India is no stranger to mobs rampaging through neighbourhoods breaking vehicles, assaulting residents and sometimes firing guns. If the mob is composed of policemen, however, the situation demands even stricter attention.

A fact-finding mission by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties has found that much of the violence that engulfed Vadodara in the last week of September was not only due to lackadaisical policing, but actively caused by the men in uniform. In a report released on Saturday, the PUCL team concludes that a nexus between politicians, the police and criminals ensured that the tension in Vadodara that had been simmering in the run-up to Navratri would end in violence.

Visiting Vadodara soon after the riots, the PUCL team decided to look into stories from specific places where the violence appeared to have been particularly fierce. One such area was Yakutpura, where women had gotten in touch with activists to complain about police atrocities. The PUCL team, when it visited Yakutpura, found people saying that there was no trouble there until the police arrived and started to break cars and damage property.

“About 70 vehicles including, bikes, cars, auto rickshaws were damaged by them,” the report said. “They also beat some women with lathis. They were very abusive using the worst form of sexually explicit abuses. When the women questioned why they were indulging in violence on this scale, they pulled their dupattas and almost choked one of them.”

Inciting violence

This was then followed by a tactic that had been, according to PUCL, used widely in any communally charge environment and is often done to send a message. About 40 to 50 young men from the area, which is Muslim-dominated, were arrested by the cops and taken to police stations.

“As in the 2002 violence, young Muslim men were beaten mercilessly and locked up in large numbers only because they belong to a community with no evidence against them, beating and abuse of women, burning and breaking of vehicles, shops and houses,” the report said. “According to local people, this is done to incite violence and then propagate further violence.”

The PUCL said that when they submitted a memorandum to to E Radhakrishnan, the police commissioner of Vadodara, he “accepted” the fault of the crime branch in attacking the citizens and promised to take appropriate action. But he declined to form a citizen-police joint committee to reduce communal tension, the activists aid, telling them that most of the supposed violence was only rumours being spread around.

On the very next day, on September 27, an estimated 30 to 35 policemen turned up in Taiwada, another Muslim-dominated area, around 2:15 am and started breaking doors as well as arresting young men. Ashiyana Abdul Latif, a local resident, told the fact-finding team that her son was beaten up and her daughter’s clothes stripped by the police after they found that her husband was not at home. Similar events involving policemen brutality as well as the arbitrary arrest of mostly Muslim men were reported across Taiwada.

Police brutality

“As per the complaint received by human rights activists, the minority community is suffering from an added violence i.e. brutal violence by police,” the report said. “Many a time plainclothes police also known as D staff whose movements are not recorded officially, have entered the Muslim dominated neighborhoods after midnight and arrested young boys indiscriminately. There are reports of police abusing verbally and physically assaulting women in very similar pattern as witnessed during the 2002 riots.”

The report concludes that it is not simply the growing influence of right-wing groups that resulted in riots in Vadodara, although that did have an impact. Instead, it also points to the ascendance of the builder lobby and even makes mention of a conspiracy that suggests some of the violence was prompted by a need to extend the Disturbed Areas Act, which prohibits the sale of property from one religious community to another. The notification for the Act to apply in Vadodara was ending on September 30, but it has since been extended by another five years.

“Not only this incident but also growing incidents of communal violence and the apathetic role of police and administration is evident in the case of a communal clash in Ahmedabad in which one youth died on Eid ul Zuha eve and other parts of Gujarat,” the report said. “The growing influence of right wing Hindu groups who have taken to aggressive posturing, influencing and infiltrating police and administration ranks are actively creating an environment that is detrimental to communal harmony and peace.”