Police brutality is nothing new in the country, but the latest trend of civil service officials menacingly wielding lathis and even assaulting hapless citizens is even more alarming. Be it the collector of Surajpur in Chattisgarh, Ranbir Sharma, who slapped a youth and smashed his mobile phone, or Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) staff who were caught on camera mercilessly assaulting a man who refused to undergo a Covid test, the officialdom seems to be convinced that they can get away with anything. And they have reason to. The guilty are rarely prosecuted, with the maximum punishment they suffer being suspension for a short period. BBMP Commissioner Gaurav Gupta’s response to the highhandedness of his team has been tepid, merely condemning the incident and ordering an inquiry. The accused should have been immediately arrested and terminated from service.
Perhaps influenced by movies and egged on by regional television channels, many officers often try to ape Bollywood heroes and play to the gallery, forgetting their constitutional obligations and limitations. Recently, the district magistrate of West Tripura, Shailesh Kumar, had drawn condemnation after he roughed up guests at a wedding and got some of them arrested. Enforcing the lockdown is the job of the police, and even they are expected to do it humanely. IAS officers and district officials should be more worried about testing, tracking, hospital beds, oxygen and medicine supply for the infected. Even if a situation warrants the intervention of civil officers, they should act strictly in accordance with set procedure and not take the law into their own hands.
Besides the inaction by government on such offenders, what has really emboldened officers is that the human rights commissions (HRC) at the Centre and in many states are in near coma. In every case of brutality, the government should immediately suspend the officers, launch criminal proceedings and later reinstate them in non-executive posts that do not involve public interface until they are evaluated and cleared by a board of psychiatrists. In serious cases, like the one in Chikkamagaluru where an inspector tortured a person and made another accused urinate on his face, summary dismissal should be the order of the day. While HRCs should cease to be mere post-retirement sinecures, the government should adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards inhuman behaviour by its officers. Unfortunately, even after seven decades of Independence, the colonial hangover remains, with many officers assuming that they are masters, rather than servants, of the people. Unless they mend their ways, the day is not far when the public which is fast losing patience may be forced to react and retaliate.