Why the police explanation for JU violence is not acceptable

Alright, let’s assume the students were wrong.

Let’s believe the police when they say the students of Jadavpur University provoked them and thus deserved to be manhandled, beaten up and thrown into lock-ups in the wee hours of September 17. After all, many, even those who have now joined the students in protesting against the “alleged” (as many still put it in spite of the telltale videos)  police violence on campus were earlier criticising them for their protest method, namely gheraoing the vice-chancellor. So, it should not be difficult to assume that the students were wrong. In any case, this piece is not about the students who were seen being battered by the police in a midnight raid.

This piece is about the police and is on the basis of their claims. The Telegraph today published an account of the police and the newspaper also explained the reason why it did so: “The newspaper is publishing this account since all sides have a right to be heard.” (I always thought that one would anyway expect a newspaper to give all sides to the story. But anyway…)

Yesterday, I was wondering the whole day why none of the channels were interviewing the police officers, seeking their explanation as to why they resorted to violence the way they did. So when I woke up this morning and read the front page of my favourite newspaper, I was happy to finally find the version of the police. I was amused.

This is what it had to say:

The police sources said he (a senior police officer) addressed the students as “my brothers and sisters”. His speech was interrupted by a girl’s demand for a matchstick, the sources claimed.

“‘Ekta machis de toh (give me a matchstick),’ she said,” claimed a police source.

“Standing in front of the officer, she lit a bidi and blew a puff of smoke into his face. He paused for a few seconds but regained his composure and resumed speaking. The girl spoke again.

“‘Ei maal ta ke re? (Who is this fellow?) His face looks like the rear of (an animal),’ she said…. This silenced the officer who gave up the attempt at dialogue.”

The sources claimed that the police force was subjected to one taunt after another since then.

“A girl from the back of the crowd shouted (a sentence with sexual connotations). We were shocked. But we had instructions to be restrained,” said a sub-inspector.

Close to 2am, the police formed a safe channel and escorted the VC out.

“Minutes after the VC was rescued, three police personnel — two men and a woman —were pushed and pulled by a group of students. This infuriated the force. The dam of patience broke,” an officer said.

Now you may want to watch this video of what followed:

Now help me find answers to the following questions:

1. The police may have got provoked and their dam of patience may have been breached. Isn’t it funny that they think this is a valid reason to justify their act? That they think “losing patience” (even if it is the fault of the students) is an excuse they can give without feeling ashamed of themselves. How is “losing patience” an acceptable reason for resorting to violence?

2. Why did they lose their patience? Because a girl (and not a boy, mind it) asked for a machis (match-stick), lit a bidi and blew smoke rolls, and mouthed obscenities (I’m going by the police version, as I said before)? Because the police were taunted by the students. That’s all? So this is all it takes for the police to lose their heads? I always thought that the police lexicon is a better repertoire of much more potent profanities. That they should lose their cool over wee unarmed students uttering wee swear words in the wee hours of the morning does not say much about our men in uniforms. What would they do if the crowd they were managing were armed, or had tongues like the police themselves–those which they use while giving a third-degree treatment to an accused?

3. Speaking of uniforms, if you were wondering why the policemen on duty were not dressed for it, the explanation is that they did not want to create “fear psychosis” among students. I need a psychologist here to explain how getting un-uniformed men to beat the students, instead of the uniformed ones, is less scary. One would expect policemen on duty in law-and-order situations to turn up in their uniforms, except on clandestine operations.

4. Where did you hide the lady personnel? The police version is that there were 37 women in their team. But we get to see none of them in the videos. The girls who were injured said they were beaten with chappals, and even groped, by the policemen. Who are these men in T-shirts and chappals beating students?

More from the students in this video.

As a journalist I have seen the police handle protests. The protestors, almost invariably, dare the police to take action. They say things to provoke and are often belligerent. The attitude of the police in those situations is like that of the drivers and conductors of Calcutta buses. Have you ever tried to get a bus to speed up by shouting profanities at the bus personnel? I have seen people do that. They try to remind the drivers and conductors of their mothers and sisters at home. Nothing works.

By claiming that the police were forced to beat up university students just because they were taunted by a bunch of educated young boys and girls, who were singing and playing musical instruments even when they were protesting, the police only bring shame upon themselves.

Why is it so difficult for them to accept that they goofed things up and say a simple sorry?

 PS: The students were demonstrating to press the demand of a free and fair inquiry into the case of molestation of one of the female students at the university (lest you forget the core issue).


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