Loss of Life in the custody of Life Savers
Whenever we hear of somebody getting free from police custody, we hear them talking about how inhumane treatment is meted out to them. How heartlessly are they beaten and how wicked or evil the protectors of law are. The results definitely being that either we stop imposing faith in the executors of law or we become afraid of somebody whose primary job is to protect us. The dignity of human life has been preserved time and again through the statutory provisions and landmark judgments like Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab.
Before we get into any discussions, debates, arguments or conclusions lets first discuss what is this blog all about. In this blog, I’ve tried to bring to the forefront the legal evil of custodial violence. It had become imperative for us to talk about this and understand the legal provisions curbing the same, especially after the brutal torture and death of father and son who were under police custody in Tuticorin. Their death would have been less painful had it been caused by bullets but this was the case of organ damage by police on duty not for a criminal wrong but for a civil wrong of keeping the shop open for 15 mins longer than the allowed time during the lockdown.
Going etymologically, custodial has been derived from the word custody which according to the Oxford Learners Dictionary means detention. So custodial deaths are the deaths caused during the custody of police or broadly the State. These are not only a shame to our system but also a matter of great concern because of the following reasons.
1. It gives unchecked power to the police.
2. It curbs the citizens’ right to fair trial and justice.
3. It encourages settling off the crime without dealing with it.
4. Most importantly, it diminishes the importance of life of an accused.
STATUTORY PROVISIONS SAFEGUARDING THE LIVES OF AN ACCUSED
Time and again there have been instances of custodial deaths that not only leads us to question the validity of an act but also put us into a situation where we are bound to lose trust in the administration. I fail to understand that why does police show such hostility towards the accused when there is neither a need of it nor there is any statutory provision regarding the same. In fact, the opposite exists. In Maneka Gandhi v Union of India, the Hon'ble Supreme court held that police as the principal law enforcement agency has the authority to bring the offenders to book. However, the law and procedure for the same must conform to civilized standards. The procedure must be fair just and reasonable. Article 46 CrPC envisages modes of the arrest. The arrest is a legal restraint on personal liberty and if force is required, it should not be more than which is just. This section does not give the right to cause the death of a person. Article 49 of CrPC states that there should be no more restraint than which is just necessary. All these statutory provisions prevent the police from acting in the way they do.
Recent custodial death of father-son Jayaraj and Bennicks in Tuticorin after being mercilessly beaten up and sodomised in police custody shook the grounds under our feet. The duo was accused of opening the shop 15 mins longer than the permitted time during the lockdown. Definitely, the crime was not worthy of the special treatment meted out to them.
PATHETIC STATE OF POWER
In a country like India, the implementation of the law is bigger a challenge than making the law. And it is due to this very reason that police come into the forefront. It is expected from them that they take people into confidence and assure us that no matter what, our security is their priority. However, trends have changed now. Police have assumed all the power which not vested to them and has become goons in society. They pay no heed to the fact that a person accused is not a person guilty. It seems as if they vent out their anger and frustrations on these people. Sometimes being so torturous that life escapes out from them. Crime and torture against persons accused in custody are not only heinous but also revolting as they highlight betrayal of trust in police custody by a government authority against the defenseless citizens. These barbaric acts not only are socially wrong but also an infringement of fundamental and human rights.
According to the 152nd repost of the 13 the law commission which specifically deals with custodial crimes. The state of custodial crimes in India is so pathetic that most of the cases are not even reported. Another important point that the report brought out was that most often these people are from weaker sections of the society who are not even aware of their rights in police custody. Also, these people have no political approach which makes the police vivacious to commit these crimes.
ORDERS AND GUIDELINES BY THE LAW OF COURT
In one of the landmark cases in which a police inspector was sentenced to life imprisonment, the court expressed its deep concern towards the increasing instances of custodial deaths in the following words “We are deeply disturbed by the diabolical recurrence of police torture resulting in a terrible scare in the minds of common citizens that their lives and liberty are under a new peril when the guardians of law gore human rights to death. Police lockups, if reports in newspapers have a streak of credence, are becoming awesome cells. This development is disastrous to our human rights awareness and humanist constitutional order?"
In the case of Joginder Kumar v. State of U.P, the court took pain to state that the existence of power is one thing while exercising the power is quite different. Also, in the light of Article 20 (3) and 22 (1) of the constitution of India, the court in the case of Nandini S 4. laid emphasis on the presence of counsel during the interrogation in police custody. This served as an important guideline to curb custodial torture.
Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, Indian evidence act, and above all the Constitution of India deals with the rights of prisoners and people detained or accused. Guidelines by the Human Rights Commission are also vocal about the right of the detained persons. However, there are no laws that specifically deal with the actions that can be taken against the officers who torture the accused. They are tried according to the provisions in other statutes. The existing laws are inefficient and ineffective in dealing with the custodial crimes and in many cases, the officers go ineffective as the accused are either ignorant or unable to gather proof against them. This feature, in particular, has been highlighted by the police in the case of State of M.P v. Shyam Sundar Trivedi 5 which was the case of custodial death, the court observed that rarely in the case of custodial death, direct evidence of the complicity of the police personnel is available.
CONCLUSION & SUGGESTIONS
It is distressing to find every day the gory tales of dehumanizing behavior by public authorities in the newspapers. What is more pathetic is that the cases of custodial deaths are increasing day by day without taking a break. A few which catch light get justice and many under the cover crave for justice. The alarming rise of custodial crimes in India has enraged public outcry against law enforcement agencies especially the police and the court of law.
Maintenance of law and order is the prime objective of the government. Investigation of crime and apprehension of an offender is extremely important. For this very reason, some crucial powers are vested into the police. However, it is disheartening to see this power getting rusted. A civilized country cannot entertain the use of violence and unreasonable 3rd-degree torture methods for interrogation and investigation of crime. The police and other authorities are expected to respect the constitutional and statutory guidelines and abide by them while doing their duty.
1 Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab AIR 1980 SC 898: 1982(1) SCALE 713: (1980) 2 SCC 684: (1983) 1 SCR 145
2 Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India 1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621
3 Joginder Singh v. State of U.P 1994 AIR 1349, 1994 SCC (4) 260
4 Nandini Satpathy v. Dani and Anr 1978 AIR 1025, 1978 SCR (3) 608
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This blog has been authored by Anushka Gupta who is a 1st Year B.B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at Chanakya National Law University, Patna.
[PUBLICATION NO. TLG_BLOG_20_2004]