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Fear Of Police Killed Many In Hooch Tragedy

By Sukant Khurana, Ph.D. & Brooks Robinson

19 December, 2011

Unless you were born with a sliver spoon in your mouth, you know what is the true face of the Indian police force. After returning from US to stay in India for more than a vacation after 7 years away, I (S.K) was surprised to see that absolutely nothing has changed in the behavior of the Delhi police force. A bit of travel around the country confirmed that the scene of police and public interaction is no different in the rest of the country either. A simple experiment of comparing wearing shabby clothes and riding an old fashioned bicycle while following all rules vs. jumping a red light and stopping abruptly in the middle of the road while driving a new Mercedes and yelling obscenities at someone in front of a policeman can tell you of the character of the men in uniform. Everyone is equal though some are more equal in the eyes of these men. Or one can conduct a less involved experiment by just standing at an intersection of Rohini, in the Capital city of Delhi and count people driving a two-wheeler without a helmet. It would be a surprise if men without uniform were found to be more likely to break the law than the men in brown, who are supposed to uphold the law. For the have-nots the police atrocities cover the whole gamut from more common mild harassment of verbal bullying, and everyday corruption to murder and rape. One need not turn back some historical page to look to some recent encounter, a missing person in a prison cell, the beating of blind students or a handicapped citizen to view the nature of the police and public relation. It is a common practice to deny filing a complaint and to fail to act even if the complaint is lodged.

Poor people are afraid to seek police help or report a crime, leave alone go to them when they have actually broken the law. The recent hooch tragedy in West Bengal in which 171 people died is a glaring example of the sorry state of the police force. It is high time we start demanding these public servants, to start acting like a public servants instead of a veritable arm of the political and ruling class. First this tragedy could not have happened if the police force was not in the pockets of the local alcohol mafia. Secondly, and more importantly even when people started feeling the symptoms of methanol poisoning, shockingly they did not head to hospitals for the fear of police harassment. Sadly this is not the first instance of this nature. On a similar note, but of more everyday relevance, even though the rules have changed “on paper”, people still are afraid to take a stranger to the hospital for the fear of police harassment. Earlier physicians could not even start treating patients until a police report was filed. Instead of Mamta playing the blame game or some other politician playing the blame game when a tragedy hits their state what we need is clearly a two fold change: the police force needs to be put in its place as a public servant and secondly, at the legislative level, for all health related problems police should be required to help before questioning. Only in a dictatorial and undemocratic climate can people lose their lives for the fear of police that merely acts as the honcho of a ruling elite.

Dr. Sukant Khurana is a New York based scientist of Indian origin who is working on both basic and applied side of many health issues. In collaboration with Brooks Robinson, a neuroscientist working on addiction, learning and memory, Dr. Khurana is working on a book on alcohol issues of India. Their public outreach writings relevant to alcoholism are available at:

https://sites.google.com/site/sukantkhurana2/ and https://sites.google.com/site/sukantkhurana/alcoholism-writing-of-sukant




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