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Rampant Police Brutality Against Peaceful Protestors

The growing number of demonstrations regarding violence against peaceful protestor has resulted in rapid rise in number of human right violation all around the world. Every individual possesses, by the virtue of the constitution of its nation, certain basic Human Rights which touches every corner of civil, political, fundamental, social, economic, and cultural aspect as well.

Violation of these rights paves the way to disrupted democracy and turns its ways towards absolutism and oppression. The situation gets even worse when the very authority, made to protect these rights, backs the magnification of violence.

There exist uncountable incidents in contemporary time which specifically shows this rise of violence in context of protestors, and to be more precise, regarding 'peaceful protestors.'

Right To Peaceful Protest:

Peaceful protest is synonymic to non-violent resistance or non-violent actions done in pursuance of expressing disapproval over things. Even though the protests generally leads to degradation of country's laws, economy and government authority but on the contrary Right to peaceful protest has been recognized as an integral part of an individual's right to expression, domestically as well as internationally. It has also been reaffirmed by the UN committee that peacefully protesting, either online or in person, is a fundamental human right and the same has been believed by the domestic laws of India by the way of including Right to peaceful protest as being implied under Article 19 of the Constitution of India.

Police Brutality can be defined as the actions of police authority which leads to violation of human rights of people. It may include, beatings, racial abuse, unlawful killing, and indiscriminate use of riot control agents at protests.

Importance Of Peaceful Protests:

Peaceful protests facilitate the protection of other human and fundamental rights of people, by continuously promoting and representing the progressive interpretation of national as well as international human rights standards such as in Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), etc.

Protests play a vital role in introduction of new freedoms in liberal democracy as this direct non-violent step has resulted in abolition of many anti human or degrading practices such as slavery, exploitation, labor atrocities, etc.

Indian Scenario:

Remembering the history of Indian freedom movement, peaceful protest was recognized as the most efficient and justified tool for showing disagreement. India, being the second largest nation with a huge democratic system has rendered the freedom of opinion and expressions to its citizens under Article 19 of the Indian constitution.

Article 19(1)(a)(b) and (c) provides the citizens with right to freedom of expression, right to peaceful assembly without weapon and right to join association, and these rights impliedly comprises within their ambit, the right to peaceful protest. Therefore, it is a fundamental right which cannot be removed from arbitrary or legislative execution.[1]

Even though there exist a wide range of human rights provided to people in India, the system does not seem to be ready to protect them yet and this can be justified by the incidents of increasing violence in peaceful protests by police. Such actions might be in furtherance of some political agenda or for manipulating the purpose of protest or even for representing the non-existing gloom ridden side of it. Such needless hot-tempered actions of authorities have violated the existing rights of people.

Some of the major instances of unnecessary police violence in peaceful protests can be traced back to the time of emergency when once it was seen that satyagrahis were taken into police custody without having any case registered against them. The illegal confinement was backed by physical brutal torture by the police officials.[2]

Another famous example can be of Anti-corruption Movement started at Ramlila Maidan where, on 5 June 2011, around 10,000 Delhi police officials raided the ground at mid night and forced out all the protestors along with Baba Ramdev who were sleeping at the time when the officials released the tear gas, lathicharge and threw water on generators to make the ground completely dark.[3]

The incidents resulted out of the Citizenship Amendment Bill are the most recent examples of how the police officials over-exercised their powers by not just using violence on the protestors outside but also by physically trashing the students of Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Milia Islamia in their hostel rooms which was completely unnecessary because releasing tear gas, stun grenade, etc. in premises affected the protesting as well as non-protesting students. It was also contended that the police officials not only physically harmed them but also used communal slurs.

The extra-violent actions of police act in derogation of principle of Salus populi suprema lex esto (Safety of public is he supreme law), and it continues to breach many human rights of people.

International Scenario:

The International laws have been structured precisely for making its base strong in order to protect and promote the Human Rights all around the world. Their exist number of international declarations, conventions, treaties, etc. which are formulated for protecting the human rights but the increasing violence of police authorities has resulted in violation of all these principles leading to alienation of individual from their basic rights.

