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HomeCRIMEInstant justice by Police – an unavoidable evil?

Instant justice by Police – an unavoidable evil?

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One unverified video is being shared on social media in which it is claimed that Gujarat police beat up some Muslims on their bottoms with belts. The caption of the Free Press Journal report reads, ‘Gujarat Police Publicly Flog Muslim Men Involved in Rioting and Arson; Visuals Surface’. It goes on to add “The public flogging of members belonging to the minority community in Gujarat is not an isolated incident. In October 2022, a group of Muslim men who were accused of disrupting a Navratri Garba event in Kheda, Gujarat, were subjected to public flogging, and the incident gained widespread attention after a video of the incident went viral.”

Though it is not confirmed whether the video is related to the Junagadh incident, it is being projected on Twitter as yet another instance of the partisan behaviour of Gujarat police. In this article, I will show that things are not as simple as they seem.

Junagadh Incident

Pic: India Posts

The incident in brief, as described by the district SP Ravi Teja Vasamsetty was that on June 14, the Junagadh Municipal Corporation issued a notice to a dargah near Majevadi Darwaza to produce documents regarding the ownership of land. Agitated over the notice, on Friday (June 17) night, around 500-600 people gathered near the religious structure and blocked roads. DySP Junagadh and other staff present at the site tried to convince them. That did not work and eventually, they attacked the police party shouting slogans and pelting stones. To control the rioting, police had to lob tear gas shells and lathi charge.

Role of Police in maintaining Public Order?

Instant justice by Police – a necessary evil?
File photo

Being a legal expert myself, I cannot support any extra-judicial act of the police, including beating up people. However, with my background of having been a very senior police officer, I must educate people that policing in India is an extremely complex job and prejudiced criticism of the police without proper appreciation of the societal and professional realities and constraints is not just patently unfair but unadulterated chicanery.

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Also Read: Police encounter – a necessary evil?

The criticism by the liberals is much more severe when Muslims happen to be at the receiving end of the police as the real intent is to project the government as anti-Muslim. In such criticisms, they very cleverly conceal what almost invariably precedes that beating. In this case, for example, the rioting, as Economic Times reports, had left one civilian dead (apparently due to stone pelting), one vehicle torched, and one DySP, three SIs and two other ranks wounded.

How should the nation deal with such lawless behaviour by a section of the people and how justice should be done?

Pic: Free Press Journal

Do the liberals mean to say that the Muslims have a ‘right’ to get angry, agitated and violent over whatever grievances they might perceive and, in the process, they have a ‘license’ to indulge in rioting, vandalism, arson, stone pelting and, perhaps, some murders, etc. on the side?

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They give the very same argument when the Muslims indulge in violence on the issue of music played before mosques, even as there are judgments (Manzur Hasan; and Sk. Piru Bux) which clearly held that there cannot be any blanket ban on playing music before the mosques.

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar wrote in his book ‘Pakistan or the Partition of India’ in 1940 itself: “Music may be played before a mosque in all Muslim countries without any objection. Even in Afghanistan, which is not a secularized country, no objection is taken to music before a mosque. But in India, the Musalmans must insist upon its stoppage for no other reason except that the Hindus claim a right to it.”

Do the liberals mean to say that we must become a country where a section of the people has a ‘license’ to be as lawless and commit as many crimes as they wish, but the police must be straitjacketed in the sense that they must not even touch a lawless man with their little fingers and yet, by some unknown magic, be able to maintain public order at all times as mandated in judgments like Ramlila Maidan?

Do the liberals expect that when the police find crimes like rioting, stone pelting, vandalism, arson, stabbings, hackings, mob attacks, looting, firing, use of country-made bombs, molestations or rapes of women, etc. by a riotous mob, they should go up to the criminals and address them, “Extremely sorry to interrupt your pleasure, sir, but this seems to be a crime in progress! May we have the honour of requesting you to kindly desist from it? Would you be so kind as to cooperate with law enforcement and oblige us by accompanying us to the police station, please?” If attacked instead, should the police turn the proverbial other cheek?

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Importance of instant Justice in ensuring deterrence

Every Indian rioter, whether living in metros or in the countryside, knows it very well that, given the long track record of extremely poor rate of convictions in all sorts of cases of riots and mob violence since 1861 AD, they have an excellent chance of getting away scot-free. Then, please enlighten me on how should the State deter them from rioting or committing crimes.

The Indian State or society does not exist or function in any vacuous liberal Utopia. The State exists for the people at large and it is under an obligation to perform in a manner so that people trust the State to be their protector. Otherwise, its very credibility to exist and govern is undermined. If the State is not able to deter people from rioting or punish them after the rioting, such an affront to the ‘Rule of Law’ would make people lose faith in the ‘might’ of the government and its capability to provide security and justice to the people. That would eventually open the floodgates of anarchy, which we cannot tolerate.

