Civil society organisations and activists have on Monday written a letter to police commissioners in Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) and have expressed their concern over police violence against vulnerable communities, particularly the homeless, migrant and informal workers, daily wage earners, sex workers, domestic workers, and other marginalised groups.
During the ongoing second wave of COVID-19 and the restrictions put in place to curb the pandemic, the letter states that there have been "heated altercations" between slum dwellers and the police in many wards of Mumbai city.
"Homeless people are being forcefully removed from public spaces and asked to go back to villages by the police and state authorities. In industrial areas, the police are forcefully shutting down small manufacturing units despite the Break the Chain guidelines released on April 5 allowing these facilities to operate during the day. Our experience also suggests that the police engage in arbitrary violence against hawkers, shopkeepers and others using public spaces for their livelihoods, often charging them INR 500-1000 per day to stay open despite the guidelines giving them permission to do so," reads the letter.
"Domestic workers and other categories of workers who do not possess work ID cards are also vulnerable to harassment as they travel between home and work as per the rules," it added.
In a joint letter to Hemant Nagrale (Mumbai Police Commissioner), Sadanand Date (Mira Bhayandar Vasai Virar Police Commissioner), Bipin Kumar Singh (Navi Mumbai Police Commissioner), and Vivek Phansalkar (Thane Police Commissioner), the civil society organisations and activists have urged the police to be sensitive towards the vulnerable communities.
"The police must be sensitised to the unique vulnerabilities of informal workers and those living in informal settlements, where people are compelled to spend time outside their homes due to excessive heat and cramped living spaces. No violence should be used when people are moving outside their homes within their settlements, using public toilets and public water sources or accessing ration stores and medical stores," the letter read.
They have further "strongly suggested" that the police and local municipal corporations rope in community leaders and address the gaps in communication between the state and the communities instead of using excessive force. "In addition, the Home Guards and Civil Defense can be deployed for crowd control, food and other relief facilitation for the vulnerable, etc. which will reduce the burden on the police force," it read.
The letter is signed by Medha Patkar, Mariyam Joseph, Amita Bhide, Yogendra Yadav's Swaraj India, Citizens for Justice and Peace, and others.