India’s torture culture
#GS2 #Issues #PoliceReforms
The pervasiveness of police torture is best understood in the compelling case found in reports made by NGOs and observers over the years, including by the Asian Centre for Human Rights, Amnesty International and People’s Union for Democratic Rights.
Police torture in India
- The data on torture show that it is not only an integral part of India’s policing culture; in some investigations (such as terror cases), it is treated as the centrepiece.
- The fact is that the current laws facilitate such torture, such as through the admissibility of confessions as evidence under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which continues refurbished as the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act.
- Unfortunately, policing has also not mainstreamed the upgrade to newer technologies, like DNA analysis, which can directly impact law enforcement practices.
International position on ‘torture’
- The official position on state-sponsored or state-endorsed torture can be seen in a 2017 quote by India’s then Attorney-General. In his opening speech in Geneva at the country’s universal periodic review at the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Attorney-General invoked Gandhi and Buddha, stating that “India…believe[s] in peace, non-violence and upholding human dignity. As such, the concept of torture is completely alien to our culture and it has no place in the governance of the nation.”
- In consonance with such speeches, what we really need is a recognition that torture is endemic and a systemic problem, and the only answer lies in stringent legal framework that is aligned with and committed to the principles of international law under the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) to which India has been a signatory since 1997, and a watertight enforcement mechanism that deters such practices.
Supreme Court’s views
- In Raghbir Singh v. State of Haryana (1980), the Court was “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 the law gore human rights to death.”
- These sentiments were revisited in Francis Coralie Mullin v. Union Territory of Delhi (1981) and Sheela Barse v. State of Maharashtra (1987), where the Court condemned cruelty and torture as violative of Article 21.
- This interpretation of Article 21 is consistent with the principles contained in the UNCAT. The UNCAT aims to prevent torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment around the world.
India’s record against torture
- Although India signed the UNCAT in 1997, it is yet to ratify it. In 2010, a weak Prevention of Torture Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha, and the Rajya Sabha later sent it to a Select Committee for review in alignment with the UNCAT. But the Committee’s recommended law, submitted in 2012, never fructified, as the then UPA government allowed the Bill to lapse.
- In 2016, Ashwani Kumar, a senior advocate and former Union Minister of Law, sought the enactment of a torture law via a Supreme Court petition. By 2017, the Law Commission had submitted its 273rd report and an accompanying draft torture law. But the Supreme Court dismissed the petition on grounds that the government cannot be compelled to make a law by mandamus; treaty ratification was a political decision; and that it was a policy matter.
- The reluctance to pass an anti-torture bill in any state of India is arguably because all governments appear to collectively agree that police brutality is a necessary evil to maintain law and order.
- Arguably we need a people’s movement at home to bring about the necessary legislative changes that the Law Commission has suggested, and that encourages institutions to end the menace of torture from our system.
- Only the people can rise up against these practices, just as they are doing in other parts of the world. Important stakeholders like the Bar, the media, civil society and student groups must take the lead.