The law makes it imperative for the police to prevent crimes, particularly with respect to public order. Deterrence plays an important role in it. The fact is, the socio-cultural conditioning of the people of this country has historically been such that ‘instant justice’ has always had both demonstrative as well as potent deterrent effects. Our traditional systems of the dispensation of justice that served the people admirably for thousands of years were based on the dispensation of instant justice only. It is only the colonial rulers who, to discredit them, supplanted them with a terribly cumbersome system that has left hardly a single person satisfied in 162 years!

Is ‘Prosecute Only’ scenario – a practical solution?

Pic: The Hindu

Do the liberals expect that the role of the police should be limited only to prosecuting the criminals after they have committed their crimes totally unimpeded by any interference from the police?

The liberals do not have the faintest idea that, if prosecution for the pettiest of crimes were to become the norm, the entire criminal justice system including the police and the courts would simply crack irretrievably under the workload. The ignoramuses do not have any knowledge of the tremendous effort it takes to prepare charge sheets. Starting from visiting the place of crime, preparing scene records, collecting material and forensic evidence, identifying witnesses, recording their statements, and writing case diaries, it is so much work that even for a relatively insignificant case, the charge sheet runs easily into hundreds of pages and, in cases like the 2020 Delhi riots, into some 15,000 pages! We simply do not have enough police personnel to do that and courts to process them.

If the liberals’ expectations were to be met, we would have to expand the police and the judiciary several hundreds of times, something the country cannot afford.

Case Study: Rioting in Patna after the murder of Brahmeshwar Singh

In situations, when police decide that they would not act to prevent crimes taking place right in front of their eyes, but watch and maybe make a video recording of the crime so that they may prosecute the criminals with ‘solid evidence’, they are severely criticised for that too.

I cite the “Prakash Singh Committee Report on Role of Officers of Civil Administration and Police during the Jat Reservation Agitation (Feb. 7 – 22, 2016)” submitted to the Government of Haryana. Prakash Singh writes: There have since then been a couple of instances where police showed reluctance in using force in quite a few states.

In Bihar, when Brahmeshwar Singh, the founder of Ranveer Sena was killed, Patna City was held to ransom on 2 June 2012 by his 5,000 supporters, who indulged in acts of hooliganism during the funeral procession. About 50 vehicles were torched and several journalists and policemen were roughed up. The police played a very passive role…It was well known that the political masters did not want any action to be taken against the Ranveer Sena supporters.”

He further informs: “The Director General of Police, Bihar, is said to have suggested at the Annual Conference of Directors General of Police in 2013 that in riot situations, it was better to avoid confrontation with the rioters and that the best option was to videograph the entire sequence of events and, later, after the riots subside, use the photographic evidence to identify and prosecute the rioters.”

Pic The Daily Guardian, Representative Image

Livehindustan also reports that the DGP had claimed that the police had deployed as many as 15 cameramen to collect evidence regarding rioting, vandalism and arson and that bike riders had been identified from the registration numbers of bikes published in newspaper photos. However, I am not able to find any report in the public domain regarding convictions of people charged for rioting on the basis of such video and photo evidence.

The DGP had told The Lallantop in an interview that had the police lathi-charged, they could not have handled the situation thereafter and that he had to choose the lesser of the two evils. The Telegraph reports that in a detailed report submitted to the Governor, the government defended the police strategy to deal with vandalism and claimed that “Had the police acted tough against the vandals, the police action would have triggered a caste war in the state. It was a decision taken by the police according to the situation.”

How should the Police behave?

The professional, legal as well as moral issue is that such a plea of ‘tactful handling’ can be taken by the police anytime to justify their inaction. Who can question their wisdom? Would it be practical to appoint thousands of judicial commissions to question their wisdom? On the contrary, the settled legal position in a catena of judgments (Pancham Lal; Akhilesh Prasad; and Manoj Sharma etc.) is that the officer on the spot would be the best judge of the degree of force which would be required to control a particular situation.

I do not have any problems if the country adopts a system where the police will only try to record evidence of a crime and do nothing else, much less speak of beating up people. However, in that situation, the very same liberals who are livid today over the Junagadh incident, must not criticize the police for inaction or complain when their own properties are vandalized or looted by rioters, men murdered and their women molested or raped (as it had allegedly happened at Murthal during the 2016 agitation in Haryana). They should be happy to wait for the rioters’ cases to be decided by the courts! Incidentally, why did the Muslims in Junagadh not choose to go to the court over that notice, instead of rioting?

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Dr N C Asthana IPS (Retd)
Dr N C Asthana IPS (Retd)
Dr. N. C. Asthana, IPS (Retd) is a former DGP of Kerala and ADG BSF/CRPF. Of the 51 books that he has authored, 20 are on terrorism, counter-terrorism, defense, strategic studies, military science, and internal security, etc. They have been reviewed at very high levels in the world and are regularly cited for authority in the research works at some of the most prestigious professional institutions of the world such as the US Army Command & General Staff College and Frunze Military Academy, Russia. The views expressed are his own.

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