Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Police brutalitiy in democratic India

Indian villagers’ tales of injustice

BBC News, Aug 4, 2009

In the wake of a Human Rights Watch report alleging widespread abuse by Indian police, BBC South Asia Correspondent Damian Grammaticas visits a village where residents say four innocent men were gunned down by officers.
Janaki and baby with pictures of her late husband
Janaki's husband was shot dead by police two years ago

As we enter the village of Khanpurkalla, in Uttar Pradesh, a crowd gathers round.

There is a buzz of expectation and soon more than 100 people are jostling to get close, all wanting us to hear their story.

It is a tale of injustice, grief and neglect. People here believe the police, who are meant to protect them, are guilty of getting away with murder, quite literally.

According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released today, their story is far from unusual. Indian police stand accused of human rights violations including arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and unlawful killings.

The village is reached down a bumpy track. It is home to former gypsies who have settled here, surrounded by lush, green sugar cane fields.

Water buffalo wallow in muddy canals. It is poor and appears tranquil enough, but there is real anger beneath the surface.

'Good man'

A young woman comes forward carrying a child with one hand and a wedding photo in another. Tears flow down Janaki's cheeks as she remembers the events of two years ago.

The picture shows Janaki in her wedding finery and her husband, 18-year-old Ram Darashi, digitally superimposed on a fancy mansion complete with marble and chandeliers.

It is a far cry from their bare cottage but says much about the hopes the young couple had.

Just a few months after the photo was taken Ram Darashi was shot dead with three friends by the police.

"He was a gentle man, a good man," Janaki says. "He was not a criminal like the police say. Now he is gone, I have nothing. I want to kill myself, but I can't because otherwise who will care for my child?"

On her lap, two-year-old Gulshan cries as she talks.

Ram Darashi, she says, had gone with three young men from the village to celebrate his wedding.

Rajender with photograph of his brother
Rajender is still angry over the death of his brother, Jitender

Riding two motorbikes they had gone to the foothills of the Himalayas, where they vanished.

Their bodies turned up in two different locations, all shot dead by police who claimed they were thieves resisting arrest.

Rajender, whose 18-year-old brother Jitender died alongside Ram Darashi, is seething at the injustice.

"When I see Janaki and I see how heartbroken she is, I feel like ending my life too," he says.

"We just roam around in our grief looking for our lost loved ones.

"We should be allowed to kill the police the way they killed our boys, or at least the government should punish them to make an example of them so nobody ever does the same again."

Ram Darashi and Jitender died in the town of Dehradun, while their two friends were killed about 45km (28 miles) miles away in Rishikesh.

Police in Dehradun say Ram Darashi and Jitender were criminals who mugged a woman and stole some jewellery in August 2006.

They say that when officers tried to stop the two men - because they matched the description of the attackers - they opened fire. The police shot back and the two died.

Vinod Kumar, senior superintendent of Dehradun police, moved to the town after the killings.

He told the BBC that the magistrates' report said two guns and ammunition were found on the men, along with three gold chains and some money.

Amateur video shows Indian police beating a suspect

He said an investigation by police from another district found no evidence of wrongdoing by the officers who shot the men and they were given cash rewards for their actions.

But back in their village the families say Ram Darashi and Jitender had never broken the law, and the evidence does not stack up.

The men's motorbike did not match that used in the mugging and when the families tried to lodge a complaint they were threatened and chased away by the police, they say.

Taking shortcuts

The HRW report includes accounts given by police officers in other areas who say they are often under pressure to show results when tackling crime.

One even admitted that he had been ordered to kill a man by his superior.

HRW says traditionally marginalised communities, like the gypsies of Khanpurkala, are "particularly vulnerable to police abuse".

Sankar Sen, a former director of India's National Police Academy, says police are often under great pressure to give results in unreasonably short time.

"Our criminal justice system is not functioning," he says. "There is pressure on the police to adopt shotgun measures, to take shortcuts."

"The moment you take human rights in your hands it is the innocent that suffer. Most complaints come from the poor and downtrodden. Resorting to violence brutalises the police," he added.

Grieving Janaki says she has little hope of justice.

"No, there is nothing we can do," she says ruefully. "The police officers are men with money, we are poor. We can't do anything to stop them. They can do anything they want to us."

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