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CORONA AND THE CRYING COMMUNITIES: ANECDOTE OF HUMAN RIGHTS TRANSGRESSION

A Study on Police Brutality and Religious Discrimination

Introduction

On May 25 of 2020, humanity witnessed the most horrifying incident of police brutality in the USA. George Floyd, a 46-year-old black male was killed when a police officer knelt on his neck for around 9 minutes. As dejected as this act was, it is not an isolated event of police brutality in recent times. There have been continuous reports in India about the unfettered atrocities by police in the name of implementing laws. Images of people getting brutally thumped by the lathis, doctors being thrashed and vegetable vendors being slapped around are becoming a new normal amidst the pandemic. Deliberating upon the legality of police actions, the article highlights the increasing religious tensions in India after the pandemic and role of the media in such a crisis. The word community in the title doesn’t only signify Muslims but addresses all those marginalized groups including migrant workers and Dalits, whose sufferings have notably increased owing to this pandemic.

Laws A Schematic Justification?

This nationwide cessation of activities followed a mandate which was issued by the National Disaster Management Authority. The order asked the concerned states to strictly enforce the lockdown for 21 days, starting from March 25, 2020. For implementing it, the Ministry of Home Affairs laid down some guidelines, which clearly exempted “essential services” from the shutdown. Here, essential services mean shops dealing in day to day fundamentals, like dairy products, groceries, vegetables, or food etc. Regardless, there were continuous incidents of police using force on the people who were out to avail and provide such essential services.

Besides implementing lockdown, there are many cities like Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh that have invoked Section 144 of Criminal Procedure code [“CrPC”] which authorizes the executive magistrate of any territory to issue an order to forbid the assembly of four or more people in a certain area. However, the police have considered this as a free pass to unfurl its brutal activities. As per the provision, the force can only be used to disperse an “unlawful assembly” if the situation authorizes so. Otherwise, the procedure for the violation of this section remains the same as committing any other offence under IPC i.e. Lodging a FIR and then prosecute.

Section 188 of Indian Penal code of India [“IPC”] affixes liability on any person who has the knowledge of the orders by state, disobeys them. However, the violation of this, in any case, doesn’t give the police power to inflict any physical harm to the person. Further, Section 129 of CrPC gives the police officers power to use civil force for dispersing unlawful assemblies, if the command to disperse, made by competent officers, is not obeyed at the first instance. Moreover, where Section 132 of CrPC imparts the provision that the police officer, for any act committed during the dispersion of crowd, can only be prosecuted with the sanction of the state government, Section 197 of CrPC accords them wider immunity concerning acts done in the discharge of their official duty.

None of these provisions call for police brutality as is happening in India during the lockdown. Further, these acts are an overt violation of Article 21 (right to life) of the Indian constitution, which gives the individual right to live with dignity, however, such acts of police brutality defy the rights provided by the constitution.

The use of arbitrary force by police is an explicit violation of basic human rights provided by Article 5 of the UDHR, which asserts that no one shall be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. These incidents not only impede the smooth implementation of this lockdown but also diminishes the credibility of police authorities and catalyzes the unrelenting tensions.

Inordinate Incidents of Police Brutality and Religious Tensions

Unlike these events which involved the active participation of police, Palghar, India witnessed the lynching of Sankaranand Saraswati by a group of mobs, where police acted as a bystander to the crime thereby tacitly consenting to the act. Ensuing this, recently three police officers were dismissed from their services. Though this act cannot be termed as police brutality, it won’t be amiss to name it passive participation of the police.

This is not the first time India has experienced such a spate of brutal acts. Anti-CAA protesters last year faced similar barbaric nature of police authorities. At least 31 protestors died as a result of police brutality during these protests. Most dejected of these acts is the arrest of one such protestor, Safoora Zargar, who was in the third semester of her pregnancy. Although, now the American Bar Association has considered this arrest against international laws.

These acts demonstrate that brutality against protesters had become a normalized act of maintaining peace and order. Ironically, violence is justified to maintain “law and order” which itself is based on the principle of non-violence.

