Police Inaction contributing to severe violence against Christians in India – July 2020

August 13, 2020

Fourteen incidents of violence against Christians were recorded this month with Jharkhand taking the lead with 3 incidents followed by Uttar Pradesh where 2 incidents were reported. Strikingly, out of the 14 incidents reported this month, one incident involved the commission of murder and 6 incidents involved severe physical assault wherein the Christian victims were not only attacked using force but with the help of sticks and hammers resulting in grievous hurt defined in section 320 of the Indian Penal Code. Notably, in 4 out of 14 incidents this month, the police has failed to register an FIR despite giving a written complaint to the local police station and timely escalation of the matter to the Superintendent of Police because of inaction of the local police station.

A case in point occurred on 31st July, 2020 when a Christian man  and his mother from Ram Nagar in Ludhiana, Punjab were harassed and subsequently assaulted by their neighbours on the grounds that that they don’t visit the temple or eat the prasad (offering) of the temple. The assailants injured his head with a stick and tore his mother’s clothes while manhandling her. On the previous day, these assailants had slapped the man and claimed that he cannot use the road anymore because he would defile the road.

He complained to the police about both the incidents. However, despite filing written complaints, the Assistant Sub Inspector of the local police station was uncooperative with the victim and refused to register an FIR against the culprits.

Another incident is that of a pastor who previously did ministry at Bhamragarh, near Bhatapara in Ahiri Taluka of Gadchiroli, Maharashtra. But since his neighbours there opposed his ministry and ostracised him and his family, they were forced to move to an agricultural farm in a nearby village, where he continued his ministry. Fourteen families in the nearby villages used to attend his prayer services. On 10th of July, 2020, after he had concluded the prayer services for the day, a group of people from the village kidnapped him and shot him dead, leaving a note saying that he is a police informer.

Although the number of incidents have seen a decline, thanks to the lock-down, the nature of violence meted out to innocent Christians in the villages is increasingly fatal and therefore quite worrisome.

Rising hostility on the basis of religion depicts the failure of law enforcement agencies in establishing the rule of law in India because not only is the right to freely practice, profess and propagate a religion of one’s choice a fundamental right guaranteed to all persons in India according to Article 25 of the Constitution of India but it is also the duty of the police under section 149 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 to prevent the commission of cognizable offences.

Furthermore, section 154 read with section 149 clearly imposes a duty upon the officer in charge of a police station to take action against wrongdoers by immediately registering an FIR and investigating the matter as stipulated under section 156 of the Code, in case a cognizable offence is committed.

A Bench of the Delhi High Court led by Muralidhar J. recently observed regarding the complicity of police officers in delaying the registration of FIRs in cognizable offences, such as hate speech and consequent communal violence leading to deadly riots in North-East Delhi in February 2020, as follows:

“The police should be guided by the judgment of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in Lalita Kumari v. Government of Uttar Pradesh (2014) 2 SCC 1 and go strictly by the mandate of the law.

It should seriously consider the consequences that would ensue with every day’s delay in registering FIRs not only on the basis of the video clips that have been played in Court but all other video clips of speeches/actions by anyone, whosoever it may be which disclose ex facie the commission of an offence, bearing in mind that the rule of law is supreme and that no one is above the law.”[1]

This order by the Delhi High Court is very significant because it has been proved in the past that complicity of the police with the perpetrators of violence is one of the primary reasons for rise in communal violence and that if the courts and police take timely and necessary action against the culprits, there will be a substantial decline in instances of violence.

[1] In Harsh Mander v. GNCTD (2020).