On September 3, the Kerala High Court ordered state police chief, Anil Kant, to remind his force of the need to treat and address the citizens with respect.
A week later, on September 10, the top cop issued a circular asking his colleagues to stop addressing the public 'eda', 'edi' and 'nee' because those Malayalam words, alleged to be the favourites of the police force, reflect disrespect and a sense of authoritarianism unless used in friendly or familial contexts.
The court censure and the ensuing course correction by the police are the results of a legal fight initiated by an ordinary citizen who felt that his self-esteem and that of his daughters were hurt by a police officer's rude behaviour.
That ordinary citizen, who has forced the Kerala police to mend their ways – at least on paper -- is Anil J S, a Maharashtra-based businessman living in Cherppu in the Thrissur district.
It all started in early April when the then Cherppu SI N Mahesh and a few colleagues – who were on Covid protocol enforcement duty – verbally harassed Anil's daughters.
The children were at a supermarket that Anil owns at Oorakam near Cherppu.
“The police entered the shop when my employees were about to down the shutter. They used indecent words which shocked my minor daughters," said Anil, who came to Kerala with his relatives when he was eight and has been living here since.
"When they (his daughters) told me about the incident, I went to the police station and asked an officer what actually happened. The SI was not there at that time. The officer I spoke to was such a nice man that he consoled me and I returned home peacefully,” the 48-year-old told Onmanorama.
However, he didn't know that the worse was yet to come. The SI was apparently furious to learn about Anil's visit to the station.
“The SI came to my business centre again on multiple occasions and threatened to teach me a lesson. He wanted to know why I alone had a complaint against the police,” Anil wrote in a complaint, dated May 27, which he filed to the DGP. A copy of the complaint was marked to the Thrissur SP and state home secretary.
Anil and the local police had maintained a bitter relationship for months.
He decided to file a complaint following a series of incidents, which he believes was part of the police's vengeful behaviour. He claims that petty cases were slapped on him on April 21 and 24 and May 26 for violation of Covid protocol and breaking motor vehicle rules.
"Apart from these, I was summoned to the police station on May 7 alleging that someone had sold stolen gold to me in 2019, and 12 grams of gold was recovered from me," says Anil.
In his complaint to the police chief, Anil has detailed the incident related to the alleged stolen gold.
"On May 15, I was again summoned to the station saying it was part of a probe into a complaint by a woman named Radhika Maruti. I was made to sit in the station for five hours and told that I would be allowed to leave only after giving 22 grams of gold to Radhika. The police forcefully took 22 grams of gold from me saying otherwise they would charge me with a case and arrest me," Anil said in his complaint.
He claims that Radhika and her husband had borrowed some money and he had allowed them more time to repay as her husband had fallen ill. According to him, Radhika had given him the gold as repayment of a portion of the loan she had availed from him. "The police, however, said I had taken it from her forcefully. They didn't give me the time to produce all the required documents regarding the loan.”
Prayer for justice
Anil had filed a complaint with the police chief saying the recurring police actions have been obstructing his peaceful life and it had become difficult for him to run his businesses. He had asked the police chief to take steps to help him get back the gold recovered from him. With the cops failing to respond, Anil moved the high court.
Justice Devan Ramachandran who heard the petition observed that instances of allegations about the police disrespecting the citizens were arriving at its doors with alarming regularity.
The government, in response to Anil's petition, submitted a report that stated the police actions against the businessman were for solid reasons. He had repeatedly violated Covid protocol, the government told the court.
However, the court, found that the averments in the Action Taken Report were not substantiated, and called for an additional report. The additional report stated that the SI had not used abusive language against the petitioner's daughter. The Court however expressed its dissatisfaction with the additional Report and found that there were several loose ends in it.
The court verdict
“...Both the “Action Taken Reports” have attempted to cast aspersions on the petitioner, to project him as a person who is a virtual habitual offender," the High Court noted.
"The conduct of the petitioner is not relevant to this case because even if it is assumed that he is so, no Police Officer can transgress the perimeters of decency. ...One aspect that singularly troubles the mind of this Court is the allegation of the petitioner that the fourth respondent - Sub Inspector used abusive language against his minor daughter on the accusation that she had not complied with the COVID–19 protocols. This is something that creates disconcert to this Court," the court said in its order.
As for the accusations against the petitioner, the court said that Anil had been left with the liberty to invoke legal remedies to prove his innocence.
On the usage of eda, edi by the force, the court noted: “..the afore words, if used to address citizens by police officers, is anathema to a civilised and cultured force and are the relic of the colonial subjugatory tactics.”
“I went to the police station on the first instance as I was saddened to see my daughters' situation. It was the first time they had stepped out of the home to help me in business and they had to face the police's arrogance. I tried to find out what happened as I believe using abusive and intimidating language against women is unacceptable," says Anil, adding that initially his daughters had tried to dissuade him from filing the complaint, but "they are now happy with the high court verdict".
He has already moved a lower court to release the gold recovered from him as stolen material, while he is set to file a case to retrieve the loan amount she had paid to the woman.
Asked if he was afraid of more cases being slapped against him, he said, “no”. However, he remembered the irate look a police officer threw at him recently when a team of cops passed by him at Cherppu junction.