Soon after the shooting last Saturday of Apple executive Vivek Tiwari in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, by two cops who were later dismissed and jailed, some police personnel began a social media campaign in support of the accused. On October 5, many officers across the state sported black ribbons on their uniforms, and others donated funds towards the legal battle of their jailed colleagues.

All of the above actions are in violation of police service rules and constitute a previously unheard of revolt among police ranks.

In attempts to put a lid on the dissent, two officers were hurriedly sacked and three suspended. One other police officer resigned from the service.

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Uttar Pradesh’s police observed a black day in solidarity with colleagues accused in the killing of Apple executive, Vivek Tiwari. Photo: Twitter

On Friday, the Director General of Police (DGP) re-issued a set of guidelines for the social media behavior of cops barring them from “liking or sharing” anything which qualifies as dissent against the government or is deemed political, prejudiced against castes (casteism),  or communalist or sexist in nature.

Just when the DGP sought to control his staff’s online behavior, he was embarrased by a chief judicial magistrate directing him to prosecute 13 police offers for an act of “dacoity” (a Hindu word for armed robbery, usually by gangs) at a washerman’s home.

There is increasing evidence of instances where police are becoming predators to the very commoners they are charged to protect: the death in custody of the father of an Unnao girl allegedly raped by Bharatiya Janata Party MLA; the wrongful detention of a minor in lockup; the shooting and paralyzing of an innocent gym trainer; and excesses carried out by the “anti-Romeo squad” are only a few recent examples.

Sharat Pradhan, senior journalist, remarks, “From extortion to contract killing to fake encounters, Uttar Pradesh cops have been involved in every crime described in the Indian Penal Code. They are (also) excellent in cover-ups.”

Castiesm, communalism and sexism in the police force

Casteism, communalism and sexism come naturally to UP state cops given the socio-political culture of Uttar Pradesh.

Last week, police officers, at the behest of a right-wing group, detained a female medical student in Meerut for befriending a Muslim. Instead of safeguarding the girl, while she was inside a police van a lady cop thrashed and scolded her for “choosing a Muslim man” while other cops filmed the assault which made its way to the social media. While the accused cops were suspended, as yet there have been no arrests of the men of the right-wing group, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, who were named in the first information report (FIR).

Fear of being seen by cops with a person of the other sex or from a different religion is the new normal in India’s most populous state, which has been ruled by the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) since last March.

Mohammad Shoaib, president of Rihai Manch, which fights for the members of minorities falsely implicated in such cases, is extremely critical of the current state of affairs: “UP cops are anti-woman and pursue caste-communal agenda to suit the political narrative. State Police Chief OP Singh and Chief Minister Ajay Singh Bisht (widely known as Yogi Adityanath) want them to save Indian culture at any cost. Hence, they killed Vivek Tiwari for being with a Muslim woman late at night in Lucknow and beat up a Meerut girl for befriending a Muslim boy,”

Shoaib calls the encounter strategy of Yogi government “political” and “Manuvadi” (discriminatory based on caste, gender and ethnic communities).

“Of 67 criminals killed in (police) ‘encounters’, 45 percent belonged to minorities; three-fold compared to their (percentage of the) population. The rest are Dalits or lower castes. Most encounters are fake. In many cases boys were arrested days before, slapped with fake charges and later killed,” claims Shoaib who has challenged some of the so-called “encounters” in the courts.

Shoaib’s associate Rajeev Yadav questions, “If encounters are fair, why didn’t they kill rape accused Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Kuldeep Sengar?”

As cops indulge in moral policing and extrajudicial murders, their core job performance suffers. Since last March, 67 “criminals” were killed and 600 injured in 1,500-odd encounters, and the stringent National Security Act was imposed against 167 persons. Yet, crimes in the state, including those against women, have gone up compared to the time of the previous regime. Even the number of riots in 2017 rose to 195, compared to 162 and 155 in the previous two years.

From April 2017 to January 2018, over 3,700 rape cases were logged, 760 more than during the same period last year. Molestation cases shot up to 11,000 from 8,150, and cases of sexual harassment and kidnapping of women jumped by 150%.

The data counters the chief minister’s defense of encounters: “The police are working successfully…today, the people are secure and safe”  and “all criminals will be sent to jail or killed. Incidentally, the chief minister himself faces 15 criminal cases, including attempted murder, rioting and damaging a place of worship, as per his election affidavit.

If Uttar Pradesh has plunged into unprecedented lawlessness over the years, one overriding reason for this is the state police’s refusal to book cases against criminals due to vested interests. Even if the cases were filed, some say they weren’t investigated due to corruption and the vested interests of politicians.

In January this year, a trainee cop quit, claiming the department is neck deep in corruption and bribery is rife.

“Corruption starts from recruitment and thrives in transfer and posting. During the previous government, led by Akhilesh Yadav, police recruitment was such a sham that most recruits belonged to the Yadav community,” says Anil Tiwari, head of a news portal.

No statistics are available on the number of police officers facing criminal charges.

Police Reforms

“If the police and the government are happy about encounters but the figures (criminal statistics) say otherwise, there is something terribly wrong,” says Vikram Singh, former DGP of Uttar Pradesh.

“Political interference in policing is gang-raping the system. Worse, we can’t de-link politics from the police in Uttar Pradesh,” says Singh, adding, “Merit has taken a back seat and cops are busy in finding right connections to get postings and promotion. Casteism is routine. The biggest casualty amid this is the system.”

“Apart from flaws in recruitment, lack of modernization, reduced training time (from 18 months down to six months) and an obsolete curriculum sans soft skills, gender sensitization and psychological assessments, are the prime reasons why the force is full of inefficient and rogue cops,” says Singh.

He adds: “Uttar Pradesh badly needs police reform as stated by the Supreme Court. However, politicians love the status quo for short-term gains.”

Among reforms recommended by the Supreme Court are a Police Complaint Bureau for citizens’ complaints against errant police officers, direct recruitment of the DGP and separation of the departments responsible for prosecution and law & order. “Most states have ignored the recommendations. It is high time that Uttar Pradesh followed them. Efforts must be made to fill the 30% of police posts that remain vacant,” says Singh.

Minister of Power and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Shrikant Sharma claims, “We are working to cleanse the system which deteriorated during the previous regime. The cops who indulge in crime will not be spared.”

(This is the final part of a two-part series on encounter killings in Uttar Pradesh. You can read part one here)