Custodial Torture: A series of events

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Introduction

CUSTODIAL TORTURE is a global problem that affects people of various ages, genders, and health statuses. This heinous kind of human rights violation has become a severe and frightening problem in India. The number of brutal crimes performed by police, jail officials, military forces, and other law enforcement organisations against suspects/accused citizens and convicts is increasing.

Stats

According to the most recent Amnesty International report on India[1], about 415 people died as a result of torture while in the custody of police and security personnel between January 1, 1985 and November 1, 1991. Examining the cases of custody deaths, the same report notes that only 42 magisterial inquiries were conducted; judicial inquiries were ordered in 20 cases; criminal charges were framed in 52 cases; police officers were arrested in 25 cases, and the guilty officers were only known to have been convicted by the court in three cases. In Rajya Sabha, the administration revealed that 46 people had died in police custody as a result of torture in just three months, from January to March 1993, in Delhi alone.[2] If this is the case in the country’s capital, one can only imagine how bad things are in the rural regions and tribal areas, where many acts of custodial torture go unrecorded.

Rights of suspects/accused

  1. The right to life.
  2. The right against self-incrimination.
  3. The right to be informed of the reason for an arrest.
  4. The right to contact a legal practitioner.
  5. The right to appear before a magistrate within 24 hours following arrest.
  6. Handcuffs are not permitted.

Recent Happenings

A tribal farmer in Telangana’s Suryapet district has accused police of torturing him in their custody in order to file a fraudulent case in his name, in a sad coincidence reminiscent of the idea of the recent blockbuster film ‘Jai Bhim.’ The victim, his family, and other tribals staged a protest outside the Atmakur police station, drawing attention to the atrocity.

Veerashekar, a 25-year-old tribal farmer from Ramoji Tanda, had been caught the day before on suspicion of stealing farm equipment from a neighbouring hamlet and beaten up by three police officers, including a sub-inspector. As a result of his inability to bear the agony, the farmer passed out. Veerashekar was working in the field on Wednesday when three people approached him and took him to the police station, according to his relatives.

The Atmakur tragedy occurred just one day after the Telangana High Court rebuked the state police for two deaths in detention. The High Court on Wednesday directed the petitioner in the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) first’s case to link the CBI in Mariamma’s death in detention. Mariamma, 45, of Khammam district’s Chinthakani village, was taken to Addagudur police station of Rachakonda police commissionerate for questioning in a theft case earlier in June. Two others were brought in with her for questioning. She died on June 18 as a consequence of injuries sustained during third-degree interrogation tactics utilised by police, according to reports. While the police first stated that she died of a heart attack, a second post mortem examination revealed that she had injuries on her body, prompting the court to declare that the matter should be investigated by an impartial organisation such as the CBI.

In the second case, a Telangana High Court bench led by Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice A Rajashekar Reddy directed the state government to inform the court of the action planned against the police officers responsible for Sheelam Rangaiah’s death in custody on May 26, 2020, at Manthani police station. Dalit Rangaiah, a 53-year-old Dalit man jailed for allegedly hunting wild animals, was discovered hanging in the Peddapalli police station’s lavatory.

Vaman Rao and PV Nagamani, a lawyer couple, filed a PIL in relation to the alleged custodial killing. Rangaiah was held by police under coercion from a local TRS leader, according to Nagamani. Unknown attackers hacked the victims to death in broad daylight earlier in February, 2021.

Suggestions

To comprehend the problem of custody torture, one must first grasp the challenges that the police encounter. The chief law enforcement agency, the Indian police, appears to face the following issues: an overburdened task with insufficient strength and poor service conditions; low capability due to the poor educational background of its lower cadre; inadequate and outdated training; insufficient salary and service facilities; a poor information and communication network; undue interference and pressure from persons in power; and an unhelpful attitude of the general public. The cops, who work 16 hours a day, seven days a week, including national holidays, have little time for relaxation. In these circumstances, it is difficult for them to be attentive to human rights. It is unreasonable to indulge in a whole-sale denunciation of the cops without understanding their concerns. The government should take meaningful efforts to address the issues that our police officers are experiencing.

The Law of Evidence

The Law Commission has recommended changing the law of evidence. In circumstances of custodial torture or death, the petitioner bears the burden of producing evidence and witnesses. Eyewitnesses to torture or fatalities in prison are generally co-inmates who keep their lips shut and do not speak out against the custodial authorities for fear of punishment. The other witnesses are police officers, who, in general, do not engage in such circumstances since it creates a sense of camaraderie and they do not want to accuse their colleagues. They’d distort reality. As a consequence, the Law Commission properly proposed that the Evidence Act be updated by inserting a new section 114B to provide a rebuttable presumption that the officer-in-charge caused the injuries sustained by a person in police custody. He will be held accountable for proving his innocence. Once implemented, it will urge police to treat suspects/accused persons in their custody with more compassion and in accordance with the law.

The Law of State Immunity

The existing law shields public officials from prosecution for any offence committed while doing their duties. Sections 132 and 197(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code state that when a public worker is charged of an offence committed while acting or pretending to act in the course of his official duties, no court shall take cognizance of such an offence unless the government first grants authorization. It shields policemen who have tortured suspected or accused. Similarly, Section 6 of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1983 provides equal protection for the accused offender to the security forces. The idea of “sovereign immunity” should be repealed, and members of the police and security forces should be held liable for torture. In the case of police, the NPC made a similar suggestion in its eighth and final report.[3]

Conclusion

Torture is a popular practise in the hands of law enforcement personnel for obtaining information and confessions or oppressing socially disadvantaged populations. The police force in India enjoys great impunity, and all governments prefer not to set a precedent by imposing exemplary punishments on competent employees for the simple reason that any government’s operation is highly dependent on law-enforcing institutions. They are the government’s troubleshooters, as well as their political bosses’ go-to people. As a result, no government wants to offend them. The Executive, on the other hand, fails to see that the true source of power comes from the people, and that the police, paramilitary, and army are nothing more than public servants. However, rather of helping the people, they frequently turn to torture and brutality. Unless and until this changes, it is quite unlikely that the prevalence of torture in detention would decrease in our nation.


[1] Amnesty International, India: Torture , Rape and Death in Custody 101 (1992). For state wise details, id., see, id app. I, pp. 102-93.

[2] The Hindustan Times (New Delhi) 6 May 1993. P.5.

[3]  Id., Eighth and Concluding Report 36 (1981).

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