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HomeCRIMEYeh Mera India: Police and the Common Man #5

Yeh Mera India: Police and the Common Man #5

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Policemen & their favourite weapon – ‘danda’

Do policemen have the right to beat up people?

One of the most characteristic features of the Indian police is their habit of beating up people. Almost anybody in India, irrespective of his station in life, can be at the receiving end of the police ‘danda’. The culture of beating up people is so common that the cops feel free to beat up women, children, aged persons and even handicapped persons! Shockingly, the practice is so deep-rooted that even the people accept it as a matter of fact as if the police have some divine right to beat up people!

The question is – why do policemen In India invariably carry a danda or firearms?

Situations in which the police are authorized to use force

For effecting arrest: Police can use a reasonable amount of force to effect arrest but only when the accused is resisting. Section 46(2) of the CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code) provides “If such person forcibly resists the endeavour to arrest him, or attempts to evade the arrest, such police officer or other people may use all means necessary to effect the arrest.”

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For dispersing unlawful assemblies: The only other situation in which the police can use force is to disperse unlawful assemblies. The powers are described in Sections 129-132 CrPC. Now, what is an unlawful assembly? It is not the sweet will of the police officers that they can declare any gathering of five or more people to be an unlawful assembly. An unlawful assembly has been defined in Section 141 IPC.

In Charan Singh (2004) and Bhanwar Singh (2008), the Supreme Court had held that an assembly of five or more would be called an unlawful assembly if its common object falls within the definition of Section 141 IPC. In Amrika Bai (2019), it was held that mere presence in an unlawful assembly cannot render a person liable unless he was actuated by that common object. In Vinubhai Ranchhodbhai Patel (2009), it was held that the identification of the common object essentially requires an assessment of the state of mind of the members of the unlawful assembly. In Kuldip Yadav (2011), it was held that a clear finding regarding the nature of the common object of the assembly must be given and it must be shown that the object was unlawful.

There is no legal provision, which empowers the police to beat up individuals. They can challan them, but cannot beat them up.  

It should be clear from the above that police cannot beat up individuals under this power.

There is no legal provision, which empowers the police to beat up individuals like say, an auto-rickshaw driver, a fruit vendor, a person arguing in a crowded railway reservation line, a beggar, or for that matter, even a traffic violator. You can challan him, but you cannot beat him up.  

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‘Danda’ and rifle are patently illegal for all other situations

The question is why do Indian police habitually carry a danda and firearms? As you are aware, officers generally carry .38 revolvers or 9mm semiautomatic pistols whereas the constabulary carries all sorts of military rifles ranging from the old.303 Lee-Enfield to 7.62x51mm SLRs (self-loading rifles) to 5.56x45mm INSAS and 7.62x39mm AK-47 rifles.

The answer is that they are being carried for long for the simple reason that carrying them has not been questioned so far. In this article, I am questioning the practice perhaps for the first time in history.

The sticks range from the prescribed 32 inch long sticks of a certain weight in Kerala police to four to six feet or longer bamboo lathis used by constables at will in states like Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and some other states. These states have not prescribed the length and weight of the lathis. Many constables bring the lathis of their own from their villages. As such, there is no uniformity either. Central forces use polycarbonate pipes of exactly one meter in length.

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A heavy bamboo lathi is in fact a lethal weapon and a blow on the head could easily kill a man besides fracturing limbs.

There can be no argument that the police carry the danda and the firearms for self-defence. It cannot be argued that the law and order or crime situation in the country is so bad that even the cops have to be armed all the time. If the situation is so bad, two questions arise.

First, what they have been doing for the past 160 years of their existence and particularly since the past 74 years of independence? Second, if the situation is really that bad, what confidence they can inspire amongst the citizens and what assurance they can give to them regarding protecting them when they themselves are so scared of their own lives?  

The police are afraid that if they do not beat poor people habitually, they would lose authority over the people. Little do they know that respect is earned by good deeds, not by an illegal authority

As we are aware, police can use even lethal force (firing) to disperse unlawful assemblies. The situations that are stipulated above do not present every day, every moment.

In fact, due to this logic only, the British police do not carry firearms habitually. When they need them to deal with say, a violent mob, they are issued the weapons and after the duty, they deposit them back. They had developed this practice in the 19th century itself.

Real reasons for carrying the danda and the firearms

The real reason for the police carrying the danda and the firearms habitually is that they want to perpetually convey a ‘threatening posture’. They always want to be seen as something that threatens the common citizen. They do it with the tacit approval of the State.

There is another reason. The police are afraid that if they do not beat poor people habitually, they would lose authority over the people. Little do they know that respect is earned by good deeds, not by an illegal authority.

Precisely for this reason, even as people are afraid of the police, nobody respects the police.

The police are the ‘coercive arm’ of the State. By permitting the police to carry weapons all the time, the State wants to tell its citizens that they are under the boots of the State and should they squirm, they could be beaten up.

It is thus a relic of the bygone eras. In the medieval and colonial periods, the State had no qualms about beating up the subjects. After all, they were the rulers and the people were the subjects, living on their mercy.

Also Read:

Yeh Mera India: Police and the Common Man #1

Yeh Mera India: Police and the Common Man #2

Yeh Mera India: Police and the Common Man #3

Yeh Mera India: Police and the Common Man #4

Because we were subjects, that’s why the colonial era British police did not introduce the practice of doing away with the habitual carrying of weapons that they had introduced in their own country for their own people.

The situation is, however fundamentally different in the democratic system that we have given to ourselves. In a democracy, people are not subjects; they are partners who elect their representatives.

It is therefore utterly shameful that the independent Indian State has not bothered to do away with such a heinous practice.

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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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