Custodial Deaths – A “Legalized” Crime
Custodial Violence means torture in police custody. Death in custody is when a person dies when in the custody of the police, prison service or other authorities. Death in custody of police is not an uncommon event now; still it remains a controversial subject, with the authorities often being accused of using lethal force, abuse, neglect, racism and over-ups of the causes of death. Custodial deaths are perhaps one of the worst crimes in a civilized society governed by the Rule of Law.
A reading of the morning newspapers almost every day carrying reports of dehumanizing torture and death in custody of police, etc. is indeed depressing. In almost every state there is an increase in frequency of deaths in custody, generally prescribed by the newspapers as lock-up deaths. The increasing incidence of torture and death custody has assumed such alarming proportions that is a affecting the credibility of the Rule of Law and the administration of criminal justice system. Society’s cry for justice has never been louder. While the reported cases of custodial deaths are increasing in India, statistics are difficult to come by, as there is government apathy to transparency.
To the less gulling, the Rosy picture of “Indian shining” appears less rosy as India is in the throes of a shocking and disturbing crisis fuelled by violence that the State inflicts on its citizens thought encounter killings, police torture and custodial deaths. Respect for human rights is the sine qua non of any civilized society and the disrespect for human rights is inimical to civil liberties granted to its citizens by the state. By this standard, the Indian State lamentably fails and is a cause for concern for those who value civil liberties.
They are part of a “deliberate and conscious state administrative practice” for which successive Indian governments must bear the responsibility.
“Custodial torture” is naked violation of human dignity and degradation which destroys, to a very large extent, the individual personality. It is a calculated assault on human dignity and whenever human dignity is wounded, civilization takes a step backward-flag of humanity must on each such occasion fly half –mast. The word torture today has become synonymous with the darker side of the human civilization.
It is a wound in the soul so painful that sometimes you can almost touch it, but it is also such intangible that there is no way to heal it. Torture is anguish squeezing in your chest, cold as ice and heavy as a stone paralyzing as sleep and dark as the abyss. Torture is despair and fear and rage and hate. It is a desire to kill and destroy including yourself .
In recent years, third degree torture and custodial deaths have become an intrinsic part of police investigations and the injury inflicted on the prisoners is sometimes unbearable and its use of torture and third degree methods against suspects in police lockups remains standard operating procedure in post-Independence India.
The Supreme Court has attributed this increase, to the “devilish devices adopted by those at the helm of affairs who proclaim from rooftops to be the defenders of democracy and protectors of peoples’ rights and yet do not hesitate to condescend behind the screen to let loose their men in uniform to settle personal scores, feigning ignorance of what happens and pretending to be peace-loving puritans and saviors of citizens’ right”.
Lack of accountability and almost total immunity enjoyed by the police until recently accounts for the increasing instances of custodial deaths.
The long delays in courts in prosecuting the guilty police personnel, due to the ignorance of judges create a climate of impunity for such crimes to flourish. The governments also reward policemen or paramilitary personnel, which actually encourage encounter killing. The lack of legislation outlawing torture is another reason. Further, even the compensation paid to the surviving members of the victims murdered by the police personnel remains a pittance and if and when it is awarded it is a paltry.
Torture is the only way available with the police to find the clues from the victims. The police save influential and wealthy offenders by implicating innocent people and torturing them until a ‘confession’ is obtained. The communal and caste divide in India is closely linked with torture. The police or other state institutions are directly involved in most of the communally charged violence.
Respect for human dignity while protecting life and liberty of an individual is the cardinal principal of the Indian Constitution. The constitution has elaborate provisions to prevent Police brutalities. Article 19, Article 20, Article 21, Article 22, Article 32, And Article 226 of The torture. Moreover the Indian Evidence Act prohibits use of confession made before the police officer and the one obtained through inducement, threat of promise in criminal trials.
Attentiveness to these human rights concerns is not simply a moral and legal imperative, but also a crucial strategic imperative. As the Supreme Court of India has recognized, ‘terrorism often thrives where human rights are violated’ and ‘the lack of hope for justice provides breeding grounds for terrorism.’ Why the huge gap between the positive approach and the increasing use of torture is not bridged, is a big question.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “if you once forfeit the confidence of our fellow citizens you can never regain their respect and esteem.”
Despite the fact that we have detailed provisions to protect and safeguard the human rights of the people, we see that a steady process of devaluation of human dignity and personality is irresistibly advancing and brutal betrayal of those basic rights, which are enshrined in International Bill Of Human Rights, becomes a common scenario. The human rights are daily providing to be a mere teaming illusion and promise of unreality. However there is a new emerging would legal order. The Indian experiment in enacting the protection of Human rights Act is a hopeful start. The human rights jurisprudence is gaining judicial reverence in Indian especially where life and liberty are violated by state violence.
The prevalence of custodial violence also needs deeper introspection. Investigating agencies often use the excuse of public pressure to solve ‘crime’ as justification for resorting to ‘third-degree’ methods of interrogation. This is also supported by public condo nation and even sanction of such torture. However torture and custodial violence is not limited to interrogation alone, but also seen as ‘just’ punishment and ‘fair’ exercise of police authority. The award by the judiciary of the death sentence to police officials in such cases of custodial crime merely reinforces and legitimizes this culture of violence by resorting to brute force as punishment for the ‘criminal’. Resorting to capital punishment is not the solution to violent crime.
The training imparted to policemen should include-
Inculcating democratic sense and idealism Understanding that descent on part of public is not necessarily a threat to public order and the idea that the police is basically to help the public
Better amenities should be provided at police station and lock up traffic police have a high – visibility profile and they , therefore , need special attention in terms of improvement
The system of patrolling must be revamped so that the public get the feeling that the crime can be prevented.
investigation wing should be separated from law and order wing
There should be security commission at national and state level as recommended by the national police commission.
In each district, a separate police superintendent should be made responsible for collection and dissemination of criminal intelligenceBy- Madhivi Chopra.