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How Savours Become Killers?

How Savours Become Killers?

Close on the heels of the brutal killing of an African American, George Floyd, by a white police officer and the wide spread protest not only in USA but also in many countries of the world, the custodial death of a father and son in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin has brought to limelight once again the inhumanity of the Indian police. The tragic death of P Jayaraj and his son Beniks on June 22 and 23 respectively due to the torture by police while they were in custody, was widely reported in the media. There has been huge outrage among the public on the custodial death of the father son duo and many have compared it to the death of George Floyd. Human rights activists, film personalities, and politicians have not only condemned the brutal killing but also raised once again the wider issue of police brutality and custodial death.

Police torture of the accused persons and custodial deaths are not something new in India. This has been brought to the notice of the courts several times, and the High Courts and the Supreme Court have given strict guidelines to be followed by the concerned authorities. Various reports of organizations committed to the protection of Human Rights have also brought to the attention of the governments and the courts from time to time serious human rights violations through torture of the accused under police custody and in judicial custody.

The annual report of National Campaign Against Torture (NCAT) (“ India: Annual Report on Torture 2019 ”) released on 26th June has stated that a total of 1,731 persons died in custody during 2019 i.e. death of about five persons daily. These included 1,606 deaths in judicial custody and 125 deaths in police custody.

It is really horrifying to read in the report the kinds of torture inflicted on the victims. Some of them are hammering iron nails in the body, applying roller on legs and burning, ‘falanga’ wherein the soles of the feet are beaten, stretching legs apart in opposite side, hitting in private parts, electric shock, pouring petrol in private parts, applying chilly power in private parts, beating while being hand-cuffed, pricking needle into body, branding with hot iron rod, beating after stripping, urinating in mouth, inserting hard blunt object into anus, beating after hanging upside down with hands and legs tied, forcing to perform oral sex, pressing finger nails with pliers, beating with iron rods after victim is suspended between two tables with both hands and legs tied, forced to do Murga pose or stress position, and kicking in belly of pregnant woman. As per the media reports some of these cruel methods were used by the police to torture Jayraj and Beniks. As a result Beniks had to change six lungies because excessive bleeding when he was taken to hospital for medical examination.   

The NCAT report also states that out of the 125 deaths in police custody, 75 persons or 60% belonged to the poor and the marginalised communities. These included 13 victims from dalit and tribal communities, 15 victims belonged to Muslim minority community, 37 victims were picked up for petty crimes and all of them belonged to poor sections of the society.

The report of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) 2017 and Report of Human Rights Watch released on December 19, 2016 also reveal the extent and cruelty of custodial death. According to the annual report NHRC for the year 2017-18, nearly 15 cases of custodial violence were reported every day on average.  The NHRC report also has pointed out that some custodial deaths were reported after considerable delay and violence in custody was so rampant that it has become almost routine.

The report of Human Rights Watch titled, “‘ Bound by Brotherhood’: India’s Failure to End Killings in Police Custody,” examines police disregard for arrest regulations, custodial deaths from torture, and impunity for those responsible. Its findings and conclusions are based on in-depth investigations into 17 deaths in custody that occurred between 2009 and 2015. The process of the investigation included more than 70 interviews with victims’ family members, witnesses, justice experts, and police officials. The aspects that are highlighted in the report are police failure to follow proper arrest procedures, failure to hold police accountable for custodial deaths and intimidation of victims’ families and witnesses.

This report also mentions that most of the people who have died in the police custody belong to lower strata of society, including minority community and they do not have knowledge about the State policy to engage/appoint lawyer so that they can be properly represented in Court matters. The report concludes with the comment that “if the police accused of mistreating the suspects were promptly and fairly brought to justice across India, perhaps custodial deaths from torture would cease once and for all”.

The bounden duty of the police in any country is to maintain law and order and to protect the lives of people from law breakers. In fact, their role is that of a saviour in times of threat to the life and property of the people. Police also have a crucial role in ensuring justice to those whose human rights and constitutionally guaranteed rights are violated because the first stage of the criminal justice system starts with the police investigation and filing First Information Report (FIR). Unfortunately in our country the common people are terribly afraid of the police because the police force is not people friendly. Their atrocious behaviour was highlighted in the media when they brutally thrashed the hapless migrant workers.

