Can any violence that takes place in public today go unrecorded? Seems impossible, given the number of videos being exchanged non-stop on WhatsApp groups. One would expect that once this violence is out there in the public eye, the perpetrators would have to be punished. But that’s not happening.
Five years back, Maharashtra’s Dhule witnessed communal riots that left six persons dead in police firing, all of them Muslim. The usual allegations of police targeting Muslims were made, and would have been dismissed by the government and the police top brass, had the police not been caught in the act.
Videos surfaced showing the police aiming directly at the stone-throwing crowd instead of below the knees; of standing by while Muslim properties were burnt; and of smashing closed stalls and motorbikes belonging to Muslims on a deserted street. These had obviously been shot by Dhule’s residents from their mobile phones.The videos were accessed by a leading newspaper which described them in detail and also uploaded them on their website. This irrefutable evidence led to the suspension of two constables and the arrest of six.
These constables were charged with theft and damaging property. Have their cases come to trial? What happened to them thereafter is not known. The government set up a judicial commission, which is always a signal for the police to wind up all action till the commission report is out. In this case, the report by retired Justice K U Chandiwal of the Bombay High Court, submitted in October 2016, was never made public by the BJP-Shiv Sena government, despite repeated requests by the parents of those killed in the police firing.
Now, another video has gone viral and been aired by many news channels. It is uncannily similar to the Dhule video. The same visual of men in uniform walking alongside rioters armed with long rods. The same coarse shouts in the background. This video shows the rioters smashing cars and then setting them on fire. These are supposed to be scenes from the May 11 Aurangabad riot that left two dead, one in police firing, the other in mob violence. An assistant commissioner of police and two other policemen were also left seriously injured. The police have set up a Special Investigative Team (SIT) to probe the riots, including the video.
Destroying others’ property is an offence under the IPC. Standing by while this offence is committed is complicity in a criminal act. And “intentionally aiding, by any act or illegal omission, the doing of (a) thing”, is called abetment, also an offence under the IPC.If the Aurangabad video is genuine, the city’s police seem to have committed the latter two offences.
But whether they did so will be established by none other than their own force, albeit their seniors. Policemen who are investigated by their peers get exonerated more often than not. And, if their peers do indict them, once the matter reaches court, those policemen actually involved in execution of the legal process: the ones who must bring documents to court, execute summons, and trace out witnesses, know a hundred different ways of ensuring that even charges of murder against their colleagues eventually become meaningless.
So, how do victims of police criminality get their tormentors booked? In Mumbai, the detailed findings of a sitting High Court judge haven’t helped nail even one of the 31 policemen indicted for charges ranging from murder of innocent Muslims, to shielding Hindu rioters, to extreme brutal and communal conduct during the ’92-’93 communal riots following the demolition of the Babri Masjid. In Dhule, video evidence of policemen damaging Muslim properties turned worthless in the hands of a government loath to let the truth come out. Ironically in the first case, the policemen were protected by a government comprising parties that swear by “secularism”.
Will RSS man Devendra Fadnavis’s government save the Aurangabad cops the way they did the Dhule cops and rioters? So far, despite the BJP rule, Maharashtra has not relegated its Muslims to obvious second-class citizenship the way Uttar Pradesh has after Yogi Adityanath’s takeover. This can be said even though imposing a ban on beef and scrapping the Congress-NCP’s ordinance providing 5 per cent reservation for Muslims in education were among this government’s first decisions.
Interestingly, in Aurangabad, among the high profile arrests is a Shiv Sena leader whose name was taken by many witnesses, and a Hindu rioter, son of a deceased policeman, whose acts were caught on camera. No wonder, the Sena has said it does not trust the SIT.So, this government has done what the “secular” Congress-NCP never dared to do: arrest Sena leaders for rioting. This could be the long-standing Sena-BJP rivalry at work. Indeed, some Aurangabad residents cite the tension between the two ruling parties in the city, as one of the reasons for the riot. But what about the police seen in the video? Any chance of them being brought to book?
Past experience tells us that where police are involved, asking the government for justice is a lost cause. The only institution that would respond is the judiciary. Aurangabad’s Muslims would do well to move court with the evidence they possess. An even better move would be for Aurangabad’s Hindus to do so.