Custodial violence and custodial deaths have been a long pending problem in India. Several amendments have been introduced by the Legislature to curb this menace, but still, we continue to see incidents of people dying in police or judicial custody due to excessive torture. Many of these incidents go unreported. Even when they are reported to the competent authorities, the victims often do not get the justice or remedy that they deserve. The National Crime Records Bureau data states that 1727 custodial violence cases were recorded in India between 2001 and 2018. However, only 26 police officers have been convicted under this offense. Most of the convicted persons are out on bail.
There are several problems that lead to custodial violence.
Firstly, an overburdened judiciary. The Indian judiciary faces a heavy backlog of cases and resultantly, the judiciary is unable to deal with custodial violence cases in an effective manner. Several accused persons have to languish in jails for years while their trial is pending. While the accused persons are in jail, the police often resort to violence in order to extract confessions from them.
Secondly, overcrowded prisons also lead to custodial deaths. Due to overcrowding, the prisoners have to face poor hygiene, lack of proper facilities, etc. Following the prescribed procedures becomes difficult due to such overcrowding and the police officers start handling the prisoners in an arbitrary manner. Indian prisons also face a lack of adequate infrastructure.
Thirdly, lack of police training. The police in India are not effectively trained about interrogation methods. Hence, they often resort to violence during interrogation.
Furthermore, India has not ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture despite being a signatory to the same. Two official Bills, one private member Bill and a Law Commission Report have tried to convince the Government to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture but India still continues to be one of the 25 countries that have not ratified the Convention.
The police are said to be the custodian of the people and illegal custodial violence inflicted by the police on the prisoners is a matter of deep concern. The Legislature too has recognized this problem and has introduced several provisions to prevent incidents of custodial violence. Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 makes confessions obtained by the police inadmissible in Courts. The main purpose behind this provision is to dissuade the police from using force to extract confessions.
Section 41 of the Code of Criminal Procedure provides various safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention. However, we see that these provisions are not followed in their letter and spirit Furthermore, the low rate of conviction renders these provisions futile. The 273rd report of the Law Commission of India recommended criminal prosecution of those who committed the offense of custodial violence.
Protection against custodial violence is a fundamental right. Custodial violence infringes the personal dignity of an individual. Victims of custodial violence are often unable to voice their grievances due to fear and helplessness. The government must undertake immediate reforms to curb custodial violence and safeguard the interests of the accused persons.
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