SANCTIONING ABUSE: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN POLOCE BRUTALITY IS WELCOMED BY A DEMOCRATIC MAJORITY?

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Date: Fall 2020
From: Harvard International Review(Vol. 41, Issue 4)
Publisher: Harvard International Relations Council, Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,755 words
Lexile Measure: 1400L

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On June 18 in the Indian southern port town of Thoothukudi, a father and son, P. Jayaraj and J. Bennix, were taken into custody for keeping their mobile phone shop open for 15 minutes beyond the state curfew of 8 p.m. They were brutally assaulted by a group of at least five policemen who beat them with sticks, stripped them naked, and sodomized them with batons. Their friends who were waiting outside said that they saw Bennix and Jayaraj lying in pools of blood. When they were taken to the hospital, the police allegedly pressured the doctors into providing medical certificates, even though the doctor did not believe that they were fit to leave. The District Magistrate remanded them to judicial custody; they died within two days.

Police brutality has captured the world's attention, inspiring demands to end the culture of impunity in a law enforcement machinery that oppresses the most disadvantaged. But the uproar has not been felt evenly. India's police force is known for its brutality towards protestors, lower castes, religious minorities, and the poor. However, it is rarely criticized for these actions and is instead cheered on and hailed as a disciplining force. This year has featured videos of Indian police officers storming into university libraries to attack students with sticks, beating street vendors for violating curfews, and allegedly abetting Hindu mobs that set fire to Muslim neighborhoods in the nation's capital. India has not had a George Floyd moment, which begs the question: what happens when brutality is sanctioned, and even welcomed, by the people?

Apathy or Prejudice?

The lack of public outrage might be ascribed to apathy and the normalization of police violence, but the truth is more complicated. The frequent public support for the violence often comes from the attitude that transgressors need to be "taught a lesson." This sentiment was visible during the crackdown on student protesters against the Citizenship Amendment Act beginning in December 2019--student protestors were labeled Naxalites, Maoists, or, worst of all, "anti-nationals." In recent years, prejudice against student protesters has risen to alarming levels, with the Sedition Law and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act being used to silence campuses and students who challenge the ordinances of the central government. Counter protestors used a slogan popularized by a member of Parliament that said, "Desh ki gaddaron ko, goli maaron saalon ko [Look at these traitors of the nation, shoot the bastards]." Innocent students studying in libraries were beaten by members of the Delhi Police. Students across the country faced arbitrary detention, the use of tear gas, and lathi charges, a police tactic of dispersing crowds with batons made infamous...

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