Has torture in police custody become routine? From 2005 to 2018, not a single police person has been convicted

29, Jun 2021 | Adeeti Singh

Allegedly thrashed by the cops at Virajpet Police Station, 50-year-old mentally challenged Roy D’ Souza succumbed to his injuries on June 12 in Karnataka. According to some media sources, Roy, who was also epileptic, was found roaming the streets with a knife in his hand and attacked a constable before being taken into custody. Roy was beaten black and blue and handed over to the family after three hours in police custody. As per The Indian Express, he developed serious health issues and was put on a ventilator in Madikeri Hospital. After Roy’s death, his brother Robin filed a complaint against the Virajpet police and submitted it to SP Kshama Mishra.

When Wasim Khan, dialled 100 and called the police when a fight broke out near his uncle’s residence in village Chandan Hulla, Delhi, he was allegedly taken into custody and three police officials of Fatehpur Beri police station namely Sub Inspectors Satender Guliya, Praveen and Jitendra beat him with lathi, fists and kicks. As per an IE report, he suffered a spinal fracture after he visited Indian Spinal Injury hospital, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi in May 2021.

In Uttar Pradesh, Mohammad Faisal Khan, a young vegetable vendor, and the sole breadwinner for his family of six, was allegedly beaten to death by the Unnao Police on May 20. His post mortem report revealed that he succumbed to a head injury and the examination also found a severe injury behind his ear with at least 12 contusions on his body. According to a News Minute report, in Karnataka, when a Dalit youth Punith asked for water, the sub-inspector refused and allegedly forced another person in the lock-up to urinate on Punith. He also alleged that the Gonibeedu Police had made him lick the urine drops on the floor. The police also subjected him to verbal abuse and tried to make him give a false confession, he alleged.

The Wire reported a horrific incident about a 47-year-old farmer, Murugesan, who died allegedly after being beaten by the police at the Pappanaickenpatti check post under the Yethapur police station limits in Tamil Nadu’s Salem district on June 22. The triggering video of the altercation between the special sub inspector Periyasamy and the victim was uploaded on social media, where Murugesan’s friends can be seen trying to plead with the policemen to stop hitting him. This as mentioned above happened in the state of Tamil Nadu.

Shocking statistics

During this year’s budget session, more startling revelations have come to light. From the year 2019 to 2020, a total of 112 deaths in police custody have been registered according to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). In terms of deaths in police custody, Gujarat reported the highest number of cases at 15 between the year 2020 up to February 28, 2021. Uttar Pradesh, on the other hand, reported 395 cases of death in judicial custody.

Across all States and Union Territories, a total of 86 deaths in police custody was reported by the NHRC, where Gujarat accounts for 6% of deaths in police lockups. The year from 2020 to 2021, reported a whopping 1,645 cases of judicial custodial deaths. Following Gujarat, Maharashtra recorded 11 deaths in police custody and West Bengal reported 158 deaths in judicial custody. Uttar Pradesh painted a very grim picture with leading cases of deaths in judicial custody (400). Whereas Madhya Pradesh recorded 14 death cases in police custody between the year 2019 to 2020.

Odisha saw four police custodial deaths and 80 deaths in judicial custody as per the latest data. In Puri last year, one K. Ramesh was allegedly hacked to death after being picked up by Baseli Sahi Police personnel for some criminal charges against him. After an apparent scuffle with the Police, he was taken to a Hospital on November 19, where he was declared ‘brought dead’ by the doctors. Tariq Salim, a resident of Birmitrapur town, was allegedly picked up by the Police and taken into different locations for investigation in connection with the kidnap of a businessman. The Indian Express reported that his health deteriorated when he was rushed to Rourkela Government Hospital (RGH) only to be declared dead, early morning on November 19.

Six men from Pipili were admitted to Cuttack’s SCB Medical College and Hospital on November 21 with several injury marks on their bodies. Apprehended by the police at Pipili Police Station, the parents of all six accused have alleged that they were mercilessly beaten up by officers since November 13 and their staged dharna (protest) was joined by other Congress party members.

As per the latest data revealed during the budget session, (from 2020 to February 28, 2021), a staggering 11,955 human rights violation cases have already been registered against the Police. But what’s more astonishing is that not one single police officer has been convicted of a crime since 2005 to 2018 according to the National Campaign Against Torture 2019 report. Of the 125 deaths in police custody documented by the NCAT in 2019, 60 percent were from poor and marginalised communities, including 13 Dalit/tribal victims and 15 Muslims.

Achieving convictions is always difficult because of the legal hurdles posed by section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. This provision lays down that no government official or member of the armed forces alleged to have committed a criminal offence while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of their official duty can be prosecuted except with the prior sanction of the central or state government. More often than not, the state fails to give this sanction to save face.