The UN Human Rights Commission ha interpreted the meaning and scope of peaceful protest in its report as, peaceful protest can be done virtually as well as in form of physical gatherings. It recognized Article 21 of ICCPR which provides with Right to assemble peacefully to provide base to right to peacefully protest and also recommended the authorities to avoid the unnecessary force on such protestors as it will be an inappropriate step taken by authorities because as per the UNHRC protestors may include children, women, migrants, foreign nationals, and asylum seekers.[4]

Following are the principles of International law which are violated by police brutality on peaceful protestors:
  1. Right to life:
    Article 3 of UDHR and Article 9 of ICCPR provide for right to life, liberty and security in person to all, and generally the protection of this right is relied upon the police. But ironically, this right of peaceful protestors gets violated by the right protectors.
  2. Torture and Inhumane behavior:
    Article 6 of UDHR and Article 7 of ICCPR gets violated when the police authority use unnecessary extreme measures against peaceful protestors.
  3. Freedom of expression and opinion:
    Article 19 of UDHR and ICCPR provides freedom of expression and opinion to all individuals which impliedly contains the right to peacefully expressing their disagreement over government policies or other unfavorable factors.
  4. Right to assemble peacefully and form association:
    This right is enshrined under Article 20 of UDHR and Article 21 of ICCPR, which gets violated when the peaceful gatherings become subject to harsh actions of authorities.
  5. Right to criticize:
    UDHR in general sense and ICCPR in specification, deals with the political rights of people which are fundamental to all. The political rights also include right to criticise by peaceful means.
After considering the spike in cases of police brutality, it was urged by the UN from the governments not to needlessly squander the trust of their people, to refrain from unwarranted violence, coercion and divisiveness, and to prioritize and promote dialogue and tolerance.[5]

Policing The Protests:

Seminar on effective measures and best practices to ensure the promotion and protection of Human Rights in context of Peaceful Protests was held on 2 December 2013 which expressly dealt with the question of managing the Peaceful protests.[6]

As everyone is allowed to participate in lawful and peaceful assemblies, it should be done in accordance with principles of UDHR and ICCPR and there may be certain ways of policing the peaceful protests other then violation of human rights and causing physical harm to people.

Following points were suggested in the seminar for management of these protests:
  1. The government, law enforcing bodies and police officials shall not unnecessarily opt for violent measures.
  2. Where the protest is unlawful but non-violent, the force should be restricted to the minimal amount.
  3. It was highlighted that, while securing the Right to life is necessary at protests, other Human Rights such as, right to dignity, has retained their importance as well and therefore, these adds reasons for holding back the violent procedures.
  4. The management of these assemblies should remain within the framework of Human Right law.
  5. No action of police authorities should result in arbitrary deprivation of right to life, arbitrary detention, torture or inhumane behaviour, etc.
  6. Other peaceful methods are to be preferred over violent control, such s having good faith dialogue with protestors.
  7. Guidelines are required to be upgraded and abide by the police authorities in context of using substances such as tear gases which, in instances, causes death by suffocation.

Right to peaceful protest has been an implied portion of the Human Rights or Fundamental Right or Basic Right of an individual. Neither domestic law nor International law provides the authorities with power to snatch away the human rights without any reasonable cause and the same applies in context of Right to peaceful Protest.

There have been many instances where the police authorities have over acted to their powers and misused their authority by using the most violent procedures even in case of a non-violent protest which has resulted in violation of not just national but also international human right principles. There arises a need to control the actions of law protectors as they sometimes in exercise of their powers acts ironically to be law abusers.

  1. Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR)
  2. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
  3. Constitution of India
  5. United Nations News

  1. Re-Ramlila Maidan Incident vs. Home Secretory and Ors, (2012) 5 SCC, 2012 AIR SCW 3660
  2. Kartar Singh vs. State of Punjab, (1994) 3 SCC 569.
  3. Supra note 2.

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Sakshi Rajawat

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Authentication No: AR210122292169-11-0422

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