India’s dark history of custodial abuse
By SR Darapuri
Why deaths occur in police custody everyday even today?
The Indian police, created by the British and operating under the Police Act of the same time, remains in the news and discussion everyday for its brutality, autocracy and anti-law activities. But recently it came up in the context of the police brutal murder of George Floyd in the US and in India in the context of Delhi Police’s brutality and inhumanity with injured young men during anti Muslim violence.
The functioning of the Indian police is once again under discussion at the national and international level in the case of the murder of 62-year-old Jayaraj and his 32-year-old son Bennix by police torture in Sathankulam town of Tuticorin district of Tamil Nadu. According to the details of this incident, these two men used to run a mobile repair shop. On June 19, the police took him to the police station for the crime of keeping the shop open after the lockdown time, where they were brutally beaten up. His family members were not allowed to meet them at night. The next day when his condition deteriorated, they were taken to a local hospital. Their pants were soaked in blood at that time. Their lungis had to be changed continuously due to continuous bleeding. The police asked the family members to bring dark coloured lungis. After three hours at the hospital, they were presented before the local magistrate. The magistrate, without presenting them in front of him, shook his hand from the first floor of his house and allowed the remand and they were sent to judicial custody in Kovilpatti Sub Jail. Their family members later did not receive any news of transfer of father-son to a nearby government hospital till the evening of June 22. Bennix died on the evening of June 22 and Jayaraj on the morning of June 23 due to continuous bleeding and serious internal and external injuries sustained allegedly while in police custody.
Although first information report (FIR) has been registered against the policemen at the police station in this regard, no charge was made for murder against any policeman. The policemen have not been dismissed from service under Section 311. They have not even been arrested. Following the protests and uproar by the public, four policemen have been suspended and a judicial inquiry has been ordered. The state government has announced to give 20 lakh compensation to the victims’ family. The Chief Minister has announced to get the matter investigated by the CBI yesterday. But the question is whether justice is done by just by giving compensation after killing by policemen.
In the previous month, a similar case also took place in Tirunerveli district, in which a young man named Kumarsen died due to police beating. It is said that such misconduct of the police is a normal process in Tamil Nadu and it is has got silent acceptance of the higher officials and the government, as is also evident in this case.
The incidents of police torture in police custody are not limited to Tamil Nadu alone. This misconduct of the police is spread all over the country. According to the annual report of the National Campaign Against Torture, there were 1,731 deaths from torture during this period, out of which 1,606 were in judicial custody and 125 died in police custody. It is clear from this that there are 5 deaths every day in custody in India. This report also shows that out of these 125 deaths, 7 were poor and marginalized people. Of these, 13 were Dalits and Adivasis and 15 were Muslims, while 35 people were picked up for petty crimes. Among them were 3 farmers, 2 security guards, a rag picker and 1 refugee. Harassment and sexual exploitation of women and weaker sections is very common in custody. During this period, 4 women also died in police custody.
According to the National Crime Bureau data, there were 100 deaths in police custody in 2017 of which 58 people were in illegal custody of police and 42 were in judicial custody. Andhra Pradesh 27, Gujarat and Maharashtra 15-15 are at the forefront of deaths. No policemen have been convicted in these 100 deaths so far, while 33 policemen were arrested and charge sheets were filed on 27 of them. Similarly, charges were framed against 48 policemen in 56 cases of human rights abuses in 2017, but only 3 people were punished. It is clear that very little action is taken against the guilty policemen in cases of torture.
I also have my own experience of police harassment. Last year, when the opposition of CAA/NRC was going on in the whole country, at that time, the Yogi government, which was angered by the democratic initiative taken by my party All India People’s Front continuously in Uttar Pradesh, arrested me with political vendetta whereas, on the day of December 19, 2019, when the incident of violence took place in Lucknow, I was kept under house arrest by the police illegally. Being a responsible citizen myself, I was worried about this violence and at midnight I even appealed for peace on Facebook. Despite this, the next day, the Lucknow police took me from my house in the forenoon and kept me all the day at Ghazipur police station. I was not given even medicine. At 6 in the evening I was taken to Hazratganj police station and police has shown my arrest at 5.40 P.M. in the evening from a park far away from my house. I did not get food all day on that day. I asked for a blanket at the police station at night, but was not given a blanket. I was not even allowed to call my lawyer. The next day on December 21, I was presented for remand before the magistrate at Lucknow jail at around 7 pm, but the magistrate signed the remand paper and sent me to jail without hearing anything from me. Now it is known that the police, skilled in making stories like Ramkatha, made me the mastermind of the violence in Lucknow on the basis of false stories. From this you can guess that a person like me who has been in I.P.S. for 32 years and has retired from the post of I.G.P. can be abused in police custody, and then you can guess what would happen to the common man. Many people arrested with me in jail told that they were badly beaten up in front of senior officers, including a woman, at the police station. I do not know how I was left with no assault.
