The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has pulled up the Home Ministry on the conduct of police personnel during the lockdown on a complaint filed by Ms. Maja Daruwala, a human rights activist and one of the Special Monitors of the Commission.
In her complaint, Ms. Daruwala has stated that during the prevailing lockdown across the country, police personnel are dealing with the people in a very harsh manner.
The Commission has directed the Registry to forward a copy of the complaint to the Home Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, New Delhi to look into the matter and issue suitable guidelines/advisory/Standard Operating Procedures to all the states and UTs, emphasizing that while dealing with the general public, particularly, the people belonging to vulnerable classes of the society, the public servants including police personnel, should behave in a sensible manner, respecting human rights relating to their life, liberty and dignity.
From the Letter Written to the NHRC by Ms. Maja Daruwala
Yesterday, I saw several videos from different parts of the country of police “enforcing” the lockdown. Some were of individuals being checked and others of food lines being disciplined. There was a uniform harshness to all of them: beatings, barking orders, threatening; people being chased even when they were running away just to be beaten if they were criminals. I am sure you have seen the one where a policeman is randomly whacking folks as they go past. I am sure you have seen the one with the old Muslim man being beaten again and again while he tries to escape. There was no crowd there and one does not know why the man was outside.
I appreciate the situation is grave. I understand the police are under great strain and have to put up with terrible odds sometimes. I also read the account of a policeman’s hand being cut off by a sword and that is unforgivable.
My request is that the NHRC provide guidance that will aid the enforcement of the lockdown as well as the public and also guide police. Please do make a widely-publicised statement to say that it is vital for people to listen to authority at this time but that authority must not be violent and abusive.
As you know, the people being beaten and ill-treated are all poor and desperate. Desperate for food, for water, for medical help for their families. They have little or no resources. You know all this so please come to their aid a little. A short letter from you to the state human rights commissions, the chief secretaries and DGs will staunch the violence, if the message goes down the line.
It will also build trust in the police. The police are doing many good things but those that are using this time to be cruel and harsh must be stopped and you are the agency that can make this happen.
The PM, in his speech of some minutes ago, said that the required compliance will be even more strictly observed. I fear that this will be a signal to the police to be even rougher. Our people are generally docile and obedient to authority. Surely, in this time, when they are going through unimaginable deprivation, are afraid, hungry and without recourse, we can ask them to stay off the streets with some degree of compassion and without the usual violence.
I urge you Sirs, to make a public statement that recognises the role of authority but asks it to behave without violence and with empathy.