Source of image: https://www.latestlaws.com/articles/rights-of-prisoners-against-custodial-torture-in-india-by-shivam-jasra/
In early August 2021, expressing serious concern over custodial torture and human rights violations by police, Chief Justice of India (CJI), NV Ramana, asked the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) to undertake a “nationwide sensitisation” of police officers.
According to the CJI, “the threat to human rights and bodily integrity are the highest in Police Stations. Custodial torture and other police atrocities are problems that still prevail in our society… Going by the recent reports even the privileged are not spared third-degree treatment”.
It is a matter of shame that the CJI had to express these horrible revelations in what is widely tom-tommed as the world’s largest democracy.
According to the government’s own data, custodial torture is rampant in India. The Central Government had told Parliament last year that an average of almost five persons a day 1,697 died in custody (1,584 in judicial custody and 113 in police custody) across India between April 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020.
In a move aimed at checking police brutality, the Supreme Court had in December 2020 ordered the Centre, states, and union territories to install CCTVs with night vision cameras in each police station, including central probe agencies such as CBI, ED, NIA, etc. across India. However, the order was yet to be fully complied with.
The impunity with which the central government has acted on this issue prompted the CJI to say: “In spite of constitutional declarations and guarantees, lack of effective legal representation at the police stations is a huge detriment to arrested/detained persons. The decisions taken in these early hours will later determine the ability of the accused to defend himself”.
The police stations in free India have been no more humane than those in colonial times. A report by the National Campaign Against Torture (NCAT) – a platform for NGOs working on torture in India – has highlighted how torture continues to remain a favoured tool in the hands of the police to extract information and confessions, or sometimes just to victimise oppressed sections of society.
The ‘India: Annual Report on Torture 2019’ identified `15 trends of torture and impunity’ which reveal how torture has also become a systemic tool of oppression, extortion and silencing dissent. Further, it alleges that high levels of criminality exist within the police and amongst jail officials.
Drawing from the past, the report said with respect to the death of 500 persons remanded to police custody by court between 2005-18, 281 cases were registered and 54 policemen were chargesheeted, but not one has been convicted so far.
The report detailed that various types of torture are freely used from acts like slapping, kicking with boots, beating with sticks, pulling hair, torture also includes barbaric methods like hammering iron nails in the body, applying roller on legs and burning), and ‘falanga’ or beating with sticks on the soles. Sometimes, the police and jail staff even go to the extent of stabbing people with a screwdriver or giving electric shock. Often, private parts of the victims are also targeted. Most victims were from poor and marginalised sections and were targeted because of their socio-economic status. A large number of women are regularly physically and sexually targeted in police stations. The report also revealed that the Indian Army and Central Armed Forces deployed in the insurgency affected areas and the border areas use torture.
Despite the large number of cases of torture being reported each year, the Government of India has not yet ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT). It has neither enacted a national law against torture despite the Law Commission of India submitting the draft Prevention of Torture Bill, 2017 for enactment by the parliament in October 2017.
It is also a fact that the refusal of the Supreme Court, in its judgment of September 2019, to issue directions to the Centre to enact a national anti-torture law has further emboldened the government to not ratify the UNCAT. If the CJI’s proposal for a nation-wide sensitisation is not be construed as a half-hearted attempt to rescue the credibility of the security apparatus, then many more things need to be done.
What all this shows and what the CJI has failed to mention is that the security apparatus of India such as police stations, detention centres and jails have retained their colonial attributes since the ruling establishment preferred to continue with the same legislative framework and criminal procedure codes that the British colonialists left behind. The ruling circles need this oppressive apparatus to silence critics and threaten vulnerable sections of the people from demanding their rights. Even the judiciary, which has often made statements about upholding the rights of people, has remained powerless in eliminating the medieval barbarity of custodial torture. This is a stark illustration of the complete marginalisation of the people in the present political process which does not provide them with any mechanism to challenge the arbitrary acts of the ruling establishment.
It is imperative that India ratifies the UNCAT and enacts a law in conformity with the UN Convention. But that by itself does not guarantee an end to arbitrary rule. For putting an end to custodial torture, the entire barbaric security apparatus has to be dismantled. Laws which provide impunity to the government to arrest people without proper evidence should be annulled forthwith. Mechanisms for Constitutional guarantees against arbitrary arrests and custodial torture should be set up.