A woman who sells fish harassed, a man cutting grass for his cow fined, the list of police excesses has been growing in the last few days.

Maryamma paripally video screenshotPhoto: Vismaya News
news Controversy Monday, August 02, 2021 - 20:32

"I told them I will remove my stuff myself, but they did not listen to me, they threw away all my fish. I couldn't hold my tears, I was crying loudly there, when a young man came there and asked what happened. He consoled and took a video of fish lying on the ground," recalls 65-year-old Maryamma, a fish seller from Anchuthengu. She couldn't stop crying as she described the incident that happened on July 28. Visuals of her crying loudly after police threw away baskets of fish into a waste land had shocked Kerala. Police alleged that she broke COVID-19 regulations and crowds gathered to buy fish though the area was under a triple lockdown.

Maryamma, who lives in a shed made of coconut leaves, with her ailing and aged husband, says she knows no other job. "It is not that the government is not helping. But with a small amount of pensions and food kits, how can I meet the medical expenses and other basic needs we have at home?" she asks.

Maryamma’s case is not isolated. In the last few weeks a number of incidents have been reported from Kerala, chronicling two things- police excesses and the public’s displeasure over the attitude of police personnel.

On the same day Maryamma was harassed, another person, Narayanan of Kasaragod was also shocked by police action without any humane consideration. "My wife was diagnosed with coronavirus. She was quarantined for nine days already then. Though there was no restriction for the family to go out, I remained at home for safety. But I live with the income I get by selling milk. I stepped out to collect some grass for the cow. It was an isolated area and not a single person could be seen anywhere around. I was also wearing a mask. Suddenly,  the police came and fined me Rs 2000," he said.

Narayanan lives in a house with a roof made of tarpaulin sheet. To even buy that sheet, he borrowed money from a friend. Moreover he did not even have Rs 10 in his pocket when the police came. "I borrowed a fine amount from a relative. I have no clue how long I have to struggle to pay it back," Narayanan told TNM.

With many incidents like these being reported from across the state, the public outrage has been growing. Even on the Kerala police’s social media pages, angry reactions have been pouring in.

"They will come out in the morning to misbehave with the common man. In the evening, they will put a Facebook post saying they accompanied an aged person to his home. Don't they understand this system functions with the tax money people pay," says a comment on Kerala Police's Facebook page.

Riyas Varuthakadan, a native of Pulpetta in Malappuram, a lorry driver by profession, recently made a huge garland of fine receipts issued to him by the police. On July 31, he walked around with the garland around his neck. Riyas says he has been transporting building materials, which was permitted but was fined unnecessarily.

Another video of a group of residents engaged in a spat with police has also been doing the rounds in social media. Though the time and place of the video is not identified, people wearing masks can be heard objecting to the police saying ‘vaada, poda’ (a colloquial/derogatory way of addressing people). People can be heard telling the police firmly that they need to speak in a decent manner and such words were not acceptable.

One of the incidents that irked people a lot happened on July 26. Gauri Nanda, an 18-year-old girl was charged by the police after she questioned them for misbehaving with an aged person who was outside an ATM. The incident happened in Chadayamangalam of Kollam.

Gauri was standing up for Shahabuddin, an aged man who was fined Rs 500 for visiting an ATM to take money. Both of them objected to the police using derogatory language.

Shahabuddin questioned why the police were not worried about crowds outside beverage outlets. He said that his daily income is just Rs 250 and he lives in a one room house. "There were many other people in the queue but the police just came to me, because they knew that I cannot react as I am poor," he told the media.

In the video where Gauri was seen questioning the police, a police officer could be heard saying, “Since you are a woman I cannot touch you or I would have pushed you aside now."

Activist and renowned lawyer Harish Vasudevan told TNM that police only charge common people, based on their power, economic status and the people who don't question them. "They charge petty cases on people who sell fish, who walk on the road and who go by two wheeler. But it is rare that they charge a person who travels by car," he said.

In the case of Shahabudin this class difference was evident, as he says that there were many people outside the ATM and only he was fined, questioned.

Harish Vasudevan also pointed out that from the top police officers are given a target to collect fine charges. "Police charge unnecessarily to meet their target. All police officers will tell you this," he said.

"Human Rights Commission and Police complaints authority are just namesakes. They don't support the common man, they are just puppets," he alleged.

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