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Gujarat’s guilty cops getting away lightly

Last week’s Gujarat High Court order sentencing four policemen to simple imprisonment of 14 days for flogging five Muslim men in public in Kheda district in October last year is minor punishment for a major crime which is spreading and has assumed serious proportions in the state. There were complaints against 13 policemen but charges were framed against only four.The sentence has been stayed for the accused to file an appeal against the order. The court found the policemen guilty of contempt of court for violating the Supreme Court’s D K Basu guidelines intended to protect arrested or detained persons from mistreatment and violence by the police. The policemen’s action actually went beyond the breach of guidelines that should govern their conduct. It amounted to a serious violation of law and had a communal dimension to it.

The police action took place in the aftermath of an allegedly communal incident in a village in Kheda district. It was alleged that some intruders pelted stones at a crowd during Navratri celebrations. The police rounded up some people, tied them to a pole and flogged them. Flogging is not a punishment prescribed for any crime. The policemen took the law into their hands and beat up the victims. No punishment can be given without following the due process of law and policemen cannot act as judge, jury and executioner. The flogging became all the more wrong and reprehensible because the policemen, who should protect the law, violated it. The police also have no right to make a public spectacle of the punishment to send out a message. The message thus sent out is a wrong message. It is a message of communal prejudice and the readiness of the police to resort to illegalities. The police claimed that their action was intended to avert a communal riot but that argument too had no merit.

The practice of flogging of people in public places is increasing in Gujarat and elsewhere. There was another case of policemen flogging some Muslims in June this year in Junagadh. They were made to stand in front of a dargah and beaten in public, allegedly for being part of a stone-pelting mob. The 2016 flogging of some Dalits for skinning a dead cow in Una district of Gujarat had attracted national attention. A number of such cases have been reported from UP. People who are subjected to such illegal and insulting public punishment are mostly Dalits and Muslims. Such punishments amount to rejection of the rule of law and a return to the prejudices and punishments of the past. A harsher punishment for the guilty policemen is called for.

(Published 24 October 2023, 19:12 IST)

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