Wednesday 24 May 2017 News Updated at 11:05 AM IST
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Need to humanise police - Deccan Herald
Need to humanise police
R D Sharma,
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The use of brutal force and third-degree methods on suspects and undertrials remains one of the major and at times sole weapon of the police in India. Reports from states and Union Territories reveal that the enforcers of the law are among the major perpetrators of the crime against humanity.

Extreme torture or assault in custody often results in grievous injuries including death. Police lockups and prison cells in the country are only mirrors reflecting a deeper malaise and telling a story that to be imprisoned in India can by itself amount to a death sentence. Recent horrifying incidents of death in police custody confirm this crucial fact.

Six policemen, including the SHO of New Delhi's Adarsh Nagar police station, were suspended in January this year for hushing up the custodial death of a fruit-seller. Quite close on the heals of it, five policemen of Thorala police station in Rajkot district of Gujarat were arrested again in the same month for the murder of two suspects.

Last month, a 16-year old boy, picked up by the police for interrogation in connection with the alleged abduction of a minor girl was found hanging in Udham Nagar's police post in Uttarakhand. Around 500 villagers torched Barhara police station in Bihar's Bhojpur district recently following a man's death in the police station.

The number of custodial deaths is steadily increasing despite the National Human Rights Commission's (NHRC) watchful role and repeated strictures from the judiciary against police brutality and repression. Around 500 people have died in police custody since 2013. According to the NHRC data, police custody kills one person every second day. The agency also reported over 25,000 incidents of custodial violence by police in 2015 itself. Worse still, several such deaths are not factually reported but brazenly dismissed as suicides or encounter killings.

The police are notorious in their use of the third degree - another word for torture - as shortcut for investigation. Unable to cope with the rising crime and hierarchical pressures from above, the police resort to it to produce quick results. Those subjected to such torture often breakdown and confess to crimes they may have never committed.

Not hardcore criminals but first time offenders and petty criminals from the poor and vulnerable sections of society are the easiest victims - be they children, women or members of marginalised communities. And there is no proper mechanism in place to check such brutality. Though India has signed the Convention Against Torture, it has not ratified it yet on the plea that there are enough laws and safeguards against police torture.

The Supreme Court has observed more than once that police excesses and maltreatment of prisoners or suspects tarnish the image of any civilised society governed by rule of law and encourage the men in uniform to consider themselves above the law and sometimes even to become law unto themselves. It also made some valuable suggestions to check police atrocities which include additional powers to the NHRC and the CBI so that they can take stern and immediate action on public complaints against the police.

The National Police Commission (NPC) long ago recommended surprise visits by senior officers to police stations to deter the use of excessive force in lockups. The Law Commission too came out with a recommendation that custodial deaths should be deemed as murder unless proved otherwise, placing the onus of disproving it on the police itself. The Jiwan Commission, which had investigated cases of torture in Punjab some years ago, suggested even payment of compensation to victims from the guilty cops and jail personnel. Yet nothing has changed. However, reasons are not far to seek why the menace still persists.

Outdated manuals

Our jail manuals are outdated. Policemen are not trained in the methods of modern scientific investigation. Rules and laws are flouted with impunity in the belief that the men in uniform are accountable to none. There is no forum where the detainee can seek redress. Since there are no witnesses to contradict the police version in the event of a custodial death, the accused often go scot-free. Rare indeed is the case in which the guilty is brought to book.

This is not all. Disciplinary action in custodial torture cases is seldom taken against the guilty cops. The inquiry proceedings are often shelved. Transfers and suspensions are just routine measures to buy time. Cases are swept under the carpet for long so as to keep them out of public memory and media glare. Such cases must be investigated expeditiously by an independent agency - perhaps the NHRC's investigation wing - rather than the police who tend to go soft on crime committed by colleagues.

After all, a policeman is a custodian of law and an offence on his part, as observed by the NPC, is inexcusable due to the power of suppression and repression he wields. In a civilised police set up, people don't get killed in fake encounters or lockups. Nor do enforcers of law use third-degree methods to make undertrials confess. A professional police force presupposes better methods to collect information. If the investigation is efficient and foolproof, there will be more convictions and fewer acquittals.

Training and recruitment aspects also need to be addressed promptly. The training programme should be reoriented to bring about a change in the attitude and the mindset of the police. They must respect human rights and adopt scientific methods of investigation. A dramatic improvement in their working conditions could also lessen brutality.

All recommendations on police reforms made by the NPC and the Supreme Court must be urgently implemented. There is also a strong case for insulating the police from executive control and political influence. It must operate under an independent commission on British pattern with little or no scope of pulls and pressure from above.

The writer is an advocate at the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court