Police didn’t botch in Assam, they committed a horrific crime


The horrific video of police shooting in Dholpur, Sipajhar, Assam left the nation stunned in disbelief. The absolutely gratuitous manner in which the police were seen shooting civilians at chest height as if they were practicing target practice was absolutely unprecedented in the country’s history and could possibly put even Jallianwala Bagh’s fire to shame.

A judicial inquiry into the case by a retired High Court judge has been announced for “an investigation into the circumstances leading to the deaths of two civilians and injuries to several others, including police officers in the incident shooting”.

The forensic investigation report would take time and it would still be open to the government to accept the report, reject it, or simply sleep on it. As a former senior police officer, however, I think readers need to understand – from a purely professional perspective – what was so blatantly wrong with Assam’s police approach to the issue of scrutiny. of the crowd in this matter.

Colonial powers and arrogance

For the sake of argument, without getting into the debate over the history and politics of the issue, let’s assume for a moment that the people were indeed illegal encroachments and that the state government had the power to evict them. and that they were protesting against it. . But even though the government had the legal right to kick them out, what gave them the right to kill people in the process?

Governments in this country have consistently treated every public demonstration as a purely police problem, which can only be solved by the use of force.

Driven by this “arrogance of legal power”, as reported by Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty for Thread, the administration began to raze the homes of the “invaders” without giving those who were evicted a site where they could settle. We are told that if a relocation site had been allocated, the residents were prepared to dismantle their homes themselves as they could then reuse the tin sheds and other materials to rebuild their homes on the relocated site. A heartless and arrogant state also denied them this opportunity.

Violation of procedures

As has happened countless times, in this case too, the police and the government invoked the plea of ​​self-defense. In the video of the shooting, the downed man is seen running towards the police with a stick. How can the police shoot him down? Is a man alone with a stick so dangerous that he cannot be controlled by police batons and the only way is to shoot?

Only three conclusions are possible: police batons are unnecessary; the police do not know how to handle them properly; or, they are happy to kill people because they believe they can get away with it.

If, in the opinion of the police, their polycarbonate batons are useless in front of wooden or bamboo sticks, why did the Bureau of Police Research and Development – which claims to modernize the police – not have them? abandoned and found an alternative in so many decades?

If they cannot properly handle their batons, it is a direct consequence of poor training for which again the OPI & D and senior officers are responsible. If the police believe they can get away with a murder, that would mean all of our democracy claims are far-fetched.

Apparently, realizing that they are in a difficult situation, the police have launched the theory that the protesters have sharp weapons. However, no sharp weapons are seen in the video.

Lacking the intellectual capacity to concoct believable lies, senior police officials failed to realize that if the protesters did indeed have sharp weapons, they would necessarily have to be on hand to strike with them and thus constitute a reasonable threat to life. You can’t shoot a man with an agricultural tool like a sickle or a dao just because he would have been seen with a dao, can you? If the absurd logic were accepted, the police would have to slaughter almost every farmer in the country.

Additionally, given that cops across the country are known to trump government medics and force them to manipulate forensic certificates to fit their stories, the judiciary commission must have the cops’ injuries examined. by an independent panel of forensic experts to determine if the wounds are truly compatible with sharp weapons.

If it is still found that they have injuries from sharp weapons, the question would be how they could allow protesters to approach a striking distance in the first place. Almost as a rule, demonstrators must be engaged at a sufficient distance and that is why there is a warning system using portable loudspeakers. If the police did not have loudspeakers, despite a strong possibility of violence given the history of the case, it is criminal negligence.

We are also told that tear gas was used. It’s laughable. They should have known that tear gas is ineffective in an open space because it is dispersed by the wind and diluted very quickly. It only works in confined spaces like narrow alleys. There was no point in using it in the open field. So the argument for using tear gas earlier is professionally untenable and appears more like an afterthought to cover up the shot.

Villagers demonstrate against an eviction campaign in Darrang district, Assam, on September 23, 2021. The campaign was waged to evict people from government land. Photo: PTI

If they apprehended a crowd by the thousands, they should have prepared accordingly. Was their strength sufficient or not? If so, why were they forced to pull so much? Otherwise, liability must be determined and penalties imposed on senior officers.

