Anti-CAA protests: Here's why the police force is being targetted and demonised

LucknowWritten By: Krishna KumarUpdated: Jan 02, 2020, 02:03 PM IST
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File photo: Photograph:(Reuters)

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Instead of dousing the fire by condemning violence by protesters, some politicians and activists are actively inflaming situation by branding police force as 'barbarians'

Do you suddenly get the feel that our policemen are being projected as deadly brutes straight from the Chengiz Khan army out on a savage act to torment the law-abiding citizens, and that the rampaging rioters and the stone-pelting arsonists, knocking down public utilities and setting vehicles on fire, are nothing but peaceful angels exercising their democratic rights? If yes, blame it on a systematic and consistent anti-police rhetoric coming from those intellectuals, artists and media houses who find immense opportunities in it. They’re the think-tankers behind the violent rioting and they want the arsons and the deaths to continue for longer. No wonder they have raised the bogey of barbarism against the police action and have been crying it out as “shameful” and “deeply distressing”.

Various actors including Parineeti Chopra, Huma Qureshi, Sidharth Malhotra, Konkana Sen Sharma, Manoj Vajpayee, Ayushman Khurana, Riteish Deshmukh, Vickey Kaushal expressed their anger, anguish and protest against the police action at the Jamia University and also at many other places in UP, giving scant respect to facts on record. 

However, the heaviest salvo on the image of police was fired by actor Swara Bhaskar, who during an interview to a TV channel, branded the police to be killers and communally spirited as she said, “They (police) are killing people. Like they are attacking the unarmed on the streets. They are working as rioters with communal spirit. Firing is being done inside the universities (sic).” 

In the leftist echo-chamber, as ever, the sentiment was echoed by others, as the self-styled historian Ramchandra Guha took to the Twitter to condemn, what he called, “The police brutalities and arbitrary detentions in the Uttar Pradesh”. He drew parallels between the police actions in Delhi and UP with that of the London riots of 2011 where, according to him, despite a week of violent protests across the city of London injuring 180 policemen, not a single protester was killed by the police. The obvious slant is that the police in Delhi and UP are an unprofessional bunch of brutes indulged in unwarranted barbarism.

However, what Guha was obviously ignorant of, or hid intentionally in his comparison, is the fact that by the end of the week-long riots (August 4-11, 2011), the London police had unleashed a crackdown against the riots, also known as Tottenham riots, arresting 3000 people out of whom more than 1000 were served with serious criminal charges for 3433 recorded crimes across the city of London. But in India, the police have been very circumspect in resorting to indiscriminate arrests; only those miscreants against whom strong visual and other corroborative evidence are available on record, have been arrested. Second, what he deliberately hides is the fact that the London police was heavily under fire, both from the media and the civil society, for doing nothing and letting the rioters ransack and loot north London for nearly 12 hours, and demanded that police must deploy strong anti-riot methods, like water cannons, baton charges and tear gases. Do such think tankers want a repetition of the Tottenham riots in India with police looking to the other side?

The zeal, spontaneity and outrage shown by such anti-CAA forces, based mostly on a heavily-biased and one-sided description of the protest movements, betray not only a prejudiced approach of their own but also a concerted attempt to tarnish the image of police force with the obvious aim of scoring political goals. None of such critiques have taken the pains to condemn the ugly violence unleashed by the protesters on the streets, despite the awareness that their opinions carry traction with the rioters. As most of the rioters were just copycat vandals who just imitated their peers out of fun without knowing much about the cause of their protests, a strong message against the violence by such thought leaders would have diffused their fun motive.

Instead of dousing the fire by condemning the violence in unequivocal terms, politicians, led by the Congress and the TMC, and the left activists are actively inflaming the situation by branding the police force as 'barbarians' out on 'revenge against citizens'. 

It’s a disturbing phenomenon because such anti-police rhetorics not only go to break the morale of the police forces but also go to boost the morale of those miscreants who take to streets with a criminal intent to unleash a reign of terror on the majority of the citizenry showing scant respect for the rule of law. A state would collapse if it failed to ensure the societal order under threat of violence by mobs.

However, attacking the police and casting aspersions on the security organisations are among the chosen modus operandi of the left and the anti-establishment activists all around the world. In the US, the Democrats and the leftist are constantly targeting the Trump administration over its immigration policy by using rhetorical blasts, such as, 'concentration camps', 'children in cages' and 'Gestapo tactics'. Invoking the spectre of Nazis to attack the nationalist governments in order to put them on the back foot is one of the tested methods of the left.

President Trump had come to power on the popular slogan of 'Giving the power back to police' and that’s what he’s doing; he has made a law that makes assaulting a police officer – even threatening for the same or attempting to do so - a federal crime, as opposed to a state crime. On the other hand, England believes in the concept of 'policing by consent' that means, power of the police comes from the common consent of the people, as opposed to the power of the state, therefore, the legitimate power of policing emanates from adherence to functional transparency by the police force and its singular accountability to the people. India strikes a balance between the two extremes and, despite complex challenges from multiple fronts to law and order India hasn’t given police draconian powers.

