On 23 May 2010, police officers, including a woman police constable reportedly tortured and abused a mother and her 12-year-old son in Rajouri Garden Police Outpost in Delhi. It is reported that the officers forced Mala (name changed) to strip naked in front of her minor son and demanded her to have sex with her son. Upon refusal, one of the police officers asked Mala to have sex with him. Mala, a slum dweller from Delhi’s Mayapuri area had gone to the police outpost with her husband to enquire why her two sons were detained at the police station.
The police on 22 May arrested Mala’s two sons, aged 12 and 10, on the accusation that they had stolen Rs. 6000 from a car. The torture and abuse was reportedly to force the 12-year-old boy to confess the crime and return the money. As the result of a complaint lodged by Mala with the help of a local human rights organisation at the office of the Delhi Police Commissioner, Mr. Y. S. Dadwal, suspended from service the Woman Head Constable Amrita Singh and Constables Pramod Kumar and Santosh of Rajouri Garden Police Post. The Assistant Sub Inspector who was in-charge of the outpost was transferred from the outpost.
This incident reported from an Indian police station, does not surprise anyone who understands the Indian caste system and the country’s policing system.
India, the second most populated country in the world, is today facing the challenge of becoming a modern nation, and taking the place it deserves in the community of nations. However, it has two great obstacles in achieving this aim. One is India’s caste system and the other is its policing system.
Caste is the curse of the Indian nation. India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, realised what a tremendous obstacle caste poses to India.
To be a civilization that considers inequality as an ideal is of course the worst obstacle that any nation can have in entering the modern world. There is no other principle, more important to the modern world than the recognition of equality of the people. The principle was agreed upon by India when it agreed on its constitution. However at that moment itself, India’s Dalit leader and father of the country’s constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, pointed out that realising this ideal will be the greatest challenge India will face in the future.
It cannot be said that India has done enough in order to meet this challenge.
The test of what India has done to meet the challenge of living up to the idea it has accepted in terms of democracy are the measures it has taken or not taken in order to make the Indian police a law enforcement system that accepts the principle of equality. No law enforcement agency in a modern democracy could function if it rejects the very notion on which the constitution of the nation is based. However Indian police has not accepted this notion of equality so far.
In fact it has become the instrument with which ancient rules are still maintained in India. It is an instrument with which the poor are suppressed and are prevented from airing their voice to the rest of the nation.
In a democracy the people of the country are allowed to talk to each other. Democracy is based on the principle of discourse. A discourse essentially means the right of all to talk on an equal basis to each other.
India’s poor are prevented from playing this role. They are prevented by enormous use of force in order to prevent them from talking. Police with their fists and their batons and nowadays with guns prevent the people from asserting their voice and talking to the nation on the basis of equality.
Today India is facing an enormous problem of violence. Often it is attributed to those who are called Maoists/Naxalites. However, the root cause of violence in India is India’s own mentalities and deep-rooted systems of operation which refuse to go away. And this violence is expressed best through the Indian police. India’s violence is essentially a hostility that generates through the Indian policing system.
Indian government has declared its desire to deal with the problems of the people on the basis of equality and dealing with conflicts in a manner deserving of a great nation. However Indian government has done little to reform its police. If Indian government stops making empty promises and get down to the business of reforming its police, India will be able to deal with the problems of violence in a completely different manner.
When the ordinary Indian has the right and opportunities to express themselves freely as the constitution promised them, the country will be able to solve its problems by a discourse among its citizens. Preventing this discourse has generated violence.
The country’s Prime Minister and the government he leads should reflect on the Delhi incident cited above that happened in a police outpost in the national capital. The details available about the incident are so horrific that it is hard to imagine that such an incident can happen in any civilisation. However, in India it happens every day because some people are not considered as human beings. When the mentality of country’s law enforcing system is such that some people are seen as cattle and not as human beings, there cannot be peace in that nation.
It is very easy to dismiss this incident as an act of perversion of a few policemen and a policewoman; however, this is not an act of perversion. This is an expression of the normal state of the Indian mind that prevails within Indian police stations. It is this normalcy that is frightening.
If India wants to be a true democracy, and if India wants to be respected among the community of nations, India must deal with its greatest enemy, its own police.
* Basil Fernando is a distinguished human rights lawyer and leads Hong Kong based organisations, the Asian Human Rights Commission and the Asian Legal Resource Centre.