A ‘police state’ is said to be one where citizens experience living, freedom of movement and expression of opinion subject to police monitoring and control. The mineral rich state of Chhattisgarh in India aptly qualifies for this notorious title as the events of the recent past demonstrate.
After its creation in 2000, Chhattisgarh enacted its own police Act in 2007 on the direction of the Supreme Court of India. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), an organization advocating for police reform in the country, considered the new law worse than the previously prevailing 1861 police Act that it replaced due to the poor supervision and accountability provisions under the new law.
Justifying its character, while the police arrested 60,279 persons in 2007 (before the new police Act came into operation), it initiated police action against 7, 39,435 people in 2014 – a twelve times jump. Out of these 1, 44,017 people were served with the bail-able warrant and 81,329 were sent to jail under non-bail able warrant. 4, 88,366 people were made to come to the police station for questioning (National Crime Research Bureau Report, 2008, 2014).
Since 2007, there has been extraordinary rise in the police activity in the state. Consequently Chhattisgarh jails are the most crowded in the country accommodating more than two and half times of prisoners than their capacity.
As against their capacity of 7612 prisoners, the state prisons are accommodating 17671 prisoners (Chhattisgarh government statistics, January 2016). Out of these 57.6 per cent were under trials in October 2013 (National Human Rights Commission, September 2013).
The under-trials are a shame for any constitutional democracy. However, while its own legal aid system remains dysfunctional, the state police have cracked down on Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JLAG)- composed of four lawyers- providing free legal aid to jailed tribal for about three years. The JLAG members were coerced by the police to vacate their rented accommodation in February 2016and leave the city (Indian Express, 19 February 2016).
The article 19 (e) of constitution of India provides for right to reside and work in any part of the country. However, police forced Malini Subramanium, a journalist reporting from the state, to leave like JLAG (Indian Express, 19 February) for reporting on police atrocities against the indigenous people.
Prabhat Singh, a local journalist was arrested for posting a message on social media criticizing a police officer who is in charge of the region (Indian Express, 23 March 2016). Two days ago, another journalist was arrested from outside the local court while waiting to file an anticipatory bail in a seven month old case (Indian Express, 27 March 2016).
Two other journalists are already in jail for not cooperating with the police on various trumped-up charges. 16o journalists and civil society members from across the Country have demanded their release and action against the police officer in charge (The Hoot, 19 November 2015).
The police of the state are accused of one of the worst kind of sexual violence against the women, reminding one of the infamous Maya Tyagi case of Uttar Pradesh in June 1980.
Arrested and tortured by police in 2009, Soni Sori was subjected to the vilest kind of sexual violence in police custody leading to an appeal before the Supreme Court of India. The court was ‘anguished’ to note that as per Soni Sori’s allegation stones were found in her private parts and rectum (The Hindu, 9 December 2013).
It is a disgrace that the police officer who allegedly supervised sexual violence against Soni Sori was awarded President’s gallantry award!
The police demolished a Gandhian organization, Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA) running for about seventeen years alleging that it was built on government land despite the case being before the court (Ramachandra Guha, The Telegraph, 23May 2009).
VCA was engaged in empowering indigenous people imparting vocational skills and legal literacy. It highlighted complicity of the police in torture and rape of local people insisting that a FIR be lodged against the accused.
The police have patronized several organizations such as Nagrik Samaj Manch, Maa Danteswari Adivasi Swabhimani Manch, Vikas Sangharsh Samiti etc. These groups, composed of former SPOs, may be called ‘social mafias’ which are available to police to violently oppose human rights activists from other parts of country when they visit the state to meet the victims of police atrocities. (The Hindu, 8 January 2010, 27 March 2011).
In Chhattisgarh today four players stand out: complicit politicians, plundering corporate, unaccountable police and hapless indigenous people. While police continues its brutalities against vulnerable tribal, it does not want any witness to its oppression. Therefore, it is hounding out every one deemed inconvenient to it without caring for the constitutional freedoms. The Supreme Court of India, as the guardian of Indian constitution, must take suo motu cognizance of the police aberrations and restore constitutional order in the state.
The writer is a Melbourne based human rights researcher and writer. Formerly he campaigned for police reform in India and was the national general secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) @pushkarraaj