Although the incidents of police brutality during lockdown period in India are not similar to the incident that had happened in the United States , there were numerous incidents where the police were seen torturing innocent people.
The victims of such police actions are mostly migrant workers, daily wage earners, vegetable sellers, street vendors and such other people belonging to the working class.
Thousands of white people were on the streets of Europe and the US recently following the death of George Floyd, an Afro-American man, at Minneapolis in US due to police brutality.
The death, which triggered massive unrest in Minneapolis, leading to a state of peacetime emergency being declared in Minnesota state, later spread to different countries in the west.
Not only the Afro-Americans but the cross sections including the white people took to the streets to demonstrate against the killing of Floyd by white cop.
The protesters compelled the authorities to register second degree murder charge against main accused, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin besides charging three other police officers.
Despite such protests in the United States, the Police as well as the citizens left no stone unturn to uphold the democratic values and set an excellent example for the rest of the globe.
Now the question is, can we expect the Indian majority classes as well as the media will raise similar voices against the police brutality in the country.
The incidents of police brutality in India during the lockdown period may not be similar to the US, but countless incidents where innocent poor people were brutally beaten up.
Ironically, instead of raising voices against such brutalities, the televisions media in Assam went on to portray the police as a savior. Disturbing videos of police brutality on innocent people were widely circulated in social media.
Neither the majority classes of this country nor the so called mainstream media had raised any voice against the atrocities by the police or the paramilitary forces. No one questioned the authorities as to under what law can they assault or use force against people of the state.
On being aggrieved by brutality and the torture inflicted by the Police, during the lockdown period in Assam, Rahul Sensua, a Guwahat-based advocate , filed a PIL before the Gauhati High Court seeking interference of the Judiciary in the matter.
In the petition (Rahul Sensua Vs The State of Assam & Anr, PIL 25/2020), the petitioner while mentioning various incidents of torture during Lockdown, had stated that, the guideline which was published on 24 March by the Ministry of Home Affairs was derived from the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
Clause 17 of the said guideline stated that “any person violating these containment measures will be liable to be proceeded against as per the provision of Section 51 to 60 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, besides Legal action under Section 188 of IPC”.
It may be mentioned that under the Disaster Management Act, the violators are punished with one year imprisonment and a fine.
On the other hand, Assam Government has prepared and effected a regulation (The Assam Covid- 19 Containment Regulation, 2020) under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1987, which also has provisions for the punishment under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code to any person violating the containment measures.
Under the Section 188 IPC, a person is punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one month or with fine which may extend to two hundred rupees or with both and if such disobedience causes or tends to cause danger to human life, health or safety, or causes or tends to cause a riot or affray, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.
On April 22, the Ministry of Law and Justice published Epidemic Disease (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020. In order to protect the healthcare workers combating epidemic diseases this Ordinance criminalized several acts such as attacking the healthcare personal, causing damage to their property or any other loss (Like ejecting from the rented house) as an non-bailable offence.
Contravention of this provision is punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months, but which may extend to seven years and with fine, which shall not be less than one lakh rupees, but which may extend to five lakh rupees.
The Laws, Regulations, Ordinance passed by the Government during lockdown has not given the right to the police to use physical force or to hit any rule violators.
It may be mentioned that the Gauhati High Court in its order said, “We are also of the view that the police people working on frontline are facing possible contamination and infection. Their duties, however, demand that they go close to the public, one of whom might be already infected. We are also conscious of the fact that the police personnel might be working overtime in these conditions.”
The Court further said that abusing people physically and mentally for coming out during lockdown cannot be justified.
Kishor Kumar Kalita is an advocate and columnist based in Guwahti. He can be reached at [email protected]