After encounters, Assam police hit headlines for ill-treating civilians
The recent incidents of police high-handedness on civilians took place at a time when Assam is witnessing a number of so-called police encounters since May last year following directions by Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to the police to be strict against criminals and even shoot them on their legs if they try to flee from custody.
A few days back a video showing a police officer in civil dress thrashing a teenager with a stick inside a police station in Assam’s Morigaon district went viral across the state. The 14-year-old had allegedly stolen some biscuits from a shop following which the police ‘action’ took place.
As expected, the incident sparked outrage seeking action against the policeman responsible. On March 22, assistant sub-inspector Upen Bordoloi of Lahorighat police station, where the incident happened, was suspended and a departmental inquiry was initiated against him for his behaviour towards a teen.
“The way the child was beaten up in Lahorighat police station is unacceptable. I am hurt to see this gross violation of child rights, despite trying my best to train everyone in child rights,” child rights activist Miguel Das Queah posted on social media after the video went viral.
This incident, which took place on March 9, wasn’t an isolated one. On March 17, a group of policemen had assaulted a man riding a two-wheeler with his wife and child. The man had allegedly violated traffic rules and was coming from the wrong side on a busy road at Paltanbazar in the heart of Guwahati.
Videos of the man’s wife and child falling from the motorcycle while the policemen were hitting him in broad daylight on a busy road soon started circulating on social media and also hit headlines on local news channels. The police top brass responded by suspending traffic constable Fakhruddin Ahmed.
Earlier this month, there was another incident in which a police officer in Guwahati allegedly slapped an executive magistrate when the latter had gone to the Satgaon police station to lodge a case against land brokers.
There have been similar instances in the past, but these recent ones, which happened in quick succession and spread fast across social media, brought into focus how a section of policemen in Assam resort to use of hands and sticks to counter minor crimes and transgressions.
The incidents also forced Assam police to do a rethink on training and counselling policemen on dealing with civilians. Counselling sessions by experts and retired police officers are already underway at several places, senior police officers said.
The sessions also include lessons on soft-skills which train policemen to improve their communication skills, listening skills and show more empathy. Incidentally, Fakhruddin Ahmed, the constable who assaulted the motorcycle rider in Guwahati, had also taken part in these sessions.
“This kind of behaviour towards civilians isn’t acceptable. We are already taking steps to train our personnel on how to deal with civilians in a more humane and civil manner,” Assam Police DGP Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta told journalists recently.
“We need to see why policemen who have undertaken training on soft-skills have failed to implement them in their work. But these recent incidents are exceptions and not the rule. We will take action to ensure that even exceptions don’t happen,” he added.
Besides the recent initiative on improving soft-skills, the state police had also launched a programme in 2019 called Sishu Mitra, a comprehensive child-friendly policing programme run in collaboration with UNICEF and Utsah, a local NGO working for child rights.
The programme is aimed at building capacities of policemen to deal with child-related cases in a sensitive and time-bound manner. Till date over 1000 police officers across Assam have been trained on child rights laws, procedures and counselled for stress-related issues.
The recent incidents of police high-handedness on civilians took place at a time when Assam is witnessing a number of so-called police encounters since May last year following directions by Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to the police to be strict against criminals and even shoot them on their legs if they try to flee from custody or attack policemen.
The Gauhati High Court is at present hearing a petition filed by advocate Arif Jwadder in December last year alleging that 80 incidents of fake encounters had happened in the state since May 2021 and resulted in 28 deaths and left 48 injured. The figure has since crossed to over 30 deaths and nearly 80 injuries in such incidents.
“The free hand given to policemen in Assam to act against criminals, which has led to encounter deaths and injuries, has turned into a bad practice that is now affecting civilians as well. These incidents are violations of fundamental as well as human rights and can’t be tolerated in a democracy,” said human rights activist Dibyajyoti Saikia.
According to the Crime in India, 2020 report prepared by the National Crime Records Bureau, in 2020 a total of 2179 cases against police personnel were registered in Assam. This is the highest figure for any state and almost half of the 4720 cases registered across India against policemen that year.