Actually, why is our police so cruel, authoritarian and anti-law? To understand this, I would like to discuss some main reasons. First, our police have been given unlimited powers by the laws made by the British, which are openly misused. Our judiciary blindly trusts the story made by the police in the FIR and the police is given remand/jail remand while the magistrate is duty bound to take the details of the person presented for remand and be satisfied whether he has any complaints of police misconduct, but it is not usually so. This leads to complete unhearing of victim’s complaint and police abuse continues. Police misbehaviour is perpetrated by lower officers with full consent of higher officials. For this reason, when a person even complains of misbehaviour to higher police officers, then no action is taken on that and police misconduct continues unabated.
It is said that the government is as the society is. Similarly, it can also be said that the police is just like the government. At present, most governments are authoritarian who believe in violating and suppressing the democratic rights of citizens. The BJP government of Uttar Pradesh is the biggest example of this, where the Chief Minister told the police in the assembly to fix and teach a lesson to the accused persons, as a result of which many people have been killed through police encounter in the state and many times more than that have been shot in the legs and feet. Hundreds of complaints of fake encounters have reached the National Human Rights Commission and a PIL is also pending in the Supreme Court. It is well known that the police is the power arm (Danda) of the government, which is openly misused by the government against its opponents and common people. Although the police is responsible to the law on paper, but in practice it is not the law but it is responsible to the persons in power. Unfortunately, our judiciary also ignores the illegal activities of the police and sometimes seems to accept it. In such a situation, the rule of law and equality before law has no meaning.
At present, there is no independent system for enquiring into the complaints of police misconduct, whereas the National Police Commission had recommended a special independent set up for this. In this regard, the National and State Human Rights Commissions that have been formed at present are also not effective in any way. One, appointments to the top posts are also made by political influence and secondly, they are so paralysed that they do not give any relief to the complainants. In many cases, police harassment increases when the complainants complain, because the complaint turns around and comes to the police. The condition is so bad that no government has complied with the Supreme Court’s order on Police Reforms. The extent is that no political party has made it even it a political question.
It is also well known that our society is not democratic but a Brahminical-feudal society in which there are extreme social, cultural, religious, economic disparities and prejudices. There is a complete lack of the concept of equality and citizenship in our society, due to which the resistance of the whole society does not arise against the injustice /violence happening against a class, a caste or a person in our society. This is the reason that when people of one section do something extravagant with the other, then the rest of the people do not stand against it. Similarly, when the police tortures a person, there is no widespread public anger against it, which gives the general sanction to the said illegal act. This is the reason why widespread resistance or rejection is not shown on the deaths due to police harassment or mob lynching and it continues unabated. It is a fact that violence has gained wide acceptance in our society, which periodically appears as caste, communal and gender violence.
In this regard, my experience of 32 years service in police is that our police reflect our society. I have seen such caste, communal and gender biases at the higher and highest levels, but to talk of lower level. These prejudices become more powerful with official power and completely affect their functioning. I have also seen that the beliefs and conduct of higher officials has a very profound effect on the personal behavior and conduct of lower level officers. I used it while holding the post of commander of PAC Battalion in Varanasi. In my Monthly Sainik Sammelan, I used to emphasize to the employees to be completely secular and caste neutral after wearing uniforms. The direct effect of which I saw during a Hindu-Muslim conflict in Varanasi in 1991 in which my employees were not accused of bias and communalism while the BSF men posted there were. Apart from this, the attitude and behaviour of the government has a huge impact on the conduct and behaviour of the police. If the government is carrying on a communal agenda, then it must have an impact on its police.
It is clear from the above discussion that our police is very cruel, authoritarian and law breaking, for some of the reasons mentioned above. Therefore, to change the character of this police, it is necessary to have a democratic society and rule of law. If society wants it to have a humane, sensitive and law-abiding police, radical reforms are required in the police, which no government or the existing capitalist party wants to do. For this, new mass politics has to be created which works for the creation of a democratic society and state and the abolition of all black laws like UAPA, NSA, Special Armed Forces Act, arrest and harassment of political-social activists and make it a political question. This question should create a broad mass movement and bring public pressure on it. For this, it is time to come forward so that Tuticorn is not repeated in the country.