A repeat offender was forced to crawl, a thief was made to perform sit-ups, and so were some unruly youngsters breaking traffic norms on Holi. These are just some of the techniques used by the Rajkot police to publically shame lawbreakers.
It is not uncommon to see police parade handcuffed offenders, asking them to beg for forgiveness, making them to do sit-ups or even forcing them to crawl in this laid back city of the Saurashtra peninsula.
This years-old practice of public shaming is called ‘sarbhara’ (treatment).
Observers say the only change the practice has seen over the decades is that public thrashing of criminals has stopped, but the humiliation continues.
At least five ‘sarbharas’ have taken place this year alone.
Some police officers said public shaming was a demand of the people, but the commissioner claimed to have put an end to the practice.
“Rajkot has this tradition. But we have stopped the practice now,” said police commissioner Anupamsingh Gehlot, who took charge in February.
Videos and photographs, however, tell a different story.
“If someone claims he is the gunda (don) of his area, the police must beat and humiliate him in the same area to break his morale,” said retired crime branch police inspector Harisinh Jankant, who is involved in a couple of cases with the human rights commission.
Locals seem to agree.
“It had become unsafe to roam freely in areas such as Chunarwada. Police are justified in their behaviour,” said Ramesh Dhanji, a Rajkot resident.
But the argument that such punishments “break the morale of criminals” does not seem to hold true in every case. Bali Danger, who was wanted in cases involving extortion, firing, blackmailing and threatening, was caught in March 2010 and paraded on the city roads. When released, however, he went back to his criminal ways, and was arrested in a firing case in 2014.
Also, the most dreaded criminals are usually spared the humiliation.
“We wonder why Dawood Ibrahim’s gang members such as Asif Raza Khan, Aftab Ansari and Rahu Anadkat were spared,” said Jitu Ramani, a private firm employee.
“It’s police atrocity and shows the frustration of the force that has failed to keep crime in check,” said Anil Desai, a former public prosecutor who now does private practice for human rights cases.
Desai, who has also fought cases against the Rajkot police, said “barring a couple of commissioners, the practice...has continued”.