The killing of George Floyd, a black man who pleaded he could not breathe as a police officer pinned his neck down to the ground, has brought the United States to a moment of reckoning. It has focused years of anger about a racially distorted law enforcement machinery that is too quick to kill, arrest and jail black men and women. It has shone light on how the country’s grim, racist past is still threaded into its systems of justice, even its social attitudes. The protests triggered by Floyd’s death have now spread beyond United States borders into other countries of the West, forcing a new conversation on race and on discriminatory policing.

Indians cannot hold themselves exempt from this conversation. The faultlines of religion and caste are so deeply entrenched in this country’s police system, they usually go unnoticed. Discrimination starts with the way laws are interpreted and used. As these researchers point out, provisions to define “habitual offenders” and preventive action for “public order maintenance” are disproportionately applied against denotified tribal communities. Colonial laws, long gone, once defined these communities as “criminal tribes”. But the colonial attitude of attributing criminality to these groups persists in police forces. Dalits, Adivasis and minority communities are other...

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