement of the police’s act. Because, moral values pave the way for laws, which in turn gives the power to the police.
We cannot justify extra judicial killing at any cost and under any circumstance. Law should take its own course even in the case of a serial killer because even he should have the opportunity to defend himself if truth is to prevail.
Unverified news in social media about sexual torture only helped to inflate the anger of the public against Sathankulam police. The arrest of the officers, including the station house officer, by the CBCID has, to some extent, met the common man’s hunger for retribution. But the overall effect of the incident on the public psyche will linger for a long time.
As per the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897, the police – who are already vested with unbridled powers – have been empowered by the government to ensure that the public followed the regulations. Any violation is to be punished through Section 188 of IPC (punishment for disobedience of orders duly promulgated by public servant). The government has also imposed Section 144 of CrPC to prohibit the assembly of five or more persons, holding public meetings, carrying firearms, etc.
In the Sathankulam case, the police had invoked other sections of IPC including 269 (negligent act likely to spread infections), 294(e) (uttering obscene words in public place), 253 (assault to deter public servant) and 506(2) (criminal intimidation) against Jayaraj and Bennix. Obviously, the police had to add those sections to justify their brutal assault that caused bleeding injuries.
When the lockdown began in the end of March, videos of police caning people for violating curfew norms were widely circulated. But that time, the officers were praised by many for boldly enforcing the restrictions. It was a mistake; our opinion became their command.
Whether police brutality has been going on since the dawn of time or they are becoming more emboldened to be aggressive due to socio-psychological reasons or due to pressure from the higher authorities, there is no doubt that they routinely and remorselessly follow certain unethical practices.
It is the poor and weaker sections who bear the brunt of this brutality. This has become the culture of the police, one can say. The reason for the repeated episodes of brutality is because of the organisational culture that patronises violence to meet the end of the department’s collective but limited purpose.
The mindless beating to extract confession is tolerated and even encouraged by superiors. Beating suspects in robbery cases is a routine practice, which is done with a certain impunity – five people die in police custody every day in India, and there were 18 custodial deaths in Tamil Nadu in 2019. The sub-inspector who was arrested by the CB-CID reportedly said he beat up the father–son duo like any other suspect in custody, and nothing more.
Had the two deceased been habitual offenders, the police would not have faced this much wrath from the public. Instead, this would have passed off as yet other case of custodial death.
It is thus imperative that the citizens must not endorse unethical practices employed by the police or lynch mob under any circumstances. We should criticise it as a matter of ethics, and we have every right to do so. We should not be selective in supporting or opposing police brutality due to reasons of caste, religion, class, language, financial status, etc. In a civilised society, we, the people, should hold high moral values in so far as violence of any kind is concerned, which will translate into law and good police behaviour. Police torture and custodial violence are to be denounced as the worst scourge of the system and not as an aberration by a selected few in the force, which is not true. In this, the blood of Jayaraj and Bennix is in our hands, too.
Death while in police custody, which is a blot on Tamil Nadu police, could be avoided in the future by reducing the need for employing police to control the public. It can be achieved by seeking the willing cooperation of public through continuous education.
(Adhiban S Babu is a student of Law)