There were certainly two kinds of violence at India Gate: one avoidable, another reprehensible, notes Mahesh Vijapurkar.
No doubt there was violence at India Gate. The violence was of two genres, one by the demonstrators and another by the law enforcers.
In the first, the generous police interpretation was that hoodlums got amid the anti-rape, pro-women's security agitators. The various words used by the officialdom, politicians and the media were 'lumpen', and 'anti-social elements'.
The hoodlums, it so happens, have not been identified. Wonder how it was decided about their infiltration without knowing which among the seething crowd the anti-social elements were. But that is an aside.
The media used another word, 'politicians' and 'political activists'. Politicians, of course, would dare not say it. Politicians would not confess to their foot-soldiers being there, for that would be a mea culpa.
Those who indulged in violence were pushing barricades, throwing stones, and shouting slogans. They tried to upturn a Black Maria type police van after trying to prevent it moving away with demonstrators; they, the boys and girls crawled under the undercarriage and clutched the various rods and ends. A white car was also damaged.
The other genre of violence was from the police or whoever was deployed to keep order there. The television was afire with images of how these people went berserk with their sticks. Here are a few images I recall.
One was a policeman with a bent green stick, which certainly was not an official issue, showering blows on a woman wearing a white and pink winter headgear. She got it on her shoulder and seemed to have luckily missed causing a serious head injury. Unless, of course, it was one of the trick stuff which movie-makers use in violent scenes they dish out for their dishum-dishum movies to keep the audience's adrenalin flowing.
Another was a policeman with a stick, green and stout, again not official issue, running determinedly at the demonstrators. It had the capability to break a head or two and we don't know what damage he caused.
Several other benumbing images floated across the television screens where men floored were being repeatedly showered with blows. Those who were running away were also targeted while the purpose of a lathi-charge is only to disperse people. But there were some mitigating images where a beaten up man was being helped to walk away by another policeman.
These images of violence done by the police is so frequent with the multiplicity of television news channels that we have taken it as a given. It is worse than the injury they do to an under-trial criminal by handcuffing him, which it has to be noted, is barred by the Supreme Court. What the police do in these situations by using brute force -- that is why we call them 'brutalised' -- is hurt their image further and lose the little respect people have of the forces. Forget the idea of people respecting the police -- fear is the key.
If the constabulary at the cutting edge are so fierce in their task, is it that the seniors who are supervisory authorities unaware of the methods used? Don't they even see the footage of the viciousness that their personnel display? Of course the denials are routine, that they are 'light lathi-charges' et al.
It speaks of a lack of training and commitment to rule. It is not that this can happen as a routine and the country has to stomach it because that is how things work or worked. The police may have seen videotapes, television news footage of how other countries police use methods which secure the purpose but do no or very little damage to the persons being dealt with.
The use of non-issue weaponry, in this case only the sticks fortunately, is appalling, indicative of poor preparations by the police. If they had men out in full gear, why is it that even policemen were using kerchiefs to escape the effects of teargas?
Why were masks not issued to the corps deployed at least to increase their efficiency in their tasks, including beating up people mercilessly? Since the force is always deployed in anticipation of a likely nasty situation, why were the ambulances missing? The wounded were being carried away, including policeman Subhash Tomar who died -- first described as a heart attack and then as succumbing to injuries, any which way. An ambulance may have saved him?
If we go by what Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde told NDTV on Christmas eve in his interview, that "when the war is going on in the field, we have to be careful", we need to take his word for it. Even wars are not waged just anyhow, because there is a convention followed if war is a must. The emphasis is on "war" and "careful". If police were bent on the first, why were they not on the latter?
One wishes the Supreme Court takes suo motu cognisance of these police methods, calls for all footages from all television networks and asks the police to refine its methods. This does not mean there ought to be no lathi-charge. It means it has to be done for maximum effect with minimum use of force.
It hurts when Delhi Police Chief Neeraj Kumar talked of 'collateral damage'. One wishes it were minimal, if fact not at all. And here is an afterthought: if the police can be so brutal in public, I wonder what happens within the confines of their police stations when questioning a suspect. The reference is not to bribes demanded.
Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Thane-based commentator.