Police Atrocities in the Shades of Pandemic

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This article is written by Aryan Pujari a first year student of Amity Law School, Raipur, Chattisgarh.

“Atrocity by police” What, When and How? –

The first question comes to our head is what is an atrocity? An atrocity is the state of being extreme cruel or conducting any cruel act that infringes rights of others. Atrocity by police officials is not something new, there are horrific examples lying in the black letters of history. Talking about its origin the best and one of the oldest police atrocity we can recollect is the “Jallianwala Bagh massacre”. However, by the grace of the Indian Constitution today conditions are not that bad. To be very unfortunate “Jamia Milia Islamia attack” is also counted as one of the recent atrocities by police personals.[1]

Now the question arises how? Any unreasonable mental or physical harassment could be said as atrocity but mostly physical brutalities.

  • Punishment prescribed for breach of government order-

For better understating of the cruelty and misbehavior of the police official lets first throw some light on the prescribed punishments for breach of regulation or reasonable restrictions set put forth by the government. Here are few punishments prescribed by Indian Penal Code,1860-

  • Section 188 mandates a duty on the public to abide by the Government’s orders. (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.)
  • Section 269 deals with a “negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life”.
  • Section 270 deals with a “malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life”.
  • Section 271 punishes violators who “knowingly disobeys any quarantine rule”. (shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.)
  • Provision under Epidemic diseases Act 1897

According to Section 3 of the Act, any person who disobeys an order or regulation made by the government under the Act, shall be punished in accordance with Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”). Section 188, IPC imposes punishment for disobeying an order promulgated by a public servant. Disobedience of an order passed by a public servant and “if such disobedience causes or tends to cause obstruction, annoyance or injury, or risk of obstruction, annoyance or injury”, is punishable with simple imprisonment which may extend up to a month and/or a fine of up to Rs. 200.

However, if this disobedience “causes or tends to cause danger to human life, health or safety, or causes or tends to cause a riot or affray”, it shall be punishable with imprisonment extending up to six months and/or fine up to Rs. 1,000. Pertinently, violation of the regulations passed under the Act due to the outbreak Covid-19 would attract the latter punishment as it would tend to harm human life, health and safety[2].

  • Ground reality of law and order-

Despite of the prescribed punishment, reports shows that there have been instances where police abused its power and harassed people under the hue of the pandemic. Few of the examples are cited below-

  • Sonu Shah was, till a few days ago, among the thousands of essential service providers keeping India going amid an unprecedented, debilitating lockdown of the country. On March 26, he was shot. Local policemen fired at his foot after Shah, a pickup truck driver ferrying potatoes in the northern Indian city of Patna in the state of Bihar, reportedly refused them a bribe. “I was asked to take my vehicle to the police station. They hinted that the issue can be solved by paying Rs5000 ($67),” Shah said, a leading Hindi-language newspaper reported yesterday.[3]
  • In neighboring Uttar Pradesh, cops were forcing people to hop like frogs for simply being seen on the road during the curfew. These were migrant labourers returning to their native villages and towns after the Gwalior city factory that employed them in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh shut down. They were among the millions of poor, jobless Indians on the way back to their homes hundreds of kilometres away—on foot since public and private transport has come to a standstill across India.[4]

The first example cited above shows the noncompliance of government order not by citizen but by police as, Amid the lockdown situation there was an order passed by government so as to allow transaction of “essential commodities”. In the second example a clear picture has been drawn why these migrant labors were returning homes on foot their problem was genuine, which was also recognized by the government as valid as special “Labor Trains” were provided.

  • Atrocities barring transparency –

Through out all this lockdown situation news and media is the only resort for people to watch and understand what’s going on in the country? But even the journalist was hunted down and beaten by the police.

As per the words of “Committee to Protect Journalists” on 23rd around 4 journalists in Delhi and Hyderabad were beaten by the police. As a result of which The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had to publish a statement enriching that “reiterating that journalists are exempt from the lockdown and are free to do their work without any restriction[5].”

  • Poor drafting adding confusion-

It’s not merely that officials are committing atrocities just for fun, there is an authority they are abiding by. There are twists and turns in the government order itself. On one hand clause 15 of the order enumerate as “All enforcing authorities to note that these strict restrictions fundamentally relate to movement of people, but not to that of essential goods.[6] On the other hand people are directed to stay home and not to cross the Lakshman Rekha , also clause 4 of this orders says “district authorities may encourage and facilitate home delivery to minimize the movement of individuals outside their homes.”[7]

This poor drafting prima-facie creates a chaos in the minds as what to do and what not to. Recurrent orders with major changes is a reason for such act as abiding one order makes it legitimate while abiding the next turns it into an atrocity.

  • Suggestions-

Government must promote advertisements about “Right against police atrocities” and these should be in local state languages. This will be highly pursued by locals as all most everyone is watching television with an informative perspective.

Government order must be clear and not vague, prima-facie reflecting its motive. So that the officials could manifest the orders in an efficient way.

References:

[1]AVAILABLE AT< https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cases_of_police_brutality_in_India>

[2] AVAILABLE AT<https://corporate.cyrilamarchandblogs.com/2020/03/epidemic-diseases-act-1897-dusting-an-old-cloak/>

[3] AVAILABLE AT< https://www.amarujala.com/bihar/three-bihar-cops-arrested-for-shooting-at-driver-of-pick-up-van-carrying-potatoes-and-asking-for-bribe>

[4] AVAILABLE AT< https://qz.com/india/1826387/indias-coronavirus-lockdown-brings-police-brutality-to-the-fore/>

[5] AVAILABLE AT< https://cpj.org/2020/03/journalists-assaulted-by-police-amid-coronavirus-l.php>

[6] AVAILABLE AT < https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/Annexure_MHA.pdf> articulated by- N.C. Asthana

[7] AVAILABLE AT < https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/Annexure_MHA.pdf >

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