Brown Skin: The role of abuse of power in Law Enforcement

The case of 14-year old school-boy Ahmed is all over the social media recently. He constructed an alarm clock at home and bought it to school, but instead of getting recognition, he was arrested. It was suspected that having brown skin and being a Muslim made it more likely that he would have constructed a bomb and not an alarm clock. If this racial profiling it itself was not provoking enough, there were parallel and subsequent news reports which added fuel to fire.

Ahmed Mohammed

Ahmed Mohammed

( http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/22/ahmed-mohamed-withdraws-from-texas-school-that-suspended-him-over-clock)

In an alternative case scenario, a Caucasian school boy of thirteen years of age was applauded for building a nuclear fission reactor with the help of his school. More and more people are asking how this is justified considering a nuclear reactor is much more lethal than an alarm clock. Reports also stated that Ahmed or the alarm clock were not isolated which would be the case if he were really with a bomb. None of the usual bomb safety protocol was followed. It is being suggested that it is very likely that everyone knew this was not a bomb. It seemed like an avenue for harassment.

Which raises a puzzling question: why does law enforcement fall prey to confirming and acting by societal stereotypes? Is it the fact that there isn’t enough training to sensitize them to the effects of their unchecked beliefs and social biases that they may not only be carrying but also reinforcing? That is true, but there is more to the story. According to Feminist Theory, Law, Marriage, Religion and Police are some of the many institutions that work to maintain the status quo. Their language, hierarchy and functioning in structured in such a way that they are given power to replicate what they grew up learning, and use policing and justice systems to reinforce it.

Further, the role of power itself may add to the whole problem. In the iconic Stanford Prison Experiment, a team of researchers found that when everyday people were arbitrarily put in the role of prisoner and guard, those in the role of the guards enforced authoritarian measures and ultimately subjected some of the prisoners to psychological torture. Many of the prisoners passively accepted psychological abuse and, at the request of the guards, readily harassed other prisoners who attempted to prevent it. The experiment even affected head of the study Dr, Zimbardo himself, who, in his role as the superintendent, permitted the abuse to continue.

Stanford Prison Experiment

(http://www.prisonexp.org/)

In the highlights of these findings, we really have to question the incomplete training of our law enforcement officials as well as the absolute power we invest in them. Cases of misuse of power are rampant in India too, with high rates of communal crime, non-minority criminals, celebrities getting softer sentences and less punishment, crimes on women and corruption.

Two measures that must take place are intensive training to sensitize officers to the biases they carry and the effect it can have, and the other is that there should be stringent punishment if an officer uses his post for satisfying bias-led harassment and torture.

Law_Enforcement

(http://www.crunchwear.com/law-enforcement-tech-top-5/)

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India : Forever the plundered.

The case of the moving bus gang-rape victim is all over the papers, I need not repeat it. But is this case only about a girl who got raped? Or its about a societal attitude that has cropped up in the most extreme forms?

Following the news, my parents (like many of my friends’ parents), have been stringent with where I go and what time I get back, among other restrictions. They are obviously trying to keep me safe, but in doing so, they are reinforcing the very notion that is wrong: Women are vulnerable, and need to be protected, that the outside world is not their place, and that if they go there, they will always carry a risk.

But its not only my parents that are wrong, many other agents in the society are. Death penalty, castration demands, fast-track courts, outrage – all are required. But they aren’t the solution to the problem. They are like the bucket you keep under a water leakage till you can get a plumber to fix it.

But this is what we do – we never get the plumber, and when the bucket overflows, we don’t replace or empty it either. Our outrage, like that of the past, will die within a couple of months, like it did with the Kenan and Reuben case, among many others. Besides, our outrage is shade racist. We don’t care much for women raped in Kashmir, for example. This woman, was raped twice. After the gangrape, she was raped in police custody because her brother joined militants. http://www.kashmirdispatch.com/sameer-bhat/211210446-shabnam-the-woman-who-was-raped-twice.htm . For the extended article, see – http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/2012/Dec/23/kashmir-joins-delhi-gang-rape-protests-albeit-with-a-suffix-37.asp . Here, we are implying 2 things – that even the women of those regions who contribute to the economy of the nation are not safe, and backward in their views towards women, as backwards as remote areas, and second, that only people in such privileged areas are important, that only these’ peoples rights will be fought for, and that only the voice of the metros matters.

Besides the way we outrage, even the way we grow up is wrong. This two articles in The Hindu say what I want to say, rather well – http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/rape-and-the-crisis-of-indian-masculinity/article4214267.ece , http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/time-to-be-ashamed/article4214334.ece .

The basic idea of these two articles, is that most rapes are those where young males encroach upon the modesty and freedom of women who are just trying to work and carry on their daily life. But, somewhere, there is resentment. They have grown up having more importance than their wives and sisters at home, and they can’t digest it when these same weak women, take up jobs that should be theirs, and earn prestige they aren’t entitled to.

It is not only the young unemployed youth who have this mindset. In minor rape cases, constables often escort young boys and girls to hospital wards for medical examination, loudly claiming that ‘iska rape hua hai. Check karo’, apparently having no idea how it will traumatize the child.

It takes no genius to realize that he needs to be sensitive. But, he is just one of the faces among many. The many who feel that anyone who is weak can be exploited, and blamed. As if somewhere, he felt that it was the child’s fault that he was raped. (Or that he reported the crime? God knows)

We already know of cases where men working in the lower rungs of law enforcement themselves are wife-beaters, tribal officers themselves rape young tribal girls. In these, and many other cases, there is double or more than double victimization.

And this is not just the remote places that I’m talking of. Everyday, in each home in the city even, subtle sexism still exists. Maybe they do it because they feel they are protecting their daughters, but in truth they are not. They are getting them accustomed to the ways of society, but of such a rotten society, that it needs to be changed. Girls shouldn’t be asked to stop going out, but be equipped to be safe wherever they go out. And this is only  a temporary solution – in long term – such measures should not be required – the society should be THAT SAFE.

People will tell me that what I say here is very idealistic, and that fast-track courts are a much more practical idea. Yes, they are a brilliant idea, to handle the level of problems that we have reached. But eventually, you will need to go to the root of the issue and treat it. And that lies in changing how the men and the women of the nation think.

India has been forever a plundered land. Be it by outsiders, or by those within. That needs to change. Not because women work, or contribute to GDP, or give birth to children, or are your wives or sisters, but because they are human and there is no other justification required.

girl

(Photo contributed by @AdamFredie on Twitter)