Lathicharge at BHU: Just one more incident in a long line that has inured us to police brutality

If you saw the footage from Banaras Hindu University on India Today news channel around lunchtime on Monday, there would be justification to ask two simple questions: when will the country have a civil society and for how much longer will we have to swallow the fiction that police officers are not violent?

It was sheer violence outside BHU where Prime Minister Narendra Modi was making a speech. Police wielded lathis on demonstrating students in their usual merciless, brutal fashion. It was similar to the manner in which washermen thrash a garment on a flat stone in the dhobi ghats.

You get the picture, surely.

Lathicharge at BHU: Just one more incident in a long line that has inured us to police brutality

Representational image. AFP

The police ought to have known that almost every mobile phone has a camera and the citizen is quite adept in taking videos. Indians, thanks to a high mobile telephony penetration in the country, are not mere selfie experts. This propensity was what made Arvind Kejriwal to use it as a weapon in common man’s hands to ensure entitled service without bribes.

Those who were not at the receiving end of the lathicharge seem to be unconcerned with the video images of policemen running amok when controlling a crowd. They look at these blood curdling images as just one of those things that happens, as long as it doesn't happen to them.

Just Google ‘Indian police lathi charge’ and as many as 4,14,000 links pop up on the computer screen in 0.88 seconds, probably the speed at which the cops can charge into a crowd. A video uploaded on YouTube in 2013, location unspecified, shows two personnel holding down a youth while a third gets on with the job.

In another video, forces are apparently trying to contain an agitated mob; they charge into the mob and swing their canes indiscriminately. One of the policemen is seen hurling a stone back at the mob. Obviously, there is no set protocol for lathicharges.

Scenes of such outrage have played out so often that we are inured to the level of being accepting of this behaviour. In fact, even the the government's video promoting police as saviours of damsels in distress shows a female police officer, in full uniform, bash up the hoodlums, Bollywood style. If they were shown performing their duties civilly, they probably would not fit the larger fiction dramatised on the silver screens. Probably that is why they do no object to such portrayal.

It is a fact that when the police are asked to control a crowd, their job is to contain and not aggravate the prevailing mood, regardless of how violent and provocative the crowd is at that time.

Then isn't this footage on news channels enough for any judge who has watched it to issue a suo motu notice to the police? Surely each state has its human rights commissions which can trigger an action without a formal complaint?

In the second link (which you can watch here), a policeman is seen throwing a stone at the mob: not in self-protection – they clearly had the upper hand - but in a casual way. It is not an uncommon sight. It is not that the force is not appropriately equipped for a lathicharge. A lathi and a policeman, even in these days, are closely linked. They form an unified image of the state on the street.

That’s why the media footage, stronger than the written word in this context, should rouse the conscience of the courts and the human rights commissions and put an end to this type of behaviour. Footage of crowd control methods from other countries should be a good guide. If the argument is the mobs are less civilised here, it only means the policemen should learn better methods, not remain rooted in antiquated ways.

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Updated Date: Feb 23, 2016 21:09:49 IST

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