POLICE BRUTALITY: CUSTODIAL DEATHS AND TORTURES

INTRODUCTION

It was the 15th of December 2019, when police barged into the main central library of Jamia Milia Islamia University and started beating with lathis (sticks) everyone they could see amid anti CAA protest. It was the incident that turned a law student, who was preparing for exams in the library completely unaware of what is going to happen in just a matter of seconds, partially blind. In the aftermath of this incident, about two hundred students were admitted to AIIMS and other nearby hospitals. This is just one of the many harsh and recent examples of police brutality. Over the years voices have been raised globally to derecognize such a harsh institution in modern civilization, but in India, there is hardly any important discourse available on it despite the existence of many incidents of police brutality. Public outrage over police brutality is either minuscule or it seems that the public has now given up.[1]

What is police brutality?

it means excessive force used by the law enforcement agencies as a shortcut to ensure law and order to hide their failures and to reach a conclusion in an investigation. But remember shortcuts do not always lead to the right destination, they can be misleading sometimes.

Police brutality involves;

  1. Failure to investigate cases
  2. Illegal and arbitrary detention
  3. Custodial torture
  4. Extra-judicial execution

 It’s important to have as many discourses available on this topic as possible on time because it doesn’t only affect the justice system of our country but it creates apprehension in the minds of common people before even they start to think about justice.[2]You can not catch the train once it leaves the station, and here the train is just about to leave or may have left.

Custodial Deaths

According to the national crime records bureau (NCRB) statistics, 1,888 custodial deaths have been reported from 2000-to 20. Around 800 cases have been registered against police personnel, and only 300 cases have been charge-sheeted, out of this only 26 have been convicted.[3] But these are only reported numbers. Gujarat topped the chart in 2020 in recording the highest number of such deaths.[4] In a written reply submitted in Lok-sabha by the former minister of state for home affairs, G Kishan Reddy stated the fact that about 1,697 custodial deaths were recorded between April 2019 to March 2020 which means around 5 custodial deaths were recorded every day. Minister of state for home affairs Nityanand Rai told the Lok Sabha that 348 people died in police custody, and around 1189 were tortured during detention. When the minister was asked by another M.P in Lok-sabha whether any action has been taken against the accused police officers to which minister replied “ police and public order are state subjects as per the seventh schedule of the constitution, and the responsibility of maintaining law and order and investigation of such cases rests primarily with the state.”[5]

The cases of deaths and torture by the police seem to become normal these days. Why would it not be when the guidelines of NHRC and the apex court are often ignored. As per NHRC guidelines, in case any death in the custody of police occurs the police is ought to send the details of such death to it along with post mortem and magisterial report within 2 months( earlier it was 24 hours). but in most cases of such deaths under police custody, these guidelines are ignored or not taken seriously. In some cases, officers don’t cooperate in the magisterial inquiry, or in some, they delay the procedure which makes their reports unreliable. In many post mortem reports of such cases, the reason given is either suicide or illness.

Let me give you a real-life example in which you will see how suicide and torture occur in police custody. In November 2021, a young boy named Altaf committed suicide by tieing himself against the plastic pipe (2 feet long from the ground) with his jacket. Reportedly, The police took him to the police station for suspicion where he was sent to the bathroom, after a while when he did not come out a worker was sent to check him and found him hanged against a 2 feet long pipe. Now, this case of suicide raised a serious question, how can a 5 feet long man commit suicide with 2 feet long pipe that is too plastic. [6] Another infamous case of police torture by the police that occurred in the Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu killed the duo of a father and a son. The duo was killed by the police just to satisfy their ego and as a show of power. This incident was not only covered nationally but globally too as police in India use brutal methods. Such incidents are undoubtedly harsh, cruel, and disparaging to the nation’s image.[7]

But the question here is why we need such an institution? Why there is an institution that the common man is afraid of? How did it come into existence? I think it’s undebatable that such a police force was established by Britishers to suppress the voice of bold Indians who fought for their rights and PurnSwaraj (absolute independence)and consolidate their misrule in India which would obey the rules of the English executive. But after independence, it seems like the need to make some changes in such a harsh institution was not forgotten but was taken lightly. I know those who are serving in this institution are also patriotic Indians whose ancestors also must have fought for freedom. But it can not be denied that reforms are needed in this institution and that rowdy attitude needs to be gone because that’s only how every single one in this country won’t feel hesitant before approaching their force, their own force, the force of independent India.

