Human Rights Issues

Custodial torture in India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Custodial torture and challenges in dealing with it

Installation of cameras would help in curbing the custodial torture to some extent but ending the menace requires comprehensive reforms.

Installation of CCTV cameras to curb custodial torture

  • The Supreme Court recently mandated that CCTV cameras be installed in police stations and offices of other investigative agencies.
  • However, previous decisions with similar recommendations have been poorly implemented.
  • The present decision shows a marked difference from the earlier ones in its approach.
  • It shows more care by listing out areas of police stations where cameras must be installed to ensure that there are no blind spots.
  • It asks for oversight committees to be set up to monitor the functioning of the cameras.
  • It also specifies that the cameras must be equipped with night vision and be able to record audio and visual footage.
  • The recordings will have to be preserved for at least 12 months.

Issues with installing CCTV cameras

  • Alteration of a video to conceal an object, an event, or change the meaning conveyed by the video is a well-documented reality in the United States.
  • Indian courts have also expressed their apprehension of police tampering with CCTV footage.
  • The judgment does not assuage these concerns.
  •  Cameras in police stations will not foreclose the possibility of torture in other locations.
  • Multiple works on torture in India suggest that torture is often not inflicted in police stations, but in isolated areas or police vehicles.
  • Victims are illegally detained and tortured in undisclosed locations before officially arrested and brought to the police station.

Challenges in fixing criminal responsibility

  • Since torture is not recognized as an offense per se under Indian law, the judgment refers to the use of force resulting in “serious injuries and/or custodial deaths” unwittingly creates a high threshold for what amounts to torture.
  • It fails to acknowledge the existence of forms of physical and psychological torture that leave behind no marks on the body.
  • Requiring prior sanction from the government operates as the foremost hurdle in initiating criminal complaints.
  • The absence of statutory guidelines mandating independent investigation results in police officers from the same police station investigating the crime and suppressing evidence.
  • Between 2005-2018, with respect to 1,200 deaths in police custody, 593 cases were registered, 186 police personnel were charge-sheeted, and only seven were convicted (National Crime Records Bureau).
  •  Evidentiary concerns frequently arise since often the only witnesses are the victims themselves.
  • The Supreme Court (1995) has noted that police officials remain silent to protect their colleagues as they are “bound by brotherhood” and held that courts should not insist on direct or ocular evidence in these cases.
  • This position is rarely applied and many cases result in acquittal for want of evidence.

Conclusion

Monitoring the police through CCTVs is an important step towards combating torture but its effectiveness is contingent on broader reforms. The Supreme Court needs to ensure a robust implementation of its order and simultaneously plug the gaps so that incidents of torture are curtailed.

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