Custodial Violence- Who’s At Fault?

Recent incident of handcuffing with iron chains an under trial woman prisoner at Ambala shows how seriously the police and jail authorities are following the directions of the Apex Court laid down in various cases. How we can forget many instances in almost all States like this?

As per the guidelines, no prisoner can be handcuffed without prior permission of the Court and only in exceptional cases. An act whereby the authorities keep prisoners handcuffed would amount to gross violation of right to life and personal liberty. The arrest of a person suspected of crime does not warrant any physical violence on the person or his torture.

It is only one of the various incidents which occur ordinarily without action against the authorities. At times, various public spirited persons bring to notice such violation of rights. Asian Centre for Human Rights in its report “Torture in India 2008: A State of Denialstated that 7,468 persons, at an average of 1,494 persons per year or about four persons per day, have died and/or been killed in prison and police custody during 2002 to 2007. They are committed under the shield of uniform and within four walls of a police station or lock-up. It becomes grave when committed against female prisoners in the form of sexual abuse and exploitation. Some of the common feature of violations of human rights are the torture of arrested persons, the disappearance of suspects who ought to have been in regular police custody, deaths in fake encounters and at police stations, and under trials denied in jails for years without trials as accounted in “Violation of Human Rights by State: A Case Study of Custodial Violence in Delhi”. Most human rights violations by the police take place before formal arrest.

The Parliament has failed to enact law to provide compensation for custodial crimes. This worsens the situation and mainly poor as well as weaker sections of society not only suffer torture in custody rather succumb to death by inhumane treatment meted against them. The moment of arrest brings with it thousands cases of torture just to produce some one else’s crime due to inability of police to find the latter. Once an offender is finally sent to jail, he is made subject to similar treatment and even worse. I, in my visit to a jail saw a different kind of custodial crimes, not in the form of torture rather lack of medical facilities and sanitation provisions. Though efforts were made to conceal the drawbacks but the plight of prisoners was self-evident.

Custodial deaths are perhaps one of the worst crimes in a civilized society governed by the Rule of Law. The need is to create a climate of respect for human rights in the police, the society at large including the press, politicians and bureaucrats. The educated and uneducated people behind bars cannot do anything to voice their grievances against the authorities. It is only their deaths which bring out pain. Why to wait for deaths in custody to rise to take action?

So,let us come forward and fulfill the obligations as a nation promised by signing International Conventions on the subject.

Bhumika Sharma