Courts Directions

Some guidelines have been laid down by the courts from time to time against police torture and brutality, but sadly they are often ignored. Let’s have a look at some judgments:

  1. Prakash Singh and Ors. vs. Union of India, this case could have become a landmark judgment if it had been taken seriously by the governments. This judgment of the supreme court can help a lot in curbing the police attitude, giving power to the victims of this attitude, and ensuring accountability. This judgment made many recommendations but the following are worth mentioning here:
    1. An unbiased security commission with CM/Home minister, leader of the opposition, and a retired high court as its member for checks and balances over the unbridled power of the police.
    2. An authority to hear and investigate the complaints against police misconduct like custodial deaths/tortures, harassment, etc both at the state level and district level with retired judges as its members.[8]

What do you think have all these guidelines of the supreme court been implemented? The answer is a big no. you will be more surprised after knowing that these guidelines were laid down in 2006, 15 long years ago. if these guidelines had been complied with and implemented properly by the state, then it would have curbed such tortures to a great extent and established an authority to investigate the misconducts of police.

  1. ParamvirSingh Saini v. Baljit Singh and ors.- The supreme court directed the centre and all the states, and UTs to install CCTV cameras in the offices of all the investigating offices like CBI, ED, etc, especially police stations within 5 months with no part left uncovered. But unfortunately, these guidelines have not been implemented yet, but there is hope that soon they will be implemented because following this order various high courts have also issued the same directions to the state government.[9]

CONCLUSION

This is just one of the many forms of police brutality that this article deals with. There are many which arise out of the arrogant and rowdy attitude of investigating agencies. we have many safeguarding provisions against such evils but without the awareness of these laws and judgments among the common masses, they are of no use. Investigating agencies need to be made to feel that the masses have the recourse to take if any misconduct is reported from their side. They should understand that laws apply to them as well. Any misconduct by them under the garb of their uniform will not be accepted. But to make all these possible, the above judgments need to be implemented with immediate effect. Investigating agencies in our country have been given wide and unbridled powers. But now, it’s high time to puts some serious checks and balances because it has become evident that power is being misused.

Authors Name: Lovesh Mamnani (Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi)

Salonee Sharma (Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala)

References:

[1]Kamal kumar, Only public pressure can bring police reforms now. Supreme Court order is gathering dust, (Sep, 24, 2021), https://theprint.in/opinion/only-public-pressure-can-bring-police-reforms-now-supreme-court-order-is-gathering-dust/739091/.

[2]Anurag Tiwary, Citizens’ failure: making sense of police brutality in India,(Oct,29,2021),https://theleaflet.in/citizens-failure-making-sense-of-police-brutality-in-india/.

[3] Mohit Rao, Indian police use violence as a shortcut to justice. It’s the poorest who bear the scars, https://edition.cnn.com/2020/12/02/india/police-brutality-india-dst-intl-hnk/index.html.

[4] Tushar Tere, Gujarat tops in custodial deaths across India, (Sep 17, 2021, 08:21 IST), https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/vadodara/guj-tops-in-custodial-deaths-across-india/articleshow/86272138.cms.

[5] M.P Nathanel, Putting an end to police brutality,(Aug 9,2021), https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/police-brutality-custodial-deaths-ncrb-data-7444764/.

[6]AsadRehman, Kasganj custodial death case: HC says exhume body, get second post mortem at AIIMS in Delhi, (Feb,11,2022), https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/lucknow/allahabad-high-court-kasganj-custodial-death-case-exhume-body-aiims-post-mortem-7767569/#:~:text=The%20Allahabad%20High%20Court%20has,(AIIMS)%20in%20New%20Delhi.

[7] Arun Janardhanan, Explained: How Tamil Nadu Police’s brutal act of revenge claimed lives of a father and son,(Sep,24,2020), https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-tamil-nadu-police-custodial-torture-father-son-killed-thoothukudi-6479190/

[8]Prakash Singh v. Union of India, (2019) 4 SCC 1

[9]Paramvir Singh Saini v. Baljit Singh, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 999

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