Police and people : Civil liberty and human rights in Bihar

Police personnel baton charge at a protestor in Tuticorin. Credit – The PTI & The Wire

NK SINGH

Frontier, 22 May 1971

Police atrocities are not uncommon in India. And Bihar is a part of India.

However, police atrocities have grown in number and become more sophisticated in nature since the Naxalite growth in the State. Now and then operations are launched, the ‘miscreants’ escape and innocent people got caught in the large-scale, massive operations, often assisted by the para-military forces. Sometimes even army helicopters are used.

Perhaps the first ever ‘Operation Naxalite’ conducted in Bihar was in the Mushahari region of Muzaffarpur district in North Bihar. It was in late 1968, when Naxalite activities increased and a few ‘class enemies’ were killed that a combing operation was launched by the local police assisted by the hired goondas of zamindars.

Since then, Mushahari, where the Sarvodaya leader, Mr Jaya Prakash Narayan, was trying to save the skin of his class brethren, has become a happy playground for the hunting hounds.

At least two or three operations have been launched in the Surajgarha region of south Munger, followed by allegations of police highhandedness. The operations were rather modern and sophisticated in nature.

For example, in one operation the services of more than 300 jawans of the Bihar Military Police were requisitioned from NEFA. Besides, 30 officers of the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police or above and 100 sub-inspectors were deputed to supervise the combing operation in the fields, the hills, the jungles and all the other suspected hideouts.

The place was under the direct charge of a special police squad comprising border experts, senior intelligence officers and the combatant section of Military Police. The services of the Central Reserve Police were also requisitioned. Besides Home Guards, the local police also had been asked to stand by for any assistance the special squad might need.

According to an unofficial report, a total of 6,000 troops had been pushed into the area. The armed force was functioning from a number of static camps and mobile units equipped with wireless vans. To cap it all helicopters were used to help the Military Police.

Outcome

What was the outcome? Four or five arrests. And that was also followed by the allegations that the police arrested innocent people to cover their failure to arrest the real ‘culprits’. Grave allegations-ranging from loot to rape were levelled against the police, especially the notorious Central Reserve Police. Even the higher strata were not spared.

A bitter Naxalite leader put it thus: “our womenfolk have to work in fields, they are not much to look at: their women folk, enjoying all sorts of minimum comforts of life, are fragile, delicate and beautiful enough to attract the CRP wolves. We have very little to spare; they own huge property”.

So, the zamindars, rural kulaks and rich were harassed by both the Naxal terrorists and the law-and-order arm of their own State machinery. No wonder, voices were raised for removing the notorious CRP from the region and questions concerning police atrocities in Surajgarha were raised in the State Assembly.

In Katihar (Purnea) where the police had launched a special combing operation to curb the growing Naxalite activities in the towns and adjacent villages, a largely attended public meeting jointly sponsored by the Congress (R), PSP, SSP, CPI and CPI (M) protested against “indiscriminate arrests of railway employees, mill workers and students by the police in the name of curbing the Naxalites”.

It was alleged that the arrested men were beaten and tortured in the police lock-up.

To meet the Naxalite challenge, security measures have been tightened, weapons supplied to the police personnel and new methods of carrying rifles by policemen have been introduced all over the State.

All police officers above the rank of assistant sub-inspector have been provided with revolvers. Police constables have been armed with special types of spears and knives.

This is in addition to the deployment of para-military forces in disturbed zones. But the most important thing is that the police have been given a free hand to deal with the public.

Recently three cases of police atrocity were reported from the tribal belt of Chotanagpur.

Firing in Court

The first was reported from Dhanbad where the Bihar police created a new record of official highhandedness when they fired on undertrial prisoners in the court lockup on March 16. Mr Arun Kumar Roy, the CPI (M) MLA from Dhanbad, described it as “the most ghastly act surpassing all records of police brutality in Bihar”.

There has been firing in jail, but this time it was in the court lockup in broad daylight under the nose of the magistracy and all the senior officers of the town.

On the day of the incident, more than 100 undertrial prisoners-described by the police as ‘criminals’ were locked in rooms meant to accommodate 20. The room had no ventilation and was never cleaned.

No prisoner, it is said, was ever produced physically before the magistrate from this court hajat without a bribe. The magistrate only puts dates on custody warrants without seeing the face of the prisoner.

It is said that on March 16 the prisoners refused to pay bribe for production, which led to a hot altercation. The prisoners were allegedly denied drinking water and when they protested, were fired upon in the lock-up from point-blank range.

The police, however, gave a fairy tale to cover their action. The walls of the lockup were broken and it was said that the prisoners were trying to escape. One wonders how concrete walls could be broken with bare hands.

The prisoners of the Dhanbad jail boycotted the court. The Dhanbad Bar Association came out with open condemnation of this brutal assault.

A Patna daily commented: “In any civilized society police firing on helpless undertrial prisoners is a grave matter. When such a firing takes place in a court hajat, the dignity of the judiciary also suffers and it is brought under contempt”.

15-year-old boys killed

The second case of police brutality was reported from the steel city of Jamshedpur which is known as the ‘Little Calcutta’ of Bihar in view of the widespread Naxalite influence.

On March 26 groups of students — one of the groups from the local K.M. P.M. H.S. School, which is said to be the main centre of Naxalite activities in the town — clashed over purchase of cinema tickets.

The police intervened much too swiftly and attacked the K.M. P.M.H.S. School in course of “chasing the culprits”. According to the school administration, the police entered the campus without the permission of the principal or any order from the Magistrate or S.P.

They struck the students with spears, bayonets and lathis. Doors of classrooms were broken open, small boys were dragged out and beaten up. Some of the teachers who tried to protect the boys were also severely dealt with.

What is particularly distressing to note is that the victims were just small boys. Three boys, all under 15, died. They were murdered. About 200 people, including students, teachers and the public were caught in this operation.

In an atmosphere surcharged with emotion, Jamshedpur observed a one-day complete bandh. There were protests from all quarters. The Bihar Government had to face loud protests in the Assembly. One MLA went to the extent of comparing it with Jallianwalla Bagh while another said that he had not seen such a heart-breaking incident during 42 years of his political career.

It is being whispered in Jamshedpur that the attack on the school was pre-planned and well organised. It was done in order to teach the Naxalite boys a good lesson. Have the people and the Naxalites become the same in the eyes of the administration ?

In Ghatshila

To crush the Naxals, an operation was launched in the Ghatshila area of Singhbhum district bordering West Bengal .In March Naxalite guerrillas attacked the Rupaskundi police picket, killed two policemen, injured three and snatched away nine rifles, 105 rounds of bullets and a few uniforms.

It was followed by a massive combing operation launched under the personal guidance of the DIG, Southern Range assisted by the SP, Singhbhum, and D.I., Ghatshila. Six hundred armed men were engaged in the operation and a police dog was airlifted from Patna to trace the guerrillas. But none of the alleged Naxalites could be arrested.

While this massive, round-the-clock operation was in full swing, the Naxalite guerrillas attacked a village in the Gopiballavpur area of West Bengal, killed four of their “class enemies” and injured two. The high police officers of both West Bengal and Bihar decided to launch a joint combing operation.

The inevitable result of this joint operation was grave allegations of repression and torture. It was said that the villagers, including womenfolk, were insulted, tortured and beaten up. Male members were beaten indiscriminately. Even the jewellery, cash and other belongings of the poor rural folk were looted and the police forces took away fowls and goats for feasting.

“Laws”, says Cicero, “are dumb in the midst of arms”.

Frontier, 22 May 1971

 

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