Self-defense shooting applies when they have not followed the prescribed procedure for dispersing an illegal assembly in accordance with Article 129 CrPC. This means that they were taken by surprise. How is it possible? In addition, the means of self-defense are rather weak as the essential ingredients for this would have to be proven in the light of the Supreme Court ruling in the Darshan Singh case (2010). It seems difficult.

What was the intelligence regarding the perceived threat? Again, if intelligence had information that the protesters were approximately as numerous and could turn violent, why were adequate preparations not made? And, if the intelligence did not indicate anything of this type, it must be regarded as an intelligence failure and the concerned punished.

View from the High Court on the Nandigram shot

The self-defense dismissal plea also means that even for such planned and anticipated action, the police did not take a magistrate with them. Why? This is a serious violation of procedures.

It is not that the mere presence of a magistrate is a panacea for all ills. During Nandigram’s infamous layoffs in 2007, in which at least 14 farmers were killed, people protested against a plan by the West Bengal government to acquire 10,000 acres of land for a special economic zone. The state maintained that the police opened fire in accordance with the regular procedure for obtaining orders from the executive magistrate. The Calcutta District Court, however, ruled that, notwithstanding the magistrate’s order, the police action to open fire was totally unconstitutional and could not be justified by any provision of the law, as normal remedies are available to the State as well as to owners. land for redress of land acquisition grievances. “Such a type of force can only be justified in the event of an armed insurrection or a warlike situation. Innocent farmers and villagers can hardly be placed in the aforementioned category, ”he said.

The High Court was very clear that even under the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Police Act of 1861 and the West Bengal Police Regulations of 1943, indiscriminate dismissals cannot be justified. .

The court declared Rule 155 (b) of the West Bengal Police Rules ultra vires the Constitution of India because the mandate of the clause was to shoot crowds and therefore violated Articles 14 and 21. The court said: “It is difficult to perceive a situation where, in a crowd of thousands of people, an officer would be able to spot targets and identify them for the firing group. The intention of this clause therefore appears to be to crush the demonstration rather than to control or disperse an illegal assembly. This clause, in our opinion, can be easily abused by the officer commanding the armed group. The possibility that many innocent people will be killed on the basis of misidentification, mistaken identity, neglect and outright incapacity cannot be ruled out.

In the case of Assam, this is apparently what happened.

Unprecedented brutality

In the case of Assam, it is enough to listen to the sounds of the repeated shots in the video which was widely shared on social networks. If it’s not indiscriminate fire, what else could it be?

You won’t hear gunshots so quickly even in live videos of counterterrorism operations (such as Umrabad, Srinagar, and Poonch videos) where security forces are being shot from the other side by AK-47 rifles – even there. they shoot sporadically and in a controlled manner.

Some people on social media attributed the brutality to state-permitted Islamophobia and hatred, as the targets were Muslim “immigrants”. At present, however, we do not have the exact and detailed sequence of events, which could suggest the psychological reasons for the unwarranted shootings by the police. In all fairness, we must therefore reserve our judgment on this aspect for the moment.

I am not talking about the disgusting behavior of the photographer by trampling on a dying or dead person because he was a private person and here we are concerned with the police.

Scientifically, it has been established that police officers around the world are known to become more violent or even more vindictive when faced with people they personally dislike or hate for whatever reason. It is very common in the United States.

Lynne Peeples did a comprehensive “What the Police Gunfire Data Say” study on this subject. The conclusion is emphatic – people from ethnic minority groups in the United States are shot at higher rates per population – a black man is 2.5 times more likely than a white man to be killed by police during of his life.

From the video of the incident, it does not appear that the police panicked. The shot seems deliberate. In any case, if they had panicked, it would have reflected badly on their training and therefore on the senior officers of the state.

The police officers concerned must be prosecuted for murder. At the very least, caution would call for disarming them until they prove their composure under stress in elaborate psychological assessments. These “cowardly guns” cannot be allowed to become a threat to public life by carrying guns and the power to shoot.

NC Asthana is a retired IPS officer and former DGP, Kerala. Among his 49 books, the last is State persecution of minorities and disadvantaged people in India. He tweets @NcAsthana.

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