An example of this is Khwaja Yunus, a 27-year-old accused in the Ghatkopar Bomb blast case of 2002 (Maharashtra) who allegedly died in police custody after being stripped naked, and beaten on his chest and abdomen with a belt in lockup. The four accused police persons who were suspended in 2004 were reinstated in June last year, as per The Hindustan Times.

Year Total cases against the Police
2015-2016 35,533
2016-2017 27,845
2017-2018 26,391
2018-2019 27,492
2019-2020 16,286

Source: Rajya Sabha unstarred Question No. 3232 answered on 24.03.2021

15 years later, SC directions gathering dust

Police misconduct such as brutality, using excessive force, different methods of torture, humiliation, targeting the most marginalised, although does not go unnoticed but rarely attracts penal punishment. Police reforms have been long recognised especially in Prakash Singh and Ors v. Union of India and Ors (2006) 8 SCC 1, in which the Supreme Court came up with seven directives to kick start such reforms and re-shape the police force’s functioning mechanism.

Amongst the seven directives, the most important to the theme is “Police Complaints Authority” to be set up at the State and district level to inquire into public complaints against police officers of and above the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police in cases of “serious misconduct by the police personnel, which would include incidents involving death, grievous hurt or rape in police custody.”

“The head of the State level Complaints Authority shall be chosen by the State Government out of a panel of names proposed by the Chief Justice; the head of the district level Complaints Authority may also be chosen out of a panel of names proposed by the Chief Justice or a Judge of the High Court nominated by him. These Authorities may be assisted by three to five members depending upon the volume of complaints in different States/districts, and they shall be selected by the State Government from a panel prepared by the State Human Rights Commission/Lok Ayukta/State Public Service Commission. The panel may include members from amongst retired civil servants, police officers or officers from any other department, or from the civil society”, read the judgment authored by Justice Y.K. Sabharwal.

The entire judgment may be read here:

 

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), in its report on September 22, 2020 that tracked changes made in the police force following the 2006 judgment, found that not even a single State fully complied with the necessary directives. The callousness and absolute laxity can also be traced through Prakash Singh’s petition, who ended up filing contempt pleas against Gujarat, Punjab, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh for non-compliance.

As recently as January of this year, as per The Hindu, the Telangana High Court took up a PIL, instructing the State government to constitute State Police Complaints Authority within four weeks of receiving names of retired Supreme Court or High Court judges for appointment as the Authority’s chairman, after almost 15 years of clear directions.

An analysis done by CHRI in 2020 states that 22 States have constituted State Police Complaints Authority (SPCA), while 17 states have constituted District Police Complaints Authority (DPCA), both on paper. Bihar does not have a state level complaint authority after mandated directions and at the district level, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Odisha (that was in disarray in 2020 due to many instances of custodial violence and deaths), Sikkim, Telangana, Tripura and West Bengal lack this authority.

Another important facet to consider is the situation in Kashmir where families have been historically battered by armed forces and police force. After the abrogation of Article 370 withdrawing Kashmir’s special status and enactment of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, the Modi government is yet to issue a notification to implement this SC directive in the valley, one which probably needs it the most.

SC on CCTV cameras to curb brutality

Last year in December, the Supreme Court passed a detailed and specific order directing states and the centre to take concrete steps towards ensuring that every police station in the country and all investigating agencies have CCTV cameras in their premises. The Bench comprising Justices RF Nariman, KM Joseph and Aniruddha Bose had ordered setting up of state and district level oversight committees that will be responsible for making sure that these CCTV cameras are procured, installed and function so they can be of use during trial.

The judgment may be read here:

 

But living up to their reputation, most states faltered and the Supreme Court expressed its sheer disappointment at the State’s conduct and failure to follow such directions. In March, the top court expressed its displeasure as both the Centre and the States/UTs did not take the matter seriously. A Bench comprising Justices Rohinton Fali Nariman, BR Gavai and Hrishikesh Roy said, “We reiterate that these are the matters of utmost importance concerning the citizens of this country under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”

The top court came down heavily on Telangana, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and was most displeased at Bihar’s state of conditions. It noted that nothing has moved forward in these states in terms of installing cameras, allocating necessary budget, etc. In the most recent hearing of this case (Special Leave to Appeal (Crl.) No(s). 3543/2020) that took place in April, the court noted that “so far as Andaman & Nicobar Island is concerned, nothing has yet been done despite our earlier orders.”

Further, the court also directed the central government to allocate its budget accordingly for CCTV camera installation in different investigation agencies like CBI, ED, etc. It has strictly reiterated that “after budgetary allocation is made within the one month given by us, our earlier orders will be implemented in letter and spirit within a period of six months from the date on which budgetary allocation is made.”

The SC order dated April 6, 2021 may be read here:

Related:

CCTV cameras in Police stations: SC discontent with Centre, States and UTs

End Custodial Torture: SC’s new comprehensive directions on CCTVs in police stations

Disarray in Odisha over custodial violence cases

Gujarat reported highest number of police custodial deaths: Centre in LS

 

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