//Debate rages over police lathicharge

Debate rages over police lathicharge

Wednesday, April 5, 2006 (New Delhi):

Police lathicharge has become the centre of a raging debate. One bloody lathicharge after another, now questions are being raised whether it is police rage or raging crowds. India’s win in the second one-day international against England at Faridabad on March 31 was marred by violence.Nine-year-old Vidhi, who had come to watch the match with her mother, was caught in a lathicharge by the Haryana police. They had got caught between angry fans who were not let into the stadium and police who were trying to control them. "We were standing at the fence. The police refused to open the gates, or even let the mother and the child in," said an eyewitness.

Brutal action

In July 2005, the Haryana police came in for some sharp criticism, after they brutally thrashed workers of a Honda factory who were protesting being laid off. It began as clash between police and workers. But then the protestors turned on a police official. What followed was a bloodbath, telecast live to a shocked national audience. The incident in Gurgaon yet again highlighted just how little it takes to becoming a perpetrator of crime instead of a protector. The lathi culture has become a part of the police’s psyche and nowhere has it taken root as strongly perhaps as in Haryana.

In December 2005, Mumbai police ordered a lathicharge at the airport. Followers of spiritual leader Narendra Maharaj were furious that he had not been allowed to carry his holy staff. And the same followers blocked the entrance of the airport. When they refused to move after repeated requests, the police ordered a lathicharge. But again, like Gurgaon, the lathicharge turned ugly and many visitors, passengers and mediapersons were caught in the crossfire.

Fatal action

But sometimes, like in Orissa’s Kalinganagar, a lathicharge turns into a more extreme use of force.
In January 2006, tribals protesting against a new Tata steel plant coming up on their land met first with lathis, then tear gas and finally bullets.Twelve men and women were killed in the police firing. Police say they were being attacked by tribals with arrows and stones. But what explains the mutilations of the bodies by policemen? "They cut the palms of five persons, they cut the genitals of men and the cut the breast of a woman," said Bhaskar Rao, Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights.

Again in March this year in coastal Andhra Pradesh, there was a similar story. The fishermen of
Gangavaram were angry that their village was being taken over to build the country’s largest port.
Their protests turned violent. First the police used lathis and then, like Orissa, sprayed bullets. One fisherman fell dead and the rage escalated. Opposition leaders say the police upped the ante by deploying a huge force.

Caught in the crossfire
In Navi Mumbai, a long simmering land dispute between two local communities exploded during Holi.
The police in their attempts to break up the riot, fired into the crowd with fatal results. A small clash during Holi festivities ended up leaving three people dead. Nearly 35 people were injured in the lathicharge and firing, many of them just bystanders."I just stepped out to see what was happening and was shot in the back," said Suresh Maruti, Ghansoli resident. Across India, in Faridabad, Gurgaon, Gangavaram, Kalinganagar and Navi Mumbai, in some cases, it was crowd control and in others, a clash of ideologies.
In every case, the police claim that they were provoked. But in every case, did the provocation merit extreme violence?