In an apparent violation of privacy, the Santosh Nagar police in Hyderabad carried out a blanket search operation on September 16, frisking over 200 customers in eateries under its jurisdiction. Police personnel frisked customers who were having their dinner and evening tea, and went through their pockets and wallets, as a “preventive measure.” A video of this exercise shows the Station House Officer (SHO) entering a food outlet and asking the seated customers to stand up. “Just remain standing, you will be frisked,” he tells them and proceeds to direct his subordinates to frisk them..The search did not yield any results. Nobody was found with any drugs nor were any weapons seized. Santosh Nagar SHO P Shiva Chandra told TNM that they frisked the customers on suspicion of ganja (narcotic substance) or weapons possession. “We carried out searches in 10 eateries in our jurisdiction. We did not find anything in the search, but this is a preventive measure to stop any crime from occuring,” he said.However, lawyers argue that this arbitrary police action is illegal. “It is atrocious to frisk citizens and go through their things. If the police suspect anyone of possessing any narcotic substance, they should be accompanied by a gazetted officer while carrying out the search. And before the search begins, the gazetted officer should thoroughly check the police personnel so that they do not plant any incriminating material on any suspect and frame them,” said lawyer and president of Human Rights Forum (HRF), G Madhava Rao. HRF is a civil rights organisation.“Carrying out such a search in the absence of a gazetted officer is illegal,” Rao said.Searches carried out in poor localities has also raised concerns of the police’s inherent bias against certain communities. For instance, Santosh Nagar is a Muslim-dominated area. And the police admit to profiling suspects based on their looks, attire, and vehicle. “This is not the first time we are carrying out such a task. In our jurisdiction, we have a problem of ganja possession and other criminal activities. During vehicle checks, we regularly frisk suspects to search for ganja. We do fingerprint scanning and facial recognition of these suspects to check if they have any criminal background,” the SHO said.Read: Funky haircuts or shoes, lean body: Hyderabad police’s profile of a ‘junkie’.This form of policing was previously slammed by many civil rights activists. In 2021, the Hyderabad police faced severe backlash when they started checking phones and the WhatsApp history of people randomly to identify potential ganja addicts and sellers. These type of searches are still happening in the areas around Dhoolpet, Mangalhat, Bhoiguda Kaman, and Jumeraat Bazaar, etc. Protesting this extreme form of illegal policing, the Internet Freedom Foundation had previously issued a legal notice to the then Hyderabad police commissioner and present state Director General of Police, Anjani Kumar.TNM has reported extensively about controversial police exercises, including cordon and search, which are justified as ‘preemptive measures’ to prevent crime. The cordon and search operation involves blocking off an area, usually slums or localities that house poor people, and check for their Aadhaar card, gas cylinder and vehicle documents. Previously restricted to searches by the Army in conflict zones, this operation has now spread to states like Telanagna, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu.“Frisking people randomly is completely illegal. There should be some credible suspicion if such an action is being carried out. There has to be an FIR or a case registered in the police’s General Diary. Without any credible evidence, searching people randomly is illegal,” said lawyer Vasudha Nagaraj.The eateries that were searched on September 16 include King Khaja Hotel, Lucky Hotel, Hafeez Cafe, Mashallah Hotel, among others.According to SHO Shiva Chandra, Santosh Nagar, which is a Muslim-populated area, has a problem with drugs and other criminal activities. “There are ‘roadside romeos’, and a lot of suspects who sit in these eateries till late at night and plan crimes such as murder, smuggling, and other nefarious activities,” he said. The policing is carried out only in the evenings and nights when there is heavy activity, he revealed.