Anti-police protests have gathered across the globe, notably in the U.S. against police brutality and in Nigeria against the notoriously corrupt Special Anti-Robbery Squad. India has a long history of similar police-sanctioned human rights violations, but as of yet there have been comparatively few enduring protests and little change.
On Jun. 26, @Pewiwannadiepiee tweeted: “India is probably the one country where police brutality during lockdown were shared as funny forwards on WhatsApp. Police in this country get away with bare terrorism with next to no consequences. They’re quite literally untouchable #JusticeForJeyarajAndFenix.”
They were referring to one example of police torture that drew some outrage and national attention were the arrests of 58-year-old P. Jeyaraj and his son 31-year-old Benicks for breaking state regulations for lockdown on June 19, 2020. While in custody, both men were allegedly beaten, stripped and sodomized. They died soon after each other on June 22. Such instances of horrendous human rights violations by the Indian police are not rare. An average of five people die in police or judicial custody daily, with 74.4% succumbing to injuries from torture and 19.2% supposedly ‘commiting suicide.’ Because this treatment occurs in custody, it is often euphemized and justified as a method of interrogation. First-degree interrogation is general questioning, second-degree interrogation is physical assault and third-degree interrogation is torture.
“An average of five people die in police or judicial custody daily, with 74.4% succumbing to injuries from torture and 19.2% supposedly ‘commiting suicide.’”
There is evidence of dissent by Indians on social media, so why hasn’t it manifested as grass-roots movements and protests as it did in other countries? I believe that it is because of normalization through a combination of propaganda and fear.
The Indian film industries, especially Bollywood, have massive influence in India, and there are many blockbuster films that glorify police brutality. Notably, the Dabangg trilogy portrays ‘wholesome’ Chulbul Pandey heroically attacking Indian citizens. In fact, Pandey blatantly states the reality of police brutality in India with pride: “Do you know what happens if you beat up a police officer? 21 years jail and more torture. And if the same police officer beats you up, then he gets a promotion along with a medal of honor.”
Exaggerated action films are quite popular in the Bollywood industry, but given the reality of police brutality, action films about the police take on further significance than what is superficially portrayed. These films often justify police brutality as a means to an end. State-sanctioned violence to prevent unlawful violence. The American narrative of a ‘good cop’ refers to those who do not participate in racially-driven police brutality; the Indian narrative of a ‘good cop’ refers to those who play judge and jury to supposedly ensure the nation’s safety.
Given such a twisted definition of a ‘good cop,’ police officers have free reign to use their power as they see fit. This creates an extreme environment and power difference, which, for understanding, can be compared to the Stanford Prison Experiment, which investigated the psychological effects of perceived power. The experiment concluded that extreme behavior stems from extreme systems. Accordingly, the “majority of the victims of police torture belonged to the poor and marginalized sections of the society who are often the soft targets because of their socio-economic status.”
“Given such a twisted definition of a ‘good cop,’ police officers have free reign to use their power as they see fit.”
Police brutality is indeed a means to an end—the end of a peaceful, righteous India. COVID-19 has only given officers an excuse to torture people for minor infractions of curfew and mask regulations. Minority sections of the population are lacking the social capital to speak against the police department without being targeted, and those who are more privileged cannot see the police’s wrongs. How does one revolt against a cultural perpetuation of human rights violations?
Unfortunately, with time. The dissent on social media reflects the beginning of a social consciousness. This cannot immediately reverse Bollywood’s contribution to an apathetic Indian consciousness, but it is a step in the right direction. Shaking off years of propaganda and normalized violence is no easy task, but I have faith in the younger, online generation. Their dissent against normalized police brutality is power.