Human rights violations by the police surge in India

Custodial deaths and torture prevail across police stations

Politics

August 11, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Human rights violations by the police surge in India

As per the latest data by NHRC, close to 17,146 people have been reported to have died in judicial and police custody in the decade till March 2020 (MIG photos/Aman Kanojiya)

Recent comments by Chief Justice of India about rampant brutalities and human rights violations by the police bring to fore long-standing poor human rights record of the Indian security and law enforcement agencies.

On August 8, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, while addressing an event organised by the National Legal Services Authority pointed at the rampant human rights abuse by police in India, notably custodial torture and other atrocities especially towards the vulnerable and marginalised sections of the society. He surmised his analysis on the issue by stating that “threat to human rights and bodily integrity are the highest in police stations.”

The Chief Justice underscored the fact that issues of human rights and dignity are sacrosanct, but regretted that despite constitutional guarantees, there was a lack of awareness and legal representation in police stations and that make those guarantees ineffective for the distressed or the arrested, at a time when they need them the most. Thus, whether the crime be theft, or an individual neglecting to follow the Covid-19 protocol, they need to be treated with the most basic of dignity and humanity as being a part of a civilised existence. If violation of this basic dignity of a human being is prevalent then it can eventually lead to many other violations like one’s freedom of thought and expression, also as in countless cases one’s right to life as well.

Tip of the iceberg

Ramana’s frank comments about police atrocities could not have come any sooner. Though historically Indian police has been known for being brutal and trampling upon citizens’ rights, the brutality and the impunity have both registered worrying heights of late, with numerous incidents of custodial deaths coming from across the country.

On June 23, 2020 Ponraj Jeyaraj and his son Beniks Jeyaraj succumbed to their injuries while in police custody in Tamil Nadu. They were arrested for their violation of the Covid-19 protocol by keeping their shop open post the lockdown hours. They were beaten up mercilessly by the police which led to their eventual death from their injuries. After days of public protest against the murders, state law enforcement in response to the crime apprehended 10 officers who were involved in the detention.

Facing fire, the Tamil Nadu state government offered INR 2 million as financial compensation to the deceased victims’ family. The case remains under investigation by both the CBI and the state government’s human rights commission. Responding to the deaths, several international human rights organisations like Amnesty International and Human rights Watch condemned the rising number of custodial deaths in Tamil Nadu, which ranks on the second spot, behind only Uttar Pradesh, in terms of custodial deaths, as per the data generated by the National Crime Records Bureau, which has also passed an order for investigations into all these cases.

This is but one stark example that shows the decline in the fundamental rights of an arrested person, and the lack of assistance in the form of legal aid, even for such minor faults as not following the Covid-19 restrictions. The National Campaign against Torture, another NGO fighting for respect of human rights in Indian police stations, in its report said that 125 persons had died in police custody in 2019. The report further stated that 74 pc of the deaths were a result of alleged torture or foul play, out of which 19 pc had occurred under suspicious circumstances. Taking into account the 125 deaths that had occurred in police custody, Uttar Pradesh has been reported to hold the highest number at 14, after which comes Tamil Nadu and Punjab with 11 deaths each. The report also mentioned that 13 victims were from the Dalit and tribal communities, whereas 15 were Muslims.

As per the latest data by the National Human Rights Commission, close to 17,146 people have been reported to have died in judicial and police custody in the decade till March 2020. The year 2020 alone from January till July saw 914 deaths in custody, of which 53 took place in police custody as per NHRC and the rest in judicial custody.

In his address, Justice Ramana said that in order to keep police excesses in check, awareness of one’s constitutional right to legal aid and availability of free legal aid services was an essential prerequisite. This awareness can be achieved through display boards and outdoor hoardings within the station or prison premises, he went on to say.

Police atrocities aren’t something new, as brought to light in a study by The Law Brigade Publishers, a journal based in Ahmedabad, they have been taking place since ages in India. During the Mughal rule, corruption and oppression prevailed amidst the police who often openly discriminated against the general public. Revenue was procured from the masses often by resorting to torture and cruelty by the police.

The practice was carried forward by the British which clamped down on any form of dissent against its authority to the sheer neglect of the many human rights that include freedom and dignity. The study goes on to elucidate that such adverse treatment and disregard for human rights continued even after independence due to the lack of training in scientific investigation. Thus, as a shortcut, the officials tend to resort to third-degree to show results.

Dinesh Kumar Pandey, a veteran human rights activist based in Delhi says, “Police atrocities have reached a whole new level in the current times. But, people remain quiet as the degree of the violations are too unbearable, breaking one’s will to assert and raise his voice against the injustice. In Uttar Pradesh, which ranks quite high when it comes to custodial deaths and violence, there are also instances of extortion taking place in police stations. Adding to it, there are also such instances where both the victim and the culprit are put behind bars till the case is resolved. This act discourages citizens to reach out to the police for the remedy of their issues.”

The police act with impunity because in an overwhelming proportion of numbers they manage to get away with cold blooded murders, either during arrests or after arrests and even staged encounters. Besides better training and working conditions for the police, only when every incident of human rights violations by police is properly investigated and penal action taken against the men and women in uniform will the police be more humane in dealing with the population.

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