Making of a criminal, one register at a time | Shivangi Narayan

In September 2020, a court in Delhi granted bail to a man named Neeraj who had been detained by the police on the charge that he committed theft and vandalism during the Delhi pogroms. Since February, Neeraj had been kept in jail without any evidence supporting the police’s charge and only the claim that he was a known “bad character”. While a judge in the case stated that one “cannot be made to languish in jail” based on a “bad character” tag, this case draws attention to police records that are used to surveil and document people on such a label. 

Reams and reams of paper-based registers, colloquially known as “history sheets” or “ruffian records” record details of young people in an area who have not been convicted of a crime but who, in some cases, may have been previously arrested for petty crimes. These “bad characters” are those who the police have labelled as “trouble-makers”, “budding” or “potential criminals” or people who are supposedly “addicted to crime”. Because the police relies on its eyes and ears to collect information and mark people with this tag, it is only a specific section of the people that end up in these paper-registers– people living in slums or shanties, overwhelmingly belonging to the so-called non-dominant castes of Hindus or Muslims, Adivasis or migrants–people whose socio-economic status leaves them visible to the very in-real-life, physical, penetrating gaze of the state. This is what I have termed visible surveillance1In Narayan S. Guilty Until Proven Guilty: A Study of Preventive Policing Databases in India (forthcoming), a form of state intrusion enabled by the police to collect information on people who can be literally ‘watched’– within the private spaces of their home, by being physically followed or asked to periodically present themselves in police stations– that merges the boundaries of public and private.

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De-essentialising the Police | Kishor Govinda

On 24 March 2020, India entered into a nation-wide lockdown to contain the spread of the COVID19 pandemic. The Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) was invoked to ensure proper state function at a critical time. The majority of the population had very little time to prepare, and initially, guidelines were applied arbitrarily. As a result, for the first week of the pandemic, India effectively became a police state. The police had to assume a range of functions in the foreground of the state’s response to a public health emergency.

The guidelines became clearer over the course of the lockdown, though stories of police violence and overstep were very common. Violence against people performing essential services, like medical care and provisioning, continued. Especially disturbing were stories of violence against marginal groups, such as the homeless, street vendors, and migrant workers who tried to travel back to their villages. 

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