Tuesday, April 20, 2021
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Custodial Violence: Police score 5 deaths a day

Thursday, 10 December 2020, is International Human Rights Day. In India, the human rights of the arrested persons and prisoners is violated every day and perhaps every hour. The survey Reports and media count deaths on the top, and their details contain the number of tortured persons. It is a sad reflection of our level of civilisation and so-called conformity with human rights norms.

Number of custodial deaths are over five persons per day. The decade to March 2020 recorded 17,146 deaths in police and judicial custody. According to the latest data from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), in the seven months to July 2020, 914 deaths in custody, 53 of these in police custody. Of the 15,759 cases recorded over a decade in NHRC data, 92% of deaths were in judicial custody–which can extend up to 60 or 90 days–and 1,387 in police custody, which can last only 24 hours unless extended by a magistrate for up to 15 days. (https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/five-deaths-in-police-custody-every-day-over-10-years-but-few-convictions) NHRC recorded 1,723 cases of deaths in judicial custody and police custody across the country from January to December 2019. These included 1,606 deaths in judicial custody and 117 deaths in police custody1 i.e. an average of five deaths daily. (NHRC Monthly Human Rights Cases Statistics from January to December 2019 at https://nhrc.nic.in/complaints/human-rightcase-statistics)

Death in police custody

It’s obvious that the deaths in police custody occur primarily as a result of torture. In 2019, NCAT documented death of 125 persons in 124 cases in police custody across the country. Out of the 125 deaths, 93 persons (74.4%) died during police custody due to alleged torture/foul play while 24 persons (19.2%) died under suspicious circumstances in which police claimed they committed suicide (16 persons), died of illness (7 persons) and death due to injuries after slipping from police station bathroom (1 person); and the reason for the custodial death of five (4%) persons were unknown.(http://www.uncat.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/INDIATORTURE2019.pdf)

The practice of torturing the suspects in police custody to punish them or gather information or extract confessions continued to be rampant.  A 17- year-old boy (name withheld) in Tamil Nadu who was tortured to death to extract confession in a case of theft.

Apart from extracting confession, torture is routinely perpetrated to extract bribe from the detainees or their relatives. According to the India Corruption Survey 2019 conducted by Local Circles in collaboration with Transparency International India, three most corruption prone departments in India were Property Registration & Land Issues, followed by Police and Municipal Corporation. (India Corruption Survey 2019 , P.12, available at http://transparencyindia.org/wpcontent/uploads/2019/11/India-CorruptionSurvey-2019.pdf)

Varieties of torture

NACT explained different varieties of torture inflicted by police.  Most common methods of torture are slapping, kicking with boots, beating with sticks, pulling hairs etc. It recorded that torture methods used by the police also included hammering iron nails in the body (victims: Gufran Alam and Taslim Ansari of Bihar), applying roller on legs and burning (victim: Rizwan Asad Pandit of Jammu & Kashmir), ‘falanga’ wherein the soles of the feet are beaten (victim: Rajkumar of Kerala), stretching legs apart in opposite side (victim: Rajkumar of Kerala), hitting in private parts (victims: Brijpal Maurya and Lina Narjinari of Haryana), stabbing with screwdriver (victim: Pradeep Tomar of Uttar Pradesh), electric shock (victims: Yadav Lal Prasad of Punjab; Monu of Uttar Pradesh), pouring petrol in private parts (victim: Monu of Uttar Pradesh), applying chilly power in private parts (victim: Raj Kumar of Kerala) beating while being hand-cuffed (victims: Sajith Babu and Rajesh of Kerala), pricking needle into body (victim: 13-year-old minor of Tamil Nadu), branding with hot iron rod (victim: 13-year-old minor of Tamil Nadu), beating after stripping (victims: Mohammed Tanveer and Lina Narjinari of Haryana; Minuwara Begum, Sanuwara and Rumela of Assam), urinating in mouth (victim: Amit Sharma of Uttar Pradesh), inserting hard blunt object into anus (victim: Diwakar Kumar of Bihar), beating after hanging upside down with hands and legs tied (victims: Mahavir Bhatia of Rajasthan; and Aaditya Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh), forcing to perform oral sex (victims: Hira Bajania and 12 others of Gujarat), pressing finger nails with pliers (victim: Anup Rabha of Assam), deprivation of food and water (victim: Anup Rabha of Assam), beating with iron rods after victim is suspended between two tables with both hands and legs tied (victims: Aaditya Chouhan and Yashwant Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh), forced to do Murga pose or stress position (victim: Lina Narjinari of Haryana), and kicking in belly of pregnant woman (victim: Minuwara Begum of Assam).

The Poor & Women victims

While rich and influential escape the torture, vulnerable sections fall prey for police torture. Majority of the victims belonged to the poor and marginalised sections of the society who are often the soft targets because of their socio-economic status. NACT counted the percentage of marginalized as 60 per cent.

The women continued to be tortured or targeted for sexual violence in custody and often, the victims belonged to weaker sections of the society. During 2019, NCAT documented death of at least four women during police custody, one committed suicide at home unable to bear custodial torture and another woman died due to torture outside police station. For example, from 3-7 July 2019, a 35-yearold Dalit woman was allegedly illegally detained, subjected to torture and raped in police custody by nine police personnel at Sardarshahar police station in Churu district, Rajasthan. Beside custodial rape, the victim was also allegedly subjected to torture including plucking of her nails.  (Rajasthan: Dalit Woman Gang Raped in Police Custody, The Wire, 16 July 2019, https://thewire.in/rights/rajasthan-dalitwoman-gang-rape-police-custody)

The NCAT documented death of four children due to torture during police custody, one case of death due to torture in juvenile home and a number of cases of torture of children in 2019.The NCRB in its “Crime in India – 2018” recorded 3,164 cases of simple hurt and grievous hurt caused by the police on 3,467 minor victims. (NCRB, Crime InIndia 2018, Table 4A.2(ii), http://ncrb.gov.in/StatPublications/CII/CII2018 /pdfs/Table%204A.2.pdf)

Under reporting of police violence

As per NHRC guidelines the custodial deaths should be reported within 24 hours of their occurrence, and a “failure to report promptly would give rise to presumption that there was an attempt to suppress the incident”. But cleverly there is no provision in law for punishment for failure to report. The filing of a first information report is mandatory in the case of custodial deaths, but very rarely it is done. The NHRC also mandated that a magisterial inquiry be completed in two months and must determine the circumstances of death; manner and sequence of incidents; the cause of death, and so on.  But not every death in police custody is reported by the police, The deaths that happen outside the lockup which are never reported to the NHRC.”

Torture by armed forces

The use of torture by the armed forces consisting of the Indian Army and Central Armed Forces who are deployed in the insurgency affected areas and the border areas continued to be reported. (Urgent Campaign, 1 August 2019, OMCT, ‘India: Impunity for Extrajudicial Killings in West Bengal’, https://www.omct.org/urgent- campaigns/urgentinterventions/india/2019/08/d25481/)

Torture by upper castes

The other non-State actors continued to perpetrate torture. The Dalits (Scheduled Castes) continued to face torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment at the hands of the upper castes. The incidents of caste atrocities continued to remain high with 42,793 reported cases in 2018.14 During 2019 the Dailts were killed, attacked, tortured, and subjected to other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by the members of the upper castes.

Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Author is former Central Information Commissioner and Professor of Law at Bennett University

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