Monday, August 08, 2016

Dark Night Advisories: How Raj-Era Prejudice Still Taints Police Attitudes Towards 'Criminal Tribes'?


The authorities in North India believe that it is necessary to treat these communities differently.

About once every month, police departments in North Indian states issue rather unique instructions to those on the beat: “Dark Night” advisories that alert police teams about potential strikes by dangerous gangs that usually contain more than a few references to communities once known as criminal tribes.

While academics have long dispensed with the colonial term, which dates back to the Criminal Tribes Act in 1871, the Bulandshahr rape case and Puducherry Lt Governor Kiran Bedi’s tweet labeling these tribes “cruel” and “hardcore” has renewed focus on elements of policing that still rely on Raj-era ideas about Indian culture.

But even as sociologists have long dispensed with the idea of ascribing criminality to entire groups of people, police officers across North India continue to insist that people from these communities – now known as the denotified tribes – must be treated differently.

“Tackling denotified tribes demand a specific approach which includes methods like keeping tab over the lunar calendar and stepping up dark night vigil,” said Anees Ahmad Ansari, senior superintendent of police, who is overseeing the investigation into the Bulandhshahr rape case in which the authorities claim that people from the denotified Bawariya tribe were involved. “Criminal elements from such tribes usually cannot be tracked through technical intelligence, which makes police dependent on traditional methods even today.”

Dark Night booklet
In the cases of other urban gangs and criminal communities, policing has gotten more technical – relying on surveillance, call data, informants and other methods of ensuring the police can tap into their conversation. But according to Ansari, when it comes to the denotified tribes, authorities still have to pay attention to traditional patterns that he claimed “discloses group behavior”.

“For instance, the Bawariyas still strike in the dark nights, they do not stay for long in close proximity to the place of occurrence of crime and they do not communicate much with locals in the places they temporarily take shelter in," Ansari said. "These patterns demand that the police adopt an approach that has been in the police book for decades.”

That's where the Dark Night booklet comes in. This set of instructions offers a manual to follow on amavasya, new moon nights, when – according to conventional wisdom – members of these groups are most likely to strike.

“The Dark Night memo issued to all concerned deputy commissioners – meant to be communicated to police stations – demands intensified night patrolling for a timeline of at least seven days with the new moon night as its median,” said Rajan Bhagat, Deputy Commissioner of Delhi Police (Crime Branch). “The dark night advisory also demands effective foot patrolling of outlying areas and stretches around canals and railway tracks, where nomadic tribes usually settle down.”

These instructions continue to be issued, in states like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, and are still seen as an important aspect of policing.

Shifting 'menace'
Things have changed – a little. The Delhi Police no longer takes this approach to dealing with nomadic tribes in urban areas.

“Around 10 years ago, the Delhi Police had a compendium on criminal elements belonging to nomadic tribes like Bawariya and Pardi," Bhagat said. "It is no longer published because the menace of crime by people from nomadic tribes has reduced in the city, though the police has to remain alert in the outlying areas.”
This was reiterated by Maxwell Pereira, a former joint commissioner of Delhi Police, who spent time in the 1980s and 1990s dealing with crimes allegedly committed by people from nomadic tribes like the Bawariyas and Pardis.

“There are specific ways of tackling denotified tribes,” Pereira said. “Around 20 years ago, there used to be Bawariya settlements in Maharani Bagh and New Friends Colony, which are considered to be posh South Delhi colonies at this date. As the city expanded, they left those colonies over time and shifted to the fringes.”

Secret patterns
Despite this geographical change, police officers continue to see entire tribes as being inherently criminal, even if that label is no longer applied to them.
Pereira spoke of the pattern that he was taught to spot in his time policing. “[Bawariyas] commit a series of robberies in one go, preferably on a single night – the new moon night or the ones immediately preceding or succeeding it," he said. "They are also known for defecating at the houses they target. Also, when they come back with the loot, it isn’t distributed immediately.”

It gets even more specific than that. Pereira claimed that there are also certain patterns in their modus operandi, such as targeting the house second to the corner plot in a lane. While the reason behind choosing the new moon night could be attributed to the darkness and the convenience it provides in executing crimes and escaping with ease, the mystery behind this pattern with regard to the houses they targeted is still a mystery.

Periera put a caveat on his statements, saying things might have changed over time and it can’t be said whether such practices are still followed. But not everyone is so careful. Ashok Chand, a former additional commissioner of Delhi Police, insists that such behaviour is intrinsic to members of these groups.

“Criminal elements from such tribes have a consistent modus operandi which they pass through generations,” he said. “For the Bawariyas, they have plundered villages for years before they started striking on highways, targeting travellers.”

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