Today, my grandmother brought up the death of George Floyd on the dinner table and everyone spoke about how wrong it was and how police brutality in America is getting worse each day. On May 25th, 2020, the death of George Floyd, an African- American man, took place in broad daylight in the United States. While Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down on a city street during an arrest, Derek Chauvin, a white officer, kept his knee on the right side of Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds; 2 minutes and 53 seconds of which occurred after Floyd became unresponsive. This was a casebook case of systematic racism. People rightfully took to the streets and social media to protest police brutality in the country.
I also saw a lot of my friends posting on social media, demanding justice for George Floyd. I was happy to see my family and friends speaking up about an important cause and taking a stand where it is important but it also made me question – Why is it that when this happened at home, in India, in the capital of the country a few months ago on a cold December night, with the students of the country, most of these people didn’t speak up and there was almost no or little mention of police brutality on our dining tables.
On 15th December 2019, the Delhi police forcefully entered Jamia Millia Islamia University during a confrontation with student protesters when a protest started outside the campus. Hundreds of police officers barged in and detained more than a hundred students during the confrontation with the protesters. The police used batons and tear gas to disperse them. The police also entered the university library as well as the washrooms and ransacked parts of it in the process of the violence. News channels telecasted the visuals of students being dragged and assaulted by the police. About two hundred people were injured and admitted to hospitals.
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The students were will within their rights to protest, as India is still a democracy and protest is our constitutional right. What happened that day at Jamia Millia Islamia University was police brutality; it was a planned attack on one of the most prestigious universities of India and, it was state sponsored.
There was an outcry and people protested the attack, Many students, professors, people from the entertainment industry took to social media and the streets but in this crowd, were missing our uncles, aunties, parents and a lot of people who we went to school with.
The news channels and so many people I spoke with, brought up how public transport and buses were burned and that one can’t destroy public property in the name of a protest.
When did a bus become more valuable than human life? Why were we not talking about how the people who are supposed to protect us, people who are entering our safe spaces and beating us up?
Police brutality is not uncommon in India. If you Google a list of cases of police brutality in the country, you will see a long one. The latest addition to this list is made during the Covid-19 pandemic crisis when the PM of our country put the whole nation under a lockdown and made the announcement just 4 hours before the lockdown was put into action. Millions of daily wage earners and migrant workers had no other option but to start walking home. There have been cases of police beating these people on their way back home. Boys and men delivering items like milk, food, groceries and courier packets were also not spared from police brutality.
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During this lockdown, I found a copy of Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up in my father’s bookshelf. It is a journalistic book about the 2002 Gujarat riots authored and self-published by Rana Ayyub. She went undercover and interviewed senior police officers who spoke about state sponsored violence and people in high political positions giving them orders to carry out fake encounters. Here’s an excerpt from the book:
The exposé created ripples in the political fraternity. Phone calls from the CBI poured in asking Tehelka to hand them those records which were later placed before the Supreme Court. I continued to stay at Hotel Ambassador in Ahmedabad, which by now had become my second home. Located in the predominantly Muslim locality of Khanpur, this was a rather unassuming place for me to stay at. I would discover later that the state BJP office was only blocks away. I was suddenly in the public eye. BJP leaders spoke about a certain young chap called Ayyub who had made the disclosure. For some reason the idea of a female investigative journalist had not crossed their minds. I was not complaining, it only allowed me to go about my work discreetly. But this did not last long. A few days into the exposé, my phone received a text from an unknown number which read, “We know where you are.”
Life had indeed changed; from that day on I changed my accommodation every third day, from the IIM campus in Ahmedabad to guesthouses, hostels, and gymkhanas. I had begun to operate like a fugitive. By this time, landlines had replaced mobile phone communication for me. Finally having provided all the evidence I could dig up to the CBI and writing my follow-up reports, I landed in Mumbai and decided to get back to some semblance of routine.
Police brutality and government officials using the police force as their pawns is as old as India’s independence and it is increasingly getting worse under the administration of current government.
Why is there not an outcry for this?
Where are the social media hashtags like #StopPoliceBrutality?
Why are we not questioning our authorities?
Why do we have a blind eye for our own home?
When will we hold our own government and authorities accountable?
When will we ask tough questions in India as we are asking other nations?