Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry and India’s first woman IPS officer Kiran Bedi's tweet earlier this week calling ex-criminal tribes “very cruel” and “hardcore professionals in committing crime” has exposed just how deep-rooted a colonial-era law, that has since been repealed, is today.
Ex-criminal tribes are known to be very cruel. They are hardcore professionals in committing crimes. Rarely caught and/or convicted..— Kiran Bedi (@thekiranbedi) August 2, 2016
Bedi’s tweet comes days after the Uttar Pradesh police arrested three men in connection with the brutal gang rape of a woman and her daughter in Bulandshahr. The men reportedly belong to the Bawaria tribe, a nomadic tribe that had been listed among 150 as “criminal” in British India under the “Criminal Tribes Act” of 1871. Author Dilip D’Souza, writing in Scroll points out that colonial act branded you a criminal, “the day you were born into one of those tribes.” Academics say the Act was the British regime’s move to target communities that took part in the Revolt of 1857, reports The New Indian Express.
The Criminal Tribes Act was finally repealed in 1952, five years after India gained independence, with the tribes being “denotified”, writes D’Souza. But activists point out that the mindset criminalising tribes is very much in existence in the country’s police force, as evidenced by the former IPS officer’s tweet. Balamurugan, Secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry says, “The community is routinely targeted by the police. They are picked up by the police and false cases are foisted on them.”
While Balamurugan points to a case of Tamil Nadu’s Narikuruva’s being illegally detained in Kanyakumari last month, The New Indian Express featured a rebuttal to Kiran Bedi by a 17-year-old boy from the Kurava community, who had been under the illegal custody of the Chennai Police. Titled “Ms Bedi, I am a Kuruva and I’m not a thief”, the first-person account recounts how the minor along with his cousin and uncle were picked up by the Ambattur police in Chennai for burglary. The newspaper reported that the boy was allegedly tortured while in custody, beaten up by officials, who hit him along with his two other family members with a wooden log. While the police released the boy three days later after finding out that he was a juvenile, the minor’s cousin and uncle remain in police custody.
Condemning Bedi for her comments, PUCL’s Balamurugan said, “She is the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry, the custodian of the Constitution. Her words expose a colonial and feudal attitude. It is undemocratic and no one can be discriminated based on race, caste or religion.” Calling for sensitisation of the police force, the human rights activist also said it was time for reforming the Police Act of 1861, which is also a colonial act.