Policing the Police: Rising Against Brutality

Police brutality is an infringement of civil rights. When performing police duties, when a police officer acts with unnecessary force, this behaviour constitutes atrocity. It is generally believed that the excessive use of force in the current situation is beyond the scope of reasonable law enforcement personnel.[1]

Recently, a FIR has been filed against,[2] two police officers for mercilessly beating a rickshaw on the busy street of the Pardeshipura police station in Indore in broad daylight.

In the viral clip, the two policemen have pinned the man down to the road and are showering kicks and blows on him. At the same time, the rickshaw driver’s son cried and called “Uncleji”, begging him to let his father go. The violence lasted for a long time, and several passers-by observed the busy road.

As the world suffers from COVID-19 and faces a potential increase in the number of coronavirus cases, millions of people are concerned about how they will get basic necessities like food and water. Indians have increased concern and fear of police brutality or arbitrary state violence.


Jeyaraj and his son Bennicks were arrested on the June 19, 2020, during lockdown in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu. The police alleged that they had kept their store open past curfew.  Both men were detained by the police overnight. They died two days later. Their relatives claimed that the police had brutally tortured them.[3]

In 2018, in the same district of Thoothukudi, the police opened fire on a group of protesters and killed 13 citizens. With the help of a human rights organization called “People’s Watch”, a group of lawyers, researchers, academics and activists issued a detailed report,[4] detailing the events that occurred before and after the incident, and recorded the alleged atrocities by the police.

Also, Jamia Millia Islamia students gathered to protest the controversial new Citizenship Amendment Law. The protests turned into violent activities. In one month, there were multiple incidents of excessive use of force by the police against protesters and bystanders. Surveillance video shows police entering the university library and attacking students .[5] Other videos show that the police repeatedly assaulted an unarmed Muslim woman.

These incidents are just the tip of the iceberg, pointing to a larger problem in policing which has been ignored for far too long. Police reform thus becomes a necessity, but except for certain circumstances, Police reforms have always been a “red herring” for the policymakers.[6]


For such serious abuse of power, the government continues to fail to implement an accountability mechanism. A report by consortium of NGO,[7] against the torture in custody shows that in 2019 alone, 1,731 people died in custody, which is equivalent to 5 people die in custody every day. Not only are many figures unreported, but in most cases, the actual cause of death is recorded as death or death under extreme medical conditions.

As per the National Campaign Against Torture (NCAT) 2019 report,[8] It is estimated that at least 5 people die in detention every day. Between January 2019 and December 2019, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India recorded 1,723 deaths of judicial custody and police detainees across the country. There were more than 42,793 cases in 2018.

During the 10-year period to 2019-20, the NHRC has reported, on average, 139 police custody cases and 1,576 judicial custody cases annually. In the eight years to 2019-20, the NHRC has reported more than 1,500 judicial custody deaths each year.[9]

Including custodial violence statistics mentioned above the brutality of police has not even spared innocent lives. The mainstream media appears to have unfairly expressed the issue of police brutality. In our society, police brutality has been unfairly standardized. According to the 2019 India Police Report,[10] three-quarters of police officers believe that police have motives to commit acts of violence against criminals, and four-fifths believe they have motives to use violence to extract extrajudicial confessions from people. accused of crimes.


What is thought-provoking is why in a country where statistics show that detainees have died with a long history, why hasn’t there been a full-scale campaign? Why has the ruthless incident of police brutality in India received such a different response in India? The most worrying thing is whether police violence has normalized. Seemingly so, because in popular culture, Indian movies constantly feature police officers torturing suspects, which seems to exaggerate the brutal behaviour of the police.

The more angry and violent the police officer is, the easier he will accept and stand tall. The representation of the police in popular culture was acclaimed by the public and described police brutality as justice.

In India, the concept of justice itself is violent, people ask public hanging of the accused in search for blood. It is a very common opinion that the police teach criminals a lesson rather than letting them follow the established course of justice and punishment. The widely celebrated,[11] act of Telangana Police shooting dead four people accused in the Hyderabad rape case in December 2019 is a case in point.


The police can be held accountable under the public law, criminal law and also private law. As for public law, liability can be imposed on acts violating the Constitution of India and the Administrative law. The precedence of such liability can be traced back to 1983 in the case of Rahul Sah v. State of Bihar,[12] where the Supreme Court passed an order of compensation for the violation of Art. 21 & Art. 22 of the Indian Constitution,[13] for the offence of illegal detention of the petitioner.

Source: National Campaign against Torture, Report 2019.

In various situations, the Supreme Court of India has recognized the need for reforms and accountability to the police. It also issued guidelines for the police, called the DK Basu guidelines.[14] These guidelines are designed to promote accountability among police officers and ensure that the affected parties have sufficient resources by providing the police with a procedural framework. However, the police rarely enforce these guidelines.[15]

The court also ordered the implementation of the “police reporting authority.” These agencies record complaints against police officers at all levels, states, and regions. However, a report by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative,[16] shows that these reforms have also been resisted.


