Custodial Violence

After the Covid-19 pandemic struck, India witnessed its police authorities exercising an excessive clampdown of civil liberties which often masqueraded as a health measure for the greater interest. This resulted in more and more instances of police brutality which often impacted only those at the margins of our society.

In India, custodial violence is commonplace. Custodial violence involves inhumane treatment meted out to prisoners by the authorities in charge of holding them. The occurrence of this extends from the pretrial custody in police lockups, till after the judicial process when prisoners are serving their sentence in prisons. The laws protecting a person from custodial violence in India are well recognized. It is recognized that every person has protection from custodial violence under article 21 and 22(1).

The police in turn, often complain about having their roles reduced to those of puppets of their political masters and claim that there are extraneous forces that continue to influence their work. There have been two major legislations that have been stalled by the central and state governments for over a decade, the first being the Prevention of Torture Bill, and the second being the legislative implementation of the Praskash Singh guidelines. In India, the police, ironically, as an authority has been infamous for the number of crimes it commits, and almost always, with a great degree of impunity.

The Indian Government’s stand on the issue has been that the provisions mentioned in the Criminal Procedure Code and the Indian Penal Code are sufficient to safeguard the rights of the people imprisoned, when the statistics have consistently been showing otherwise. Section 176(1) of the CrPc lays down the procedure to carry out the investigation of a disappearance, death or murder of a person while in the custody. It entails that such an occurrence must follow a mandatory judicial enquiry. It has been further laid down by the NHRC that in case of a custodial death, it must be reported back to the NHRC within 24 hours. Unfortunately, the compliance with this is dubious since there has been no punishment prescribed for the violation of this order.

The enactment of a reviewed and refined Prevention of Torture Act would help abate to a considerable degree the prevalent crises in Indian prisons and police lock-ups. Either a clear apathy, or a vested interest of the lawmakers, has been restraining them from not making stricter laws, allowing a greater degree of independence for operations with the Prakash Singh directives, as well as ensuring more accountability for the police, and protection for suspects and accused, with proper and adequate legislation for prevention of torture. Due to the lack of implementation of the Supreme Court directives, the independence of Police authorities is still a far-fetched dream, and the public eye is cognizant of the same.

This results in a feeling of contempt towards the police authority. In 2019-20, almost five deaths took place daily in police custody.14 The instances of custodial violence are all common knowledge to the public too, and this further deteriorates public trust in policing, often showcased by the stigma which people have against going or appearing in the police stations. This lack of trust further reduces social cohesion with the citizens which they have to protect, and this, in turn, leads to more problems in policing. For the common good, therefore, it is imperative for the legislatures to give force to better legislations for controlling the acts of violence by the police officials, as well as giving them much-needed independence to serve their duties at their optimum.

Aishwarya Says:

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