CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD

YB WEB DESK. Dated: 10/16/2020 11:30:20 AM

ANURAG TIWARY W ith caste and gender-based crimes in India on the rise, some really tough questions need to be answered by us all. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2019 report does a wonderful job in showcasing some extremely relevant data for our consideration. India reported 4,05,861 cases of crimes against women. Assam reported the highest rate of crimes against women at 117.8 per lakh population and Uttar Pradesh (UP) topped the list with 59,853 incidents. From 2018, the rate of crime against women has risen by 7.3 per cent, with the country recording an average 87 rape cases every day in 2019. UP had the highest number of crimes against girl children under the POCSO Act with 7,444 cases, followed by Maharashtra (6,402) and Madhya Pradesh (MP) at 6,053. Other registered cases on the rise were assault, cruelty and outraging the modesty of a woman. On the other hand, crimes against Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) saw a seven per cent and 26 per cent rise respectively. Curiously, the report also indicates a consistent decline in conviction rates in caste-related violence in the past three years. So, why and how did we land here and where are we going? I shall endeavour to declutter this by a simple process called reverse engineering. Ours has always been a divided society. Caste and gender-based discrimination weren’t a colonial construction in India. It was our own. Our social, economic and legal institutions were all divided and categorised to meet vested interests. What the British did was a mere “reinvoking of the Varna system.” This, they justified, was necessary to make sense of the complexity that existed within the Indian caste system. As BR Ambedkar said in his Annihilation of Caste, the caste system in India had been historically used to perpetuate discrimination in the name of “division of labour” which in fact, according to him, was a “division of labourers.” Such discrimination gave rise to a social and behavioural bias, and in the long run, led to the “upward mobility” of the concept of caste. Since this concept was used to allocate social roles such as one’s profession in a hereditary manner, it restricted the social mobility of those groups who were allotted lower roles. This led to a lost individual identity of the members of those groups and instead, in solidarity, gave rise to a “group identity.” In modern-day India, we know these groups as SCs, STs, Other Backward Classes (OBCs), women and religious minorities. A systemic problem: Our police force was also not immune to this virus. As caste and gender-based discrimination grew in independent India, privileged upper caste men, who were born, trained and nurtured in a favorable environment, filled the spaces in our administration, including but not limited to, our police force. The problem was further exemplified when we inherited the colonial Indian Police Act of 1861 and other such laws from British India. The Act was brought in after the revolt of 1857 and the purpose behind enacting it was, as David Arnold says, “to establish control, coercion and surveillance over the Indian subjects.” So, lack of diversity, an under-represented administration and a law based on tyrannical ideologies became a perfect mishmash for future discriminatory policing in India. This would lay the foundation for perpetration of violence and creation of an extremely patriarchal institution that would survive for decades if not centuries. Institutionalised discrimination: What transpired, as a consequence, years later, is the institutionalisation of the very same discrimination within our police force. An institution becomes defunct if its working is entirely based on biased and inequitable means. To command confidence, trust and respect of the public, the police administration in a democracy must be diverse and must acknowledge that people from different backgrounds will bring with them skills, experiences and perspectives that are vastly different from others. However, the opposite is true for India. Laws such as Abolition of Discrimination under Article 17 of the Constitution, SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act and provisions for Affirmative Action have by and large remained symbolic. The Common Cause report on Status of Policing in India, 2019, reveals some shocking numbers. It shows how the representation of SCs, STs, OBCs and women is extremely poor in our police forces. Reserved positions for such personnel have been vacant for years. The States topping the list here are Haryana and UP. Furthermore, it shows how such groups are less likely to be posted at officer-level ranks. They are also more likely to face unequal distribution of work wherein they are asked to do their seniors’ chores and household work. One out of four women police personnel reported the absence of a sexual harassment committee in police stations and one out of five reported the absence of separate toilets for policewomen. States like Bihar, Karnataka and Bengal have the highest levels of institutional bias against women in the forces. The report goes on to state that senior police officers think that “women are less hard-working, less efficient and should focus on household duties.” Data shows that policewomen are given in-house tasks like maintaining registers, and so on, whereas, male personnel are given onfield investigation, law and order, policing and patrolling tasks. This has literally been normalised within the working of our police administration, to an extent that it no more looks like discrimination. Instead it is seen as routine division of work, based on natural/biological capabilities. Shockingly many police personnel think that Gender-Based Violence (GBV) complaints are false and motivated. They also say that members of the transgender community, Muslims, Dalits and so on, are more “naturally” prone to committing crimes. Such institutionalised discrimination against caste and gender reasserts itself like a vicious cycle. It also assists in exercising a lot more political control on those who are vulnerable. The way our police reacts to caste and gender is a mirror image of the political ideology ruling over the State. It is a common phenomenon that majoritarian governments who come to power based on hyper-nationalism and by using the rhetoric of religion, tend to be a lot more misogynist, divisive and religiously intolerant. Resultantly, constitutional morality isn’t their source of power. The increasing nature of politicisation of crimes against women has gained momentum in the last decade, ever since there has been a rise in majoritarian politics. The 2019 report shows how police personnel almost always face political pressure while investigating crimes that have political ramifications. If an honest police officer tries not to be swayed by such an influence, he is met with the “Black Sheep Effect.” This is a process of evaluative upgrading of “norm-compliant” members and evaluative downgrading of “deviant” ones. So, the deviant members are usually transferred to locations where there is less digital and media penetration so that their honesty is less of a problem for the State. It is also seen that there are certain areas where political control is exercised more effectively with the help of the police. In the areas where the majority population is from the Dalit or minority community, the police infrastructure is in shambles. There is a greater lack of adequate training, digital accessibility, vehicles and funding provided to the police. In such a situation, crimes either go unreported or are met with Statesponsored violence in police stations. Creating such systemic barriers, over a long period of time, for people who have been historically discriminated against leads to a situation of internalised oppression. Paulo Freire, a renowned educator, in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, says, “The oppressed, having internalised the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom.” This fear acts as an incentive for political control.

 

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