Case exposes deeper problems: Experts
Prakash Singh, a former director-general of police who filed a landmark petition for police reforms in the Supreme Court in 2006, called for an attitudinal change and reinforcing the architecture of state and district level “accountability commissions” that were mandated by the top court 14 years ago.Updated: Jul 01, 2020 03:27 IST
The alleged custodial torture and killing of Jayaraj and Bennicks in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district exposed deeper problems with police violence that need strict judicial overview and long-term reform, former police chiefs and legal experts said on Tuesday.
Prakash Singh, a former director-general of police who filed a landmark petition for police reforms in the Supreme Court in 2006, called for an attitudinal change and reinforcing the architecture of state and district level “accountability commissions” that were mandated by the top court 14 years ago.
“The response of the local police was disappointing; they should have prosecuted these policemen without any wait. There needs to be a mindset change; top officers cannot think, we have to save our own,” said Singh.
In the 2006 case, the top court issued instructions to the government to carry out reforms to insulate police from external pressure and to ensure accountability.
Another former police chief, Vikram Singh, said the entire police station is liable to be suspended because of violation of arrest guidelines. He called for a fast-track court to prosecute the accused. “Everyone was a willing accomplice and the court’s order to depute revenue officials to the station is a clear loss of trust in the uniform,” he added.
Legal experts pointed out that a number of measures were recommended in the past – by judicial and law commission reports – but none were implemented thoroughly.
Murali Karnam, a professor at the NALSAR University of Law in Hyderabad, pointed out that in many countries, governments set up truth and accountability commissions to probe large-scale violence by the state machinery. “But in India, there is a belief that everything can be resolved through force. Serious changes are needed in police training and police need to earn the confidence of people,” he said.
Shamim Modi, a professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, said in addition to the police, accountability should be sought of the judiciary too. “There are many guidelines issued by the Supreme Court but you need to have an environment where the guidelines can be implemented. We need to punish illegal detention… but the lower judiciary does not seem to take this seriously.”
S Ramadoss, a professor of criminology at the University of Madras, said Tamil Nadu police have been accused of several custodial violence cases in the past – the state was second to Gujarat in the number of police custody deaths in 2018, according to the National Crime Records Bureau – but cautioned that it will be a mistake to see the entire police force as one. “There are some erring policemen. Human rights are a component of police training. What we need is deeper study and fear of punishment acting as a deterrent against custodial violence.”
What is the way forward? Raja Bagga, a programme officer at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, explained that constant judicial oversight on the actions of the police can bring some accountability to policing.
“Magistrates are duty bound to examine whether all safeguards mandated by law have been scrupulously followed - be it ascertaining the reasonability of the arrest, verifying the medical examination of the arrestee, inquiring about legal representation and intimation to the family about the arrest, among others,” he said.