Police brutality in India is on the rise & Indian judges are fast asleep, says Colin Gonsalves, human rights lawyer

Judges not willing to hold police accountable


July 10, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

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Colin Gonsalves

Colin Gonsalves, founder of Human Rights Law Network

Senior advocate of Supreme Court of India Colin Gonsalves has long fought for justice for common people and taken up human rights violation cases with a vengeance. Founder of Human Rights Law Network, says police brutality has risen unbridled in India due to a nexus between police, executive and the judiciary.

Are you aware of cases where the police have been punished for torture?

Well there have been cases where the cops have been punished but let me say if you ask how extensive is this, then I would say extremely rare, something like less than one case in 1,000 complaints of police torture that the police would be punished. It’s so remote. One main reason is that people are extremely afraid of prosecuting the police, so if you try and go by the statistics of number of complaints against the police, that would not be a reliable indicator at all, because I think that not even one in every 400 police officers indulging in torture would even have a complaint filed against him, leave alone any prosecution or punishment. People don’t prosecute the police at all, in this country.

What’s the reason behind police criminality?

The reason behind police brutality or criminality is that over the decades there is a de facto immunity for the police on the ground. Judges are not willing to hold the policemen accountable, it’s a very rare case where the community is very angry and the society is up in arms that the policemen are punished. So, they have acquired a kind of immunity which makes them believe, and justifiably so, that no one is going to catch them for the crimes that they commit. Even this Tamil Nadu case where the police killed two people in their custody is really no big deal, but it’s just that it has caught the attention of the people and the public is so furious that any judge or senior police official who does not act is going to get into serious trouble. But killing a person in custody is no big deal.

I would say in the country hundreds of people are killed every day in police torture and killings, that are of course disguised. First, they torture a person in custody and just when the person is going to die, they put him in a vehicle and send him to the hospital and say he didn’t die in custody but died in the hospital. The fact that in Tamil Nadu, the policemen beat the two men for two days relentlessly it’s the sign of their immunity. India has become a very barbaric country in terms of police behaviour. It has nothing to do with peace and coexistence and non-violence.

Do you think we can ever see something that happened in the case of George Floyd, in terms of responsible society in India?

You can have something like that in India, you can have a nationwide reaction, but I am skeptical because in India people have gotten used to very high level of forbearance. Our people have been beaten so many times brutally and our Indian judges are fast asleep. Every day in the newspapers you will see a policeman with a lathi brutally beating an elderly woman, a disabled person, children and we have a very well-developed suo moto jurisprudence. A judge doesn’t need a petition to be filed, a judge can see a photograph and punish them and judges are so proud of their public interest litigation jurisprudence and the wide jurisdiction at hand, but you will never see that.

Why is that?

It’s because I think the judges’ consciences have been put to sleep. Judges in India famed for their public interest litigation interventions are actually in the year 2020 fast asleep. And their consciences don’t get stirred by even the most horrific pictures. They come in the newspapers day in and day out. You just have to watch NDTV in the evening and get the pictures of the brutality of the police and no judge is stirred. The famous Indian Judicial conscience is gone. And during the Covid period when people were walking 800 kms back there were umpteen photographs of policemen beating them of violating the curfew. Walking home with INR 5 in their pockets, walking home with blisters on their feet, beaten mercilessly by the police, so why should the police bother about the judiciary when they go about the place killing people. They know the judges are sleeping, so why should they bother?

Have you seen an increase in police brutality?

Huge. Over the last 20 years. You see the judgements of 1980s or 90s, they were lovely judgements. Policemen were somewhat afraid that their photographs come in the papers beating somebody or the news comes of someone being killed, they were somewhat afraid. Today, they just don’t care. They might be shocked that they are being charge sheeted for killing two people and that is also because of a constable who was present there has become a prosecution witness which is very rare. No police person speaks against his own.

Do you think our younger generation and the aware sections of society, they could do something about it and why they are not doing?

See our younger generation is just coming out of this anesthesia of globalisation. They had thought that under globalisation they are going to have a very good life and earn a lot of money, buy a nice house and car and travel abroad. And they now realise with Covid all their dreams have been shattered. That version of globalisation is just a myth. Under globalisation our health systems were completely destroyed and when Covid came, you just couldn’t get into hospitals. So the yuppies who thought they were going to have a grand time and who were in any case so enamored by globalisation that they didn’t identify with the social causes at all. Whether they will wake up fast enough is to be seen. We are the country with the largest number of young people and for them to turn from indifference to great human rights abuse, to concern at least, forget take active stance against it will be now only to be seen. They have no choice. But our middle classes have turned out to be one of the most anaesthesised middle classes in the world. They could walk past a man dying on the road and not turn around to even look. So there is no such thing as the great Indian conscience at all. Our spirituality exists only in the book and only in the sages in the Himalayas and nowhere else in the world. We have become a completely unethical nation and yet we talk about the glory and the civilisation. But the real India is a savage India and we have seen that savagery in things like the killings.

Police brutality in India

During the protest against CAA-NRC, police brutality was widely seen in many parts of India, especially Delhi where police let themselves loose at hapless protestors (MIG photos/Aman Kanojiya)

Do you think with the right wing government in power most of the states have given a carte blanche to the police?

Yes of course. The right wing does not want any prosecution of the police officers at all and the police in return tell the right wing to do whatever they want. If you want to riot, then riot, as it happened in Delhi, the Jamia attacks on the students, the Aligarh Muslim University attacks, the crushing of the peaceful protests against CAA/NRC all over the country. So, they have got a deal. The party in power can go ahead, kill anyone, smash anything, destroy property, fabricate records, implicate innocent people and let go the guilty. Do whatever you like. So why should the police turnaround and prosecute the party. They riot in front of the police and the police will shoot at the victims of these riots. What a barbaric country we have become.

Do you see any glimmer of hope?

No. not at all. There are good judges, but their numbers are dwindling and the numbers of the judges who try and make connections with the executive and be pally with the executive are growing. I don’t see any glimmer of hope at all. This is not a country which has any future for the young people anymore and the children of the well-to-do and the politicians are already leaving in hordes, feathering their nests abroad. But the greatness of India is that the spiritual strength and the mobilisation of spiritual strength to resist also exists side-by-side in this country and there are thousands of people, young and old, who know that they would suffer if they resisted, yet they resist. So that glory of India is still alive and is still somewhere there.



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