Atrocities by police are not the only acts that have muddled the peace of the nation amid this pandemic. There is a spate of relentless events of religious discrimination that underscore the symbolic separatism in the country. Instances such as driving of Muslim farmers out of their own village, accusing them of willfully spreading the virus (use of #coronajihad on social media), hospitals denying them treatment, another hospital in Gujarat segregating the Muslim patients from regular patients, chasing out of Muslim vegetable vendors from Hindu society, police officers vandalizing the vegetable carts of poor vendors and running over their vegetables by patrolling vehicles, etc. Recently in Bihar, a boy named Mohammad Israil was viciously beaten by a group of people just because he refused to chant “Jai Shree Ram'' (a Hindu religious slogan). Also, in Bengal, upon addressing a group as “corona”, there was a scrimmage between the two groups resulting in great property damage of the area.

These incidents have not only worsened the status quo of communal tensions in the country but are also in violation of substantial international treaties such as Article 2 of ICCPR, Article 1 of UN Charter and Article 5 of ICERD. These all documents underline the fact that all the states must take measures to prevent all kinds of discrimination based on race, sex, colour, language, religion, or national and ethnic group. However, what we are witnessing is very different from what is expected by these documents.

India and Its Meandering Media

Between this stigmatization and mud-slinging of Islam, media is the most potent source of revamping the fitful communal tensions around the country. Considering the contemporary predicament, where most lives are trapped isolated in their house, the deference of media and social media has ballooned. Before the nationwide shutdown, usage of social media was on average 150 minutes per day, but, the first week of lockdown reported a sudden increase from 150 to 280 minutes per day. A survey claims that 75% more people are now using social media compared to the times before lockdown. Being aware of this fact, the media should understand the value of its reporting and try to pay allegiance to their profession.

Antithetically, since the Jamaat fiasco where thousands of Islam followers were found violating the lockdown rules during a religious congregation that took place in Delhi's Nizamuddin Markaz Mosque in early March 2020, media houses have pounded upon Jamaatis and Muslims castigating them for spreading the virus across the country. The situation has worsened to the level where there is a torrent of fake news circulating on various media and social media handles. These news channels reported about Muslims roaming naked, spitting, and defecating in public. These reports were such a sham that official authorities and police departments had to step up for the debunking of these claims and tweets of media houses.

The question of Journalist Arnab Goswami, “During this lockdown, why does every crowd gather only near mosques?”. further bespeaks of the prejudiced mentality of journalism and corroborates the feelings of ‘other’. He was referring to the mass of people who were gathered near a railway station which happened to be near a mosque. Later on, local news channels reported that these troops were there to board a train. Several reports of this kind have been playing on the loop by prime-time media channels. Instead of acknowledging the gravity of the matter and report diligently with neutrality and bias, media has pummeled upon Islam for every corona case in the country.

Pertinently, as per Prasar Bharti (Broadcast corporation of India) Act, 1990, it is the duty of a public broadcaster to safeguard to “present a fair and balanced flow of information including contrasting views without advocating any opinion or ideology of its own”. Apart from this, there are several international documents such as Resolution 59 of the UN General Assembly and Article 19 of UDHR, which consider Freedom of Information and Right to Know as an integral part of the fundamental right of freedom of expression. These instruments assert that freedom of expression implies the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. However, the present media through its bias reporting is infringing the individual's fundamental right to know.

One must understand how such mudslinging and vilification of minorities fortifies the persistent communal tensions in the country. When the Muslims are portrayed as problematic people and tensions between Hindus and Muslims are depicted, as per labeling theory, it is likely that they will act out in a similar manner.

Conclusion

The country is facing the most unprecedented times which demand implementation of extraordinary measures. However, this does not give the government authority to transgress the basic human rights of an individual. Relentless incidents of police brutality and religious discrimination not only question the governance of the authority but also creates an iffy ambiance among the citizens of the country. Further, the media which is considered as the fourth pillar of democracy also corroborates to this unsettling environment by biased reporting and as a result, incidents that started from shenanigans with minorities have now escalated to the level of riots and assaults. These incidents not only question the gaps between the communities but also dilutes the meaning of “We” in the Indian Constitution which reads in its preamble WE THE PEOPLE OF INDIA.


Title Image Source: Geo.tv

This article has been written by Siddhant Dubey and Lokesh Vyas who are students of Institute of Law, Nirma University. They are both interested in Human Rights Law, Commercial Laws and IPR Laws.  


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