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Custodial Death : A Strong Punch In The Face Of Democracy

As a child, I always considered police as demigods-whose job is to protect people. They were always given superior status in the society and were treated with the utmost respect. But later to my surprise, I found out that people were actually frightened by the police. The department of the police rarely stood up to the expectations of the public. Most of them were bribed and acted at whims of politicians and rich merchants. A very negligible part of them were honest and not credited.

There were many instances where policemen booked false cases against the victim and tortured them to death. Clearly, it violates all the fundamental rights, ethics, and moral values. These instances were a shame to the khaki uniform.

Life and love are two eternal elements in nature that cannot be denied on any grounds. But the power given to the police is misused by many.

We all thought that the concept of custodial death was 90's fashion as there is a significant increase in the technology. Billionaire to pauper, all of them are carrying their smart phones with high-resolution cameras. So it would be easy to capture the unlawful incidents. People were in high, hoping that these phones can eradicate some sort of crimes but they could not.

The entire world joined their hands and demanded justice for the death of George Floyd due to police brutality. Back home, the death of Tuticoron father-son duo allegedly in police custody has caused a furore across the state Tamil Nadu[1].

Jeyraj, owner of a timber shop was taken to the police custody for keeping the shop open past 9 pm. Fenix, his son, who ran a cell phone shop gone to the police station to enquire about his father. Police booked both of them and remanded. They were later shifted to Kovilpatti sub jail. Both father and son were severely injured. The treatment given to them is unforgivable. They were pushed against the walls. Their knees were smashed, they were stripped naked and thrown into the jail.

As usual the gates were locked and were taken to a place where the cameras weren't in condition. It was alleged that metal dipped lathis were shoved up their butt hole. Their genitals were completely damaged and blood was everywhere. Both father and son were called off in the hospital.

Police are meant to enforce the law but instead they are taking the law in to their own hands. It isn't for the first time where people came across such barbaric situations. It is extremely inhuman and evil.
  • What values do police serve in this democratic society?
  • What kind of punishment should be given to these kind of people?
  • Do you think the family of the deceased still has hope in the police system?
  • How could a policeman face them again in the future?
  • Who gave these extraordinary and uncontrolled powers to the police?
  • Should the entire police department is to be blamed because of few people?

These are the basic questions which are required to be answered as and when a corpse comes out of a police station. Weak and poor are always the worst sufferers of the custodial violence.

The explanations given to these were horrible.
According to a paper presented on Custodial violence and death by Vadackumchery at the symposium hosted by Indian Society of Victimology in Madras where 254 police officers were interviewed:
  1. 78% of the policemen admitted that the arrested were kept in custody till confession
  2. 81% of the policemen admitted that third degree methods were used during interrogation
  3. 36% of the accused reported that they had kept the accused in jail for more than 24 hours.[2]

Article 21 of the constitution states that:

No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.

This article plays a very important role in the case of custodial violence which may lead to death. It acts as a protection to the accused and his relatives. The right to life includes the right to claim compensation by the victims. If a person is arrested unlawfully, he can file a writ petition in the High Court under Article 226 or the Supreme Court under Article 32.

In the landmark case of D.K. Basu v. West Bengal State[3], the petitioner a lawyer who went on to become a judge, wrote to Chief Justice of India to draw attention to the matter of custodial deaths.

In Basu's words, he wanted to persuade the Chief Justice that violence, death, rape, assault and injuries in custody have become the rule of the government in police administration[4]. The court here observed that torture is impermissible and offensive to Article 21. Punishment itself has an element of torture which is unconstitutional.

The question of custodial death later got a huge significance. The citizens of India were always reminded with rights and powers such as Article 14, 32 and 21.

In the case of Nilabati v. State of Orissa[5], the court took the letter written by the victim's mother as a petition. The letter stated that her son Suman Behra was beaten to death in the police station. The petitioner's son was arrested for allegedly committing a theft. His body was found near railway tracks. His mother sought for compensation under Article 21.

The court in many cases clarified that in the case of custodial violence the burden of proof lies on the police officer but not the victim's kith and kin.

Conclusion
The court in the case of Nilabati v. State of Orissa[6] contended that even convicts and prisoners have right under Article 21. But still persons who are convicted weren't given these rights. Lack of effective supervision by the superior officers may be one of the reasons for custodial deaths.

These kinds of activities negate all the good done by the police and their contribution to the society will be forgotten. With great power comes great responsibility. Police officers are an apt example of this. As rightly quoted by Irene Khan there should be two parties in any incident but instead, it is just a dead body of the victim on the other side.

End-Notes:
  1. https://www.indiatoday.in/movies/regional-cinema/story/tuticorin-custodial-death-khushbu-to-jayam-ravi-celebs-demand-justice-1692861-2020-06-26
  2. 12 Vadackumchery J, Custodial Violence and Death: Problems and Prevention, Paper presented in the Symposium of Indian Society of Victimology, Chennai, 1994
  3. (1997 ) 1 SCC 416
  4. A Life Devoted to Providing Access to India's Legal System and Averting Abuses in Police Custody: Interview with D.K. Basu, Human rights solidarity Journal, vol.16, no.2 (2006), http;//www.hrsolidarity.net/mainfile.php/2006vol16no02/2492/ (accessed from Zia Mody's : 10 Judgments that changed India)
  5. Nilabati v. State of Orissa A.I.R. 1993 S.C. 1960
  6. Ibid.
Written By: Maruti Sankar IInd year, B.A. LLB, Smt. Velagapudi Durgamba Siddartha Law Collage, Vijayawada.

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