Who will police the Uttar Pradesh police? This question comes up with an increasing and alarming frequency in the state. It is being asked again after a late-night knock on a hotel room in Gorakhpur, during what the police claimed was a routine raid, ended up in the death of a 38-year-old businessman. The man’s family and two of his friends, who were with him in the room, have accused the policemen of assaulting Manish Gupta, resulting in his death. The police first said he died of a fall. Six policemen have now been suspended and an FIR under IPC Section 302 has been filed against six cops, three identified and three unnamed, after sustained pressure. This is not the first instance of UP police officials being accused of grave misdemeanour: In this year alone, as this newspaper has reported, there have been five custodial deaths in which their role is under a cloud.
This banality of violence is a part of official record in UP — since 2017, 146 people have been killed in 8,472 “police encounters”, and 3,302 alleged criminals injured in such shootouts. Unfortunately, this is not something that Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath appears to be embarrassed by. Early in his term, he had laid out the terms of his “thoki raj”, where trigger-happy punishment would be given more importance, the message was, than patient investigation or due process. In serving this agenda, the UP police have crossed several red lines, leading to a culture in which extra-judicial killings are celebrated as justice, the National Security Act is slapped on cases of cow slaughter as a way to reinforce an anti-minority political agenda and anti-CAA/NRC protestors named and shamed through public posters. It leads to the spectacle of indignity against a Dalit victim of gang-rape that was seen in Hathras a year ago. Empowering the police with a licence for overreach diminishes the rights of citizens; and codes a rhythm of violence into the everyday — so much so that a routine trip to a hotel in another city can end in tragedy.
The BJP government prides itself on ending the alleged jungle raj of bahubalis in UP. But that must not be achieved by creating a cadre of all-powerful cops armed with impunity. Truth must out in the case of the death of the businessman. The UP government must reaffirm the rule of law — not ensure, or be seen to ensure, that the police force is above the law.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on October 1, 2021 under the title ‘Banality of violence’.