It is the police, not corona,” chanted an angry mob of Kenyans carrying a dead body and marching towards the police station. The man had been beaten to death on the streets of Mathare, one of the largest slums in Kenya, allegedly by the cops. A BBC documentary on police atrocities in Mathare in the name of imposing a lockdown to contain Covid has gone viral.
Back home, the brutal death of a father-son duo in police custody in Sathankulam, Tamil Nadu, has grabbed international attention. As per complaints received by the NHRC, a total of 15 people died in police custody or by police beating between March 25 and April 30 in India. None of those hit the headlines. It was the sheer triviality of the reason behind the arrest of this duo—for keeping their shop open late—and the alleged brutality inflicted upon them that made the public take notice.
The fact is unlawful detentions, custodial torture and usage of excessive force have globally risen sharply since lockdowns were imposed. From George Floyd in America to Jeyaraj and Beniks in Sathankulam and the violence in Mathare, the use of excessive force by police is clearly visible everywhere. In the Thoothukudi police firing two years ago, cops who opened fire at 13 civilians are yet to be brought to justice.
It’s now evident that no lessons have been learnt in TN. For years, police have been claiming that they counter violence within the force through sensitisation camps. But in a society like ours—where human rights are not taught or practiced in schools and homes—awareness camps for cops are wasted efforts. What is required is an overall social transformation.
Parents using violence to discipline kids must understand that is where everything begins. Movie-makers must put an end to glorifying extra-judicial killings. The judiciary must ensure justice is delivered when such horrific incidents happen. Schools must consider teaching children human rights. Most importantly, the effort must come from within the police force to bring the wrongdoers among them to justice. Until then, perpetrators of violence will continue to walk free.