There is no doubt that the police are overburdened with work, but this does not prove their cruelty to innocent people. During the closure period, certain police officers began to use excessive and unreasonable violence and force against the public. The police officers adopted the law in the name of performing their official duties and began to punish convicts. The cruelty has reached its extreme and many people have been seriously injured and a few have even lost their lives because of police brutality.

Firstly, the need of the hour is to hold the police accountable for their cruel behaviour. It is very important to have the proper training from the beginning of the hiring period. During training, the importance of fundamental freedoms and human rights must be forcibly instilled. Filling vacancies and hiring more staff can be helpful because it reduces the workload.

The normal operation of the police reporting agency can be helpful in monitoring brutal police behaviour. If the authorities work effectively, they can guarantee the punishment of the guilty police.

Even, the law commission of India,[17] on its report ‘Injuries in police custody, suggested for insertion of a new section in India evidence Act, 1872, when a police officer is prosecuted for custodial death, the court may presume that the injuries inflicted on the victim is by the officer under whose custody the victim was present.  Adding this suggestion will be extremely helpful for rendering justice as it would be difficult for the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt as custodial deaths occur where outsiders are not present. Other police officers do not come forward to give evidence against one of their own.

Finally, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative has developed guidelines to curb police brutality.[18] The guidelines are formulated to ensure that the blockade is implemented without violating the rights of the people. The guidelines can be used to reduce harassment by the police. Need of the hour is the proper implementation of prevailing suggestions and policies, only then we will be able to save the innocent lives from police brutality.

[1] Thompson, B. & Lee J, Who Cares If Police Become Violent? Explaining Approval of Police Use of Force Using a National Sample. Sociological Inquiry, 74(3), 381 – 410 (2004).

[2] SCROLL.IN, https://scroll.in/video/991620/caught-on-camera-indore-policemen-brutally-beat-up-auto-rickshaw-driver-for-not-wearing-mask (last visited April 27, 2021).

[3] Aadhyaa Khanna and Chetan Chawla, The Enshrinement of Custodial Violence in India, BAR AND BENCH, (Jul. 17, 2020, 10:40 AM), https://www.barandbench.com/apprentice-lawyer/the-enshrinement-of-custodial-violence-in-india.

[4] The day Tuticorin burned, WORDPRESS, 24-29 (2018), https://peoplesinquest.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/pi-tut-part-i-final.pdf.

[5] Arvind Subramanian, To subject youth to violence only adds to their sense of hopelessness about the future, THE INDIAN EXPRESS, (January 11, 2020, 8:25 AM), https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/citizenship-amendment-act-caa-protests-jamia-milia-jnu-amu-6210499/.

[6] Mihir Desai, Red Herring in Police Reforms, 44 ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY, 8-11 (2009), https://www.epw.in/journal/2009/10/commentary/red-herring-police-reforms.html.

[7] M.P. Nathanael, Reducing custodial deaths, THE HINDU (February 07, 2020, 00:15 AM) https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/reducing-custodial-deaths/article30756407.ece.

[8] India: Annual Report on Torture (2019), http://www.uncat.org/press-release/press-release-india-records-daily-five-deaths-in-custody-uttar-pradesh-tops-deaths-in-police-custody-during-2019/. 

[9] Shreehari Paliath, 5 Deaths in Police/Judicial Custody Every Day Over 10 Years, But Few Convictions, INDIA SPEND, (6 Aug, 2020), https://www.indiaspend.com/5-deaths-in-police-judicial-custody-every-day-over-10-years-but-few-convictions/.

[10] STATUS OF POLICING IN INDIA REPORT (2019), https://www.tatatrusts.org/upload/pdf/state-of-policing-in-india-report-2019.pdf.

[11] Devika Sharma, Telangana HC hears petition against police brutality during lockdown; “surprised” by explanation, seeks full report from police, THE SCC ONLINE BLOG, (June 18, 2020), https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2020/06/18/telangana-hc-hears-petition-against-police-brutality-during-lockdown-seeks-full-report-from-police/.

[12] Rahul Sah v. State of Bihar, (1983) 4 SCC 141.

[13] INDIA CONST., art. 21 & 22.

[14] D.K.Basu v. State of West Bengal, AIR 1997 SC 610.

[15] Vignesh Karthik K.R. and Jeyannathann Karunanithi, Tamil Nadu Custodial Deaths Are a Reminder Not to Miss the Forest for the Trees, THE WIRE, (July 17, 2020), https://thewire.in/rights/tamil-nadu-custodial-deaths-are-a-reminder-not-to-miss-the-forest-for-the-trees.

[16] Police Complaints Authorities Reform Resisted, THE COMMONWEALTH HUMAN RIGHTS INITIATIVE, https://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/publications/police/PoliceComplaintsAuthorities_ReformResisted.pdf.

[17] Injuries in police custody suggested section, 113TH REPORT LAW COMMISSION OF INDIA, 5 (2002) https://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/101-169/Report113.pdf.

[18] Respecting Human Rights while Enforcing the Lockdown: Guidelines for Police, HUMAN RIGHTS INITIATIVE, https://southasiamonitor.org/open-forum/respect-human-rights-while-enforcing-lockdown-guidelines-police-india-chri.

Author: Anchal Kanthed from Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad.

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