Four persons die in jail or police custody every day in India, a human rights group said on Wednesday.
Asian Centre for Human Rights demanded amendment to the laws requiring prior sanction to prosecute police, army and para-military personnel and criticized the National Human Rights Commission for shying away from recommending prosecution of those allegedly involved in custodial violence. It also demanded that torture should be made a separate and distinct offence.
In its report, Torture in India 2008: A State of Denial, ACHR said: “7,468 persons, at an average of 1,494 persons per year or four persons per day, have died and/or been killed in prison and police custody during 2002 to 2007.”
The report, said to be the first ever nationwide assessment of the use of torture in India, said: “An equal number of persons, if not more, have been killed in the custody of the army, central armed forces and states’ para-military forces in insurgency affected area.” It quoted figures released by the NHRC and those tabled by the government in Parliament.
Alleging that a large number of these deaths were a result of torture, ACHR Director Suhas Chakma lamented that only four police personnel were convicted in 2004 and three in 2005 for custodial deaths.
“Hundreds are killed, dozens are paid compensation but only three to four persons are convicted each year, he said, adding, “A pervasive regime of impunity is the single most important factor for institutionalizing widespread use of torture even in areas where there are no armed conflicts. The NHRC awarded compensation in 684 cases of custodial violence between 1994 and 2007.
The ACHR Director said: “The requirement of prior permission under Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code and Section 6 of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act for prosecution of the accused law enforcement personnel promotes impunity.”
Maintaining that the Executive could not act as a super-judicial body to decide if the accused police/army personnel should be prosecuted in courts, he demanded implementation of the Law Commission’s 152nd Report on ‘Custodial Crimes that recommended change in the Indian Evidence Act to shift the onus of proving his/her innocence on the accused in custodial death cases.
He said that armed opposition groups like Naxals and anti-naxal groups like Salwa Judum were also indulging in killing, torture and mutilation of alleged police informers, ‘class enemies’ and impoverished Adivasis and Dalits.
Lauding the role of the Judiciary, Chakma said that lack of specific legislation hampered courts’ work. He wondered how the government could attribute such a huge number of custodial deaths to ‘illness/natural death, escaping from custody, suicides, attacks by other criminals etc.”
Chakma said that India should ratify the onvention Against Torture that it signed in 1997 and make appropriate changes in the existing laws to criminalize torture and provide compensation to the victims.