India's police discriminate against people on the basis of caste and financial status and consider themselves above the law, undermining the country's democratic ideals, a leading human rights group said on Tuesday.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report that Indian police also stood accused of illegally detaining crime suspects, torturing them and even carrying out extra-judicial killings in custody with impunity.
The report collated from interviews with about 80 policemen of various ranks and victims of police atrocities said several officers admitted in private that suspects were often tortured and beaten to extract confessions.
In one case, a woman suspect was killed in custody and her killing was passed off as suicide. She was found hanging from a tree, the report said.
In other instances, suspects have been tied to wooden sticks and tortured by turning them upside down until they fainted, the group said in the report titled Broken System: Dysfunction, Abuse and Impunity in the Indian Police.
"India's status as the world's largest democracy is undermined by a police force that thinks it is above the law," Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, said.
India's junior Home Minister Ajay Maken told parliament on Tuesday that the government was moving to address the issue of police atrocities, including supporting judicial investigations into every suspected custodial death.
Official figures showed 23 policemen were charged with atrocities since 2005, but none has been convicted.
Adams said Indians avoided contact with police out of fear because they perceived them as discriminating on the basis of caste and financial and social status.
Colonial-era police laws also enable politicians to interfere, manipulating police to have investigations dropped against influential people and to harass or file false charges.
"These practices corrode public confidence," Adams said in a statement.
India's Congress party-led government said after winning back power in May that it would make police more accountable, and introduce reforms, responding to reports of rising fake encounters and torture across the country.
In 2006, the country's Supreme Court ordered reforms in the police force, but the central government and state governments have failed to comply, the group said.
"It's time for the government to stop talking about reform and fix the system," Adams said.