Many Indian movies have brought to light the atrocities committed by the police and the flaws in the criminal justice system that includes police investigation, arrest and imprisonment, torture during police custody and in the prisons, long and excruciating trials in the courts, corruption and illegal practices in the jails, especially the nexus between the criminals and jail officials. The movie, JAIL, directed by Madhur Bhandarkar is one among them. The layers in the criminal justice system are closely interrelated and hence the whole system needs urgent reform. The brutal behaviour of the police as in the case of Jayraj and Beniks calls for the urgency of police reform.

There has been no dearth of commission reports and guidelines by the Supreme Court for the police reform in India; but bulk of the recommendations and directives remain on paper. The most important among these voluminous proposals are the seven directives laid down by the Supreme Court in 2006 in the matter of Prakash Singh versus Union of India and others.  A study by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) in 2018 has noted that more than a decade after the passage of the directives, the Centre and all states are still not in compliance with them. There was no single case of full compliance with the directives. 

Various reports of the commissions have brought to light the difficulties and inadequacies faced the police force. For example, the Status of Policing in India Report 2019, released recently by the Common Cause and Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, has highlighted some of these inadequacies and the dismal working conditions of the police. Long and arduous hours of work without facilities for rest, continuous employment on jobs under extreme conditions of stress and strain, inadequate in-service training, lack of equipments and vehicles and above all interference by the political bosses. Sometimes the police are forced to act according to the dictates of political leaders.

Prejudice among the police personnel against certain sections of the society is a serious obstacle to the delivery of justice. In 2019, Common Cause, a non-profit, and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), a Delhi-based research organisation, surveyed 11,834 police personnel across 21 states about their perceptions, attitudes and professional skills. Analysis of the data of the survey shows that a round 50% of all police personnel believe that Muslims are somewhat more likely to commit crimes. Similar bias was also found among the police against the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Half of all police personnel believe that migrants from outside states are naturally more prone to crime.

A common trend noticed in many torture cases and custodial death is the nexus between the police, doctors examining the accused and the lower level judiciary. In the case of Jayraj and Beniks this nexus was very evident. After torture for the whole night when the father and the son were taken to the hospital, the doctors first refused to give fitness certificate. Because of the continuous pressure from the police they were forced to give the certificate. Then the two were taken to the judicial magistrate in a vehicle. It was reported that the magistrate did not even come closer to the accused. Without asking any questions and even without seeing the FIR he remanded Jayaraj and Beniks to judicial custody and they were sent to Kovilpatti sub jail where their condition worsened and succumbed to injuries within two days.  

Lack of political will to implement the Supreme Court Directives of 2006 appears to be the main reason for increasing police brutality and custodial death. The general public and the civil society organizations have to put pressure on the political leaders and the government to implement the directives of the SC in letter and spirit. Whenever police brutalities take place the public have to protest using non-violent means and compel the government to bring the culprits to the books. In a democracy ultimately it is the responsibility of the people to make the elected representatives and the bureaucracy accountable.

 It is heartening to note that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) joined the civil society organizations in decrying the custodial death of Jayraj and Beniks and appealed to the government to ensure the due process of law so that the culprits would be punished. The Church has to exercise its prophetic role of voicing for justice, whenever human rights are violated and violence is inflicted on innocent people, irrespective of the religion, caste and status of the victims.

Systems and processes alone cannot stop violence and brutality. Change has to take place in the persons who manage the systems and process. If the citizens imbibe the values of honesty, justice and sensitivity, they will abide by the laws and will not harm another human being. It is the duty of parents, teachers and religious leaders to inculcate these values in the children so that they become responsible citizens and sensitive human beings. Those who indulged in the brutal killing of Jayraj and Beniks are those who have degenerated to the level of brutes. Ultimately the whole society is responsible for creating these brutes.


(Published on 06th July 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 28)