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“Lenient” to brutal: The spectrum of Delhi police action during India’s farmer protests

REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
People vs police.
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On Feb. 4, the Delhi police registered an official complaint against a “toolkit” containing information on how to support the farmers’ protest that has been going on at the city’s borders for over two months now. The toolkit, a document containing a petition to abolish the three new farm laws introduced by the Narendra Modi government, has been doing the rounds on social media for several days now.

The official complaint, or first information report (FIR), was filed after Swedish teen climate campaigner Greta Thunberg shared it on Twitter. For a few hours on Feb. 4, there were rumours that the cops were going to file an FIR against Thunberg, too.

This is just the most recent FIR in a slew of others registered by the Delhi police since Jan. 26 when violence erupted in New Delhi after a group of protestors diverted from an agreed-upon route for a “tractor rally,” which ended with the police using tear gas and batons.

REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Police use tear gas to disperse the group of farmers.
REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Clash reported between the farmers and the Delhi police on Jan. 26.

A section of social media users has nothing but praises for the Delhi police for its “restraint” and “efficiency” in handling the violence that broke out on Jan. 26.

For instance, on Jan. 28, Monika Halan, author and former senior journalist, tweeted: “An entire ecosystem was waiting for one bullet to be fired. By not firing it, despite being battered, broken, and bruised, the Delhi police has delivered a unique victory,” Many others echoed her sentiment.

In fact, the commissioner of Delhi police wrote a letter to his force thanking them for understanding the sensitivity of the situation and for their patience.

Meanwhile, the question to ask, perhaps, is why did the situation get out of hand in the first place?

The police: inefficient force or master of planned chaos?

On Jan. 26, New Delhi hosted the annual Republic Day parade, which is attended by the president, the prime minister, and all the top central ministers, along with hundreds of other high-profile dignitaries. Arrangements for the event start months in advance every year and involve extensive security detailing.

Despite such elaborate planning, the Delhi police allowed thousands of farmers to rally across the city.

“It must be granted that the police were faced with large crowds of farmers but why were they not prepared for this?” questioned Sanjiv Kishan Sood, a retired additional general of the border security force, in his opinion piece for the news website The Wire on Jan. 28 about the Republic Day violence.

“There was enough indication that several lakhs of farmers, along with large numbers of tractors, were about to enter Delhi. The fact that the police had approached the Supreme Court to prevent farmers from taking out the rally was indicative of their apprehensions. So why didn’t they put in place adequate measures to prevent untoward incidents?” Sood added.

As per one estimate, the Delhi police had over 50,000 personnel on the ground, with over 20,000 deployed on routes fixed for the tractor rally. And yet it failed to anticipate the situation and blamed the farmers for outnumbering them.

The Delhi police’s claims for failure to control the situation have uncanny similarities with those of the Capitol police in Washington. Last month, when a violent pro-Trump mob stormed the US Capitol, the police were caught off-guard, unable to control the situation. The police personnel said they were outnumbered by the protestors.

Not the cause but the identity of a protestor matters

In the US, the Capitol police attracted sharp criticism for dealing with the mob with leniency. Many people, including US president Joe Biden himself, pointed out the stark contrast between its response to the Capitol Hill violence and the use of force against the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protestors last year.

Back at home, similar comparisons were made between the handling of recent protests and the brutal use of power on the students of Jamia University and the anti-CAA protestors last year.

Last year, the Delhi police faced heavy criticism for thrashing the Jamia university students who were protesting against the government’s controversial citizenship amendment act. Protesters accused the Delhi Police of hitting them in their private parts, according to several media reports.

But the same Delhi police’s inaction over the alleged violence by a right-wing mob on the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University last year clearly brought out its bias. Videos posted on Twitter and Facebook showed the Delhi police either standing by, while violence went on or later escorting the alleged goons out of the campus.

Meanwhile, for the farm protests, media reports citing a police source stated that the force had instructions to deal with the protestors with “leniency,” raising doubts over its intentions. Such claims have raised many questions about the Delhi police’s intentions. For instance, despite reservations from the intelligence unit, why did the police allow the rally? Even if they did, why wasn’t the force was better prepared?

REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
The clash between the protestors and the police at Red Fort.

So far, the Delhi police have filed over 20 cases against the violence that stormed the national capital. It has further arrested around 120 people, including an 80-year-old man, responsible for the incident. However, the main accused allegedly responsible for the Red Fort violence and a supporter of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party, Deep Sidhu, has still not been taken into custody.

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