The inhumanity, illegality of custodial torture
On June 19, P Jayaraj, 59, and his son, J Fennix Immanuel, 31, were picked up by the police at Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, for allegedly violating lockdown norms, by keeping their shop open for longer hours and defying the night curfew. They were lodged in jail on June 21. On June 22, Immanuel died of breathlessness, and a day later his father passed away. The family has alleged that both were subjected to custodial torture, resulting in rectal bleeding and eventual death. The deaths sparked protests. But even though two FIRs have been filed, no officer has been booked on murder charges. Only four policemen have been suspended.
The Tamil Nadu deaths are not a one-off case. India’s police personnel are well-known for their high-handed behaviour, and third-degree methods in custody. As many as 100 people are reported to have died in police custody in 2017, according to the National Crime Records Bureau data. Of these, 58 were not on remand, while 42 were on police or judicial remand. Suicide (37) was the most reported reason for the deaths, followed by death due to illness (28) and injuries sustained during the police custody (5); journey connected with investigation (4); while escaping custody (3); injuries prior to custody (1); and Others (22). In 62 cases pertaining to custodial deaths, 33 policepersons were arrested, 27 chargesheeted, four were acquitted or discharged, and none was convicted.
The State must implement the 2018 Supreme Court directives on police reforms that recommended the separation of police functions of investigation and maintaining law and order, and setting up of a complaints authority to look into complaints against officers in cases of custodial death, grievous hurt or rape in police custody. For India, custodial torture and deaths are a huge blot on its democratic credentials. It undermines rule of law, erodes the faith of people in the system and is inhuman.