However, under the Police Act, 1861, maintaining public order at public places is one of the primary duties of the police force in India. As per section 31 of this Act, it is incumbent upon the police to ensure that at public places people behave in a respectful and rational manner toward others and toward their surroundings. The police are required to maintain the public peace and prevent the commission of nuisance and, in case, such an incidence happens, Section 34 makes it an offence for any person to cause obstruction, inconvenience, annoyance, risk, danger or damage to public property. It mandates the police to ensure that actions of a group of individuals should not impinge on the rights and convenience of any other group. 

Further, in the event of an offence under Section 34 above, an Executive Magistrate or a police officer is empowered under Section 129 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to cause the assembly to disperse from such place to restore public order and peace taking the help of civil or the armed force if so required. In order to prevent the disturbance of public order, the police may arrest an accused under Section 151 of the CrPC. which is a cognizable, non-bailable offence.
No legitimate government can deny the right to protest, which is a fundamental right available to the citizens. Article 19 (1) of the Constitution gives freedom to the Indian citizens to assemble peacefully and without arms as well as the right to come out in procession or hold meetings. However, such a freedom is subject to various limiting provisions under the IPC, the CrPC and the Police Act, 1861 that, in line with the Article 19 (3) of the constitution, impose reasonable restrictions on these freedoms available under Article 19 (1), with the stated aim to ensure public order and peace. 

Thus, the police actions against the violent anti-CAA protesters across the country are legally sound, constitutionally just and ethically valid. 

Indian law enforcement agencies largely conform to the international standards of crowd control principles that emanate from various stipulations, like, The UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, the UN Standard of Minimum Rules and the UN Body of Principles, that collectively set out several important principles and prerequisites for the just performance of law enforcement functions by the police. 

The United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) has compiled its code - called 'Basic Principles - on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials' that is based on the basic principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). According to it, government and law enforcement agencies should develop a range of non-lethal weapons and ammunition that should be carefully evaluated in order to minimise the risk of endangering the lives of people in the crowd.

The Amnesty International has come out with its own guidelines, under the heading ‘10 Basic Human Rights Standards for Law Enforcement Officials’. The Basic Standard No 4 of these standards authorises the use of force by police officers for dispersing violent assemblies, with the stipulation that police may use force “When less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives” and that “no more force should be used than what is absolutely necessary.”

Thus, in objective analysis, police have done what it was supposed to do, and they’ve done it displaying sufficient patience, forbearance and accountability. The December violence and rioting across cities were unprecedented in their reach, intensity and spontaneity, and yet the same was contained promptly just because the police intervened, applying globally prescribed enforcement measures in a timely and proportionate manner. Had the police been any less responsive, it would have led to grave repercussions for the larger citizenry.

None of the police-baiters from the politics, intelligentsia or the Bollywood had a suggestion to offer as to how the riots could have been controlled better and through what alternative means? They had none, because they didn’t want the rioting to ebb out; they wanted more violence, more arson for obvious reasons. 

But, the question remains why the think-tankers are targeting the police and demonising them in such a relentless way?

 The answer is simple. Their real target isn’t the police, rather it’s the government. All such politicians and people who are castigating the police for their actions, have in reality an axe to grind with the present political dispensation and for the same reason, they keep aligning themselves with every single cause that goes to cast a poor light on PM Modi and his government. The police force has become a target for such people because it happens to be the most visible representation of the sovereignty of the state and the most effective arm to enforce a sovereign’s authority. Undermining the police means undermining the authority of the political dispensation wielding that sovereign authority. A direct assault on police accusing them as violators of citizen’s constitutional rights and painting them as agents carrying political ideology of the rulers, help such think-tankers in positioning themselves as champions of democracy and constitutional rights against authoritarian rulers. Undermining the defence forces from time to time or from different platforms is a part of that same larger plan. Such strategy would help these people in undermining the moral authority of the Modi government to govern a deliberative, liberal democracy like India. 

Moreover, pushing the police on the back foot by showing them as usurpers of liberal space of the citizens is immensely beneficial to such people. As such leftist thought leaders remain mostly at daggers drawn with the government and keep violating the laws of the land in the process, they would always like a thoroughly declawed and defanged police force. Toothless police wouldn’t play spoilsport with them and wouldn’t pose a threat to their ideological agenda, many of which are considered 'anti-national' by the present government. The anti-police rhetoric would internationalise the matter that would, in turn, put pressures on the government to reign in the police so that they may go soft on those activists in future. Thus, the present brouhaha around police excesses must be seen as a part of that important strategy.  

The state is the expression of the collective will of the people organised to work for the collective good. Peace and order at public places is one such necessary corollary of the collective good that runs in serious conflict with the actions of few motivated groups that indulge in arsons and riots for meeting their narrow interests. Hence, the collective will of the people must prevail to restore orderliness in society by thoroughly defeating such unruly groups that express themselves through violent means. The think-tankers of the anti-CAA protests demonising the police need to respect this collective will of the people.

(Views expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)