They are the usual suspects. When there is a theft, the police round up someone from the Pardhi community, a de-notified tribe in Maharashtra traditionally criminalised. In fact, the entire community is terrorised. So are the other weaker sections — Dalits and Adivasis, in particular — who can be nabbed, beaten up and tortured, along with their families, at will and on suspicion with impunity.

“To beat up a Pardhi is the easiest thing. Their community is leaderless and therefore voiceless. Because of the people’s bias, there is no social action or complaint in the event of police injustice. People see them as criminals and justify the beatings,” said H.P. Deshmukh of Yuva Gram, an organisation which works with the community in Beed district.

He was attending a day-long workshop on ‘Custodial Violence and the Law’ held here on Saturday.

“The police have an album of Pardhi people in the area, from which people are asked to identify,” advocate Mahrukh Adenwala said. She pointed out that “branding” of communities led to many cases of illegal detention and torture.

“If you are a Muslim, you are branded a terrorist; if you are an Adivasi, you are branded a naxal…During the [1993] riots and blasts in Mumbai, we saw the police picking up people. They would not beat them, but get their families instead and threaten to torture them [as a form of coercion],” Ms. Adenwala said.

Various forms of police torture, in violation of a person’s fundamental right to live with human dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution, were discussed at the workshop. Participants said torture was not confined to beatings in a prison cell; there was mental and sexual torture to boot. The police entered homes and beat up families, they said.

Rajendra Patode of the Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh, a political party with a strong presence in Akola district, said even medical officers worked as “resource persons for the police.”

“Doctors tell the police how to beat, where to beat and how it can be treated. There is a technique, falanga, by which a person is hung upside down and beaten up on the soles. It leaves no medical evidence,” he said.

Shocking instance

Narrating a shocking instance of police atrocities in a court case, which has been pending since 2005, Mr. Patode said: “A Buddhist youth Milind Athawale was picked up on suspicion as he happened to be at the spot where a motorcycle had been stolen. While in custody, we learnt, his private parts were injected with petrol. His condition got serious; he was released after five days in police custody, after which he died. Since then we have been asking for invoking the [Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes] Atrocities Act, but it has not been done.”

Ms. Adenwala pointed to a grim trend where Adivasis and activists protesting against government policy and fighting for retaining their land were targeted and terrorised in a bid to suppress their voices.

“Earlier the justification [for torture] was that the person is a terrorist; he or she is anti-people. But today, activists who oppose SEZs [special economic zones] and fight for tribal rights are termed terrorists.”

During an agitation by the fishing community of Umbergaon in Gujarat, the police cracked down on a morcha in 2000 and beat up activist Colonel Save to death, Ms. Adenwala said. She urged lawyers and courts to take a stand against custodial violence.

Keywords: DalitsPardhisMaharashtra