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Custodial Death and Torture: A violation of human rights

Article by Riya Sharma

(Student at Fairfield Institute of Management and Technology)


Inhuman and deplorable as it is, custodial violence is one of the most serious crime committed by the state officials against the civilians. The authorities are bound to provide adequate amenities to the arrestees and the ensure the safety of the inmates by providing them a healthy environment which includes timely medical assistance, but the real scenario is completely different than what the legal officials implied.

Custodial violence refers primarily to the violence in police custody and judicial custody. Suspects are brought in for interrogation and are tortured in order to the get the information needed. Most the of the time the arrestees are tortured to death and besides death, rape and torture are the two other forms of custodial violence. The causes of these deaths or the custody authorities are often accused of abuse, cover-ups, racism and neglect.

When the perpetrator of violence are law officials, it becomes an ominous case of abuse of authority and discrimination against caste and religious minorities such as Dalits and Muslims. In July 2019, a Dalit woman was allegedly gangraped and illegally detained by the police.[i] Police brutality is practiced to take confessions from the suspects and many times to manipulate the truth. As per the data provided by the National Crime Records Bureau, about 100 people died in police custody in 2017 but there were no convictions. A human rights watch report in 2016 probed custodial deaths, arrest procedures, victim’s family accounts, and impunity of the police which conveniently misreports custodial deaths as suicides, or deaths due to illness or natural causes.[ii]

In 2019, total of 1,731 people died in custody in India. Timed with the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, ‘India: Annual Report on Torture 2019’ said 16,06 of the deaths happened in the judicial custody and 125 in the police custody. “Out of the 125 deaths in police custody, Uttar Pradesh topped with 14 deaths, followed by Tamil Nadu and Punjab with 11 deaths each and Bihar with 10 deaths”, said the report published by the National Campaign Against Torture (NCAT).[iii]

A video went viral on social media on June 26 narrating the incident of custodial death of a father son duo, P Jeyraj (58) and Fenix (31). The incident happened on June 19, when P Jeyraj and Fenix were picked up by the Sathankulam police in Thoothukoodi district for allegedly violating lockdown guidelines by keeping their shop open over business hours. They died at a hospital in Kovilpatti on June 23.[iv] The autopsy report shows vital injuries to the deceased which confirms police brutality.

An important articulation of the subject matter has been seen in a judgement in which the Supreme Court observed,

“Custodial violence, including torture and death in the lock-ups, strikes a blow at the rule of law, which demands that the powers of the executive should not only be derived from law but also that the same should be limited by law. Custodial violence is a matter of concern. It is aggravated by the fact that it is committed by persons who are supposed to be the protectors of the citizens. It is committed under the shield of uniform and authority in the four walls of a police station or lock-up, the victim being totally helpless. The protection of an individual from torture and abuse by the police and other law-enforcing officers is a matter of deep concern in a free society.” [DK Basu v. State of Bengal (1991) 1 SCC 416] (Singh, 2020) (INDIA.com, 2020)[v]

Section 49 of the Indian Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) grants several rights to the arrested person. It specifically states that there shall be no more restraint than what is justly necessary to prevent escape. Section 50 of the CrPC makes it mandatory for the police making arrests without warrant to inform the person that’s being detained about the grounds of arrest and their right to bail. Most importantly, the arrested person have a right to free legal aid and right to consult their lawyers.[vi]

In his seminal work Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution, A.V. Dicey had once noted that:

“With us every official, from the Prime Minister down to a constable or a collector of taxes, is under the same responsibility for every act done without legal justifications as any other citizen”.


Conclusion

Article 21 of The Indian Constitution guarantees that every individual’s right to life and personal liberty is being protected. Though the need to enact strict laws is still present to protect the rights of the citizens and the stop custodial violence altogether.

Custodial Violence is amongst the worst crimes. It’s not only the violation of basic human rights but also dignity. Police is looked upon as a saviour but when these saviours starts to misuse their power, they turn out to be the most dangerous predators of all. Guilty or not no one deserves to be raped, molested or tortured to death by the law officials.

In order to stop the custodial violence better custodial management is needed. Police officials need to be trained in matters pertaining human rights. Governments should pay more attention to how the prisoners are being treated in the prison and should take up this matter on priority basis. Prison’s conditions needs to be improved and there should be adequate medical and health facilities available for the prisoner. More women personnel should be there so that no female prisoner is assaulted. The protection of an individual from such violence is a matter of a deep concern in a free society.

[i] India Today Web Desk, Rajasthan: Dalit woman raped, tortured, detained by police days after brother-in-law’s custodial death, India Today(July 14,2019 12:27 IST) https://www.indiatoday.in/crime/story/dalit-custodial-death-gangrape-1568652-2019-07-14 [ii] Arsheen Kaur, Custodial deaths in India are a cold blooded play of power and class, The wire (14th July 2020)https://thewire.in/rights/custodial-deaths-in-india-are-a-cold-blooded-play-of-power-and-class [iii] Five custodial deaths in India daily, says report, The Hindu,(June 27,2020 06:20 IST)https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/five-custodial-deaths-in-india-daily-says-report/article31928611.ece [iv] India.com, Tamil Nadu Custodial Deaths: 2 police officer arrested on Murder Charges as CBI Takes Over Jayaraj and Fenix Case, India.com (July 1,2020 10:14pm IST)https://www.india.com/news/india/tamil-nadu-custodial-deaths-2-police-officers-arrested-on-murder-charges-as-cbi-takes-over-jayaraj-fenix-case-4072952/ [v] Vidisha Singh, Custodial death torture a human right abuse, lastestlaws, (24 july 2020)(https://www.latestlaws.com/human-rights-news/custodial-death-torture-a-human-rights-abuse-indian-and-international-perspective/#_ftn11 [vi] Sumithra Prasanna, Why can’t India End Police Brutality?, The Diplomat(July1,2020)https://thediplomat.com/2020/07/why-cant-india-end-police-brutality/ Image Source: Photo by Milad B. Fakurian on Unsplash

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