Srinagar: The J&K State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has asked police to follow procedure regulating the use of force “in letter and spirit,” even as it pulled up a senior police officer for “partial and unfair” inquiry into the incident involving alleged grappling of policeman with a woman during protest over drinking water scarcity at Batamaloo here in the month of Ramadan in 2012.
Announcing its judgment on a suo-moto cognizance of media reports, acting chairman of the Commission, Rafiq Fida also asked Divisional Commissioner Kashmir to hold an inquiry against Deputy Commissioner Srinagar for not disclosing the name of the Executive Magistrate who was posted with his office on the fateful day despite eight reminders about the matter by SSP Srinagar.
Last year, the Commission had taken suo-moto cognizance of some media reports about a protest demonstration demanding administration to keep potable water available at least at ‘sehri and iftar’ and subsequent use of force on them.
A photo in a newspaper had shown a policeman grappling with a woman protester at Baran Pather, Batamaloo in July 2012.
“While taking cognizance it was observed that the administration and particularly the police officers concerned, equipped with sophisticated weapons, were not dealing with the fairer sex but were overpowering some notorious goon or as if they had to combat a militant attack,” the Commission said in the judgment.
Accordingly, the Commission said, reports were sought from state’s Director General of Police and SSP Srinagar with the direction to disclose the identity of the police official who can be seen in the photographs prima facie “outraging the modesty of the woman in the garb of maintenance of law and order and dispersing the agitators.”
Subsequently, the SSP Srinagar filed a report on August 11, 2012, submitting that on July 24, 2012, inhabitants of Baran Pather started protests on general road against PHE Department for non-availability of drinking water.
The SSP said the people blocked the main road from Jehangir Chowk to Batamaloo and towards ZPHQ/SMHS Hospital.
“The protestors came on road early morning and remained there till afternoon due to which normal movement of traffic was effected. The Executive Magistrate Ist. Class, Executive Engineer and other senior officers reached on spot to pacify the protestors who were given assurances that supply of drinking water will be restored soon,” the SSP said.
He said the concerned department was informed through ‘signal’ to restore water supply “but the protestors started pelting stones upon police.”
“Minimum force was used to disperse the protestors and normal traffic was restored. The report further reads that regarding the incident case FIR No. 75/2012 u/s 147, 148, 336, 353, 341 RPC was registered in P/S Batamaloo and investigation was set in motion,” the Commission observed.
Taking note of the directions of the Commission, the SSP identified the police personnel appearing in the photograph as Head constable Gopal Das (No. 344/Sec).
Accordingly, the Commission said, a departmental enquiry was ordered against the official to be conducted by Sunil Kumar, SP West Zone Srinagar.
Subsequently Kumar filed the report, exonerating the Head Constable shown in the picture to be grappling with woman as “innocent”.
In fact, the inquiry officer has blamed the photojournalist with Commission reproducing its report, in the judgment stating: “The way photograph has appeared may be handiwork of any photographer (mischievous element) who could have either not been obliged by police anyway who then started a vilification campaign against police just to malign the image of police. Otherwise, after proper enquiry it surfaced factually that no such outraging of modesty of women.”
After hearing CPO Aijaz Ahmad and CPO Ghulam Jeelani and going through the entire record available on file, the Commission observed that the enquiry has been conducted in a “partial and unfair manner apparently to shield the erring police official.”
“Although the police personnel who is shown in the photograph appeared in the daily, grappling with a lady, has been identified the identity of the lady who is shown in the photograph could not be ascertained. One fails to understand and believe that the Police Department and the enquiry officer have failed to locate the woman whose photograph was available and was published in the newspapers.”
Had the enquiry officer, the Commission said, serious and committed to establish the actual facts in the case, “he would have definitely searched the woman from Baran Pather, Batamaloo, but from the findings of the enquiry, it appears that the enquiry officer has taken and conducted the enquiry lackadaisically and, in order to shield the guilty.”
“It appears that the enquiry officer was predetermined and planned to negate the whole story of the photograph,” the Commission said.
Secondly, the Commission said, had the services of women police pressed into deal with the situation, why and for what reasons the erring official dealt with lady protestors and manhandled the one shown in the photograph?
“The way our policemen deal with the crowd and more particularly with women protestors, speaks volumes about how the police is flouting the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for crowd control,” the Commission said.
“The main object of use of such force is to disperse the assembly and no punitive or repressive considerations should be operative while such force is being used. The procedure regulating the use of force is outlined in the Police Manual in detail which must be followed on ground in letter and spirit.”
Meanwhile, the Commission has also termed as ‘highly unfortunate” DC Srinagar’s conduct in not revealing the name and particulars of the Executive Magistrate who was posted with his office on the fateful date.
“The role and conduct of Deputy Commissioner Srinagar in the matter is highly objectionable and irresponsible. Therefore, the Commission deems it proper to recommend to Divisional Commissioner Kashmir for holding an enquiry regarding the insensitive and irresponsible role and conduct by the (DC) in the matter and as to why and on what grounds he chose not to disclose the name and particulars of the Executive Magistrate,” the Commission said, directing filing of the inquiry report within the stipulated time frame as prescribed in the J&K Protection of Human Rights Act, 1997.