TW: Police Brutality, Mentions of Sexual Violence
Following the reports of custodial and sexual violence against a father-son duo in Tamil Nadu earlier this week by the police, many have raised the demand for justice for Jayaraj and his son Emmanuel Benicks. The two suffered severe beatings while in custody and had to be rushed to the hospital, where they succumbed to their injuries. This is not an isolated incident. There has been a noticeable rise in police brutality during the COVID-19 crisis in India. A report by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) stated that as much as 12 people have died due to police excesses in only the first five weeks of the lockdown. The police has been especially brutal against migrant workers and essential services providers like vegetable sellers and truck drivers in the wake of the lockdown. Previously, police forces in India have also used excessive force against peaceful protestors and students during the anti-CAA and NRC protests.
1. Custodial and Sexual Violence by the Police
On June 19, father and son Jayaraj and Emmanuel Benicks were picked up by Tamil Nadu police in Thoothukudi for reportedly opening their mobile accessories shop beyond permissible hours. Eyewitnesses report that they both were severely beaten while in custody. They claim that the duo were sexually tortured while in custody and had to be rushed to the hospital because they were bleeding profusely. After receiving their bodies for burial, Benicks’ sister confirmed that the two were brutally beaten.
2. Police Brutality against Migrant Workers
During the lockdown, multiple incidents of police brutality and police ‘punishing’ migrant workers were reported. The workers, who were returning home on foot following a sudden lockdown announcement were brutally beaten up by the police. Nearly 500 workers were lathi-charged in Tamil Nadu. At the Gujarat-Maharashtra border, workers claimed that they were brutally beaten up by the police and forcibly stuffed into container trucks.
3. Police Brutality against Essential Service Providers
During the lockdown, many essential service providers reported being harassed and beaten up by the police. Vegetable sellers in Delhi were beaten up and faced severe monetary loss after police forced them to pack up and leave. Sonu Shah, a pickup driver who was ferrying tomatoes in Patna, had to be hospitalised after being fired at his foot by the police. Shah reportedly refused the policemen a bribe. These were not isolated incidents, and similar reports continued to come up during the lockdown.
It is difficult to address the issue of police brutality in a country where it is cheered on by people and celebrated in pop culture and the media. Statements like ‘Police is a central part of law enforcement, these people deserve to get beaten up’ and ‘If they didn’t want to get beaten up by the police, they should have followed the law’ are regularly used to justify police brutality.
But it is extremely important to understand that excessive force and violence by law enforcement officers is a violation of a person’s civil rights. Instead of ‘teaching’ people a ‘lesson’, the police should follow the due course of justice and rehabilitation. Cheering police violence encourages a system of oppression that is carried out against minorities and people from marginalised castes frequently in our country, which is reflected in the many instances of police brutality against Muslims, Dalit, and Adivasi people in India. ‘Behaving’ or ‘following the law’ doesn’t prevent intentional police violence against the oppressed because of the power that the police possesses. Custodial sexual violence, especially against women, also highlights how this power is abused by the police.