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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • In the recent case of Kaushal v. State of Haryana and others, the Punjab and Haryana High Court clarified that, following Supreme Court orders, no area of a police station should be left unprotected by CCTV surveillance, which would inevitably include interrogation rooms.
  • In the case of Paramvir Singh Saini v. Baljit Singh and others (2021), the Supreme Court had earlier ordered all the states and union territories to ensure that CCTV cameras are put in each police station under their jurisdiction.

INTRODUCTION

The word 'custody' refers to confinement or restrictions on a person's freedom of movement, but in today's reality, the authorities in power have misinterpreted the term, and it appears that the police have taken law into their own hands, which is a disaster in disguise. Custodial violence refers primarily to police officers' inhumane and brutal behavior against inmates in custody. For a long time, torture and abuse by police officers in custody have been a major concern. In many countries of the world, including India, the incidence of such instances has risen over time. Furthermore, cops indeed utilize third-degree procedures to extract confessions and statements from suspects which frequently result in severe injury, if not death. It is also a truth that victims who are unable to tolerate such agony and humiliation are sometimes forced to commit suicide.

Article 21 states that no person should be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.Torture and brutality, on the other hand, have long been a feature of police operations, and it has unfortunately become a cliché of the profession. This brutality frequently results in the accused's death in detention, which is referred to as "custodial murder." The Rule of Law's credibility, as well as the method in which criminal justice is administered, has been significantly questioned as a result of such violence.

In recent years, incarceration-related offenses have gained the attention of the public, the media, the legislature, the judiciary, and even the Human Rights Commission ever since the custodial death of George Floyd in the United States and the custodial deaths of Jayaraj and Benix in Tamil Nadu, India. There has been widespread outrage and calls for police reforms and the implementation of proper measures to hold negligent officials accountable. Several remedies can be used to address this problem under the law which would be discussed in detail subsequently. The Supreme Court has also given orders and instructions to the Union and State governments regularly, urging them to take the situation seriously, implement measures to reduce occurrences of custodial death, and punish truant officials. As a result, in this article, a thorough analysis of custodial violence will be done, concerning legal provisions and court rulings made to date to address it.

CUSTODIAL VIOLENCE

As stated, torture inflicted on a person is referred to as custodial violence. The general definition of custodial violence is that when any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for obtaining information or a confession from him, by punishing him for an act he has committed or is suspected of having committed, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted for such purposes, in order to obtain information or a confession under an official capacity. Physical, psychological, and sexual torture are often the kinds of custodial violence that takes place. A gist on each kind of torture is explained below for a better understanding.

Physical torture – Punching, slapping, beating, forced body positions, stretching limbs, suspension, movement restriction, burning with cigarettes or caustic substance, cutting with sharp instruments, electric shocks, mutilating body parts, chemical exposure in wounds, dental torture, and starvation are all examples of physical torture.

Psychological torture – Threatening to injure or murder the victim, his relatives, or friends, causing him to hear or witness others being tortured, compelling him to harm others, violating religious beliefs, and humiliation is some examples of mental torture.

Sexual torture -Custodial rape is described as rape committed by a person in control of a state-owned entity, such as a prison or jail. Sexual harassment, forced impregnation, and virginity testing are examples of sexual torture.

As a result, a death that occurs while a person is on trial or has already been convicted of a crime is commonly referred to as a Custodial Death. This is a contentious and complicated matter. The victims are frequently tortured before they are arrested, i.e., before they are taken into custody, which allows the police to claim that the injuries occurred before the arrest and at times fake encounters are used to kill victims before the arrested which is also a type of custodial death, that is difficult to prove.

The most noteworthy feature is that all evidence and records are kept by the police, with very little outside evidence available. As a result, detecting custodial violence and the deaths that arise from it as mentioned is extremely difficult. Hence, custodial deaths are one of the most serious instances of human rights abuse. It is a direct attack on the Indian Constitution's protection of the right to life and liberty under Article 21. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the states to protect the lives of the accused and prisoners in police and judicial detention center, to have the right to a fair trial, safety, and security.

LEGAL PROVISIONS AGAINST CUSTODIAL VIOLENCE IN INDIA

The law at present provides several safeguards against custodial torture, especially under the Constitution of India, Criminal Procedure Code of 1973, the Indian Penal Code of 1860, and the Indian Evidence Act of 1872. Before looking at the instances and how courts interpret the law, an overview of the key provisions is provided below for a better understanding.

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution - It speaks of the right to life and personal liberty, and while it does not directly condemn custodial torture, its scope is fairly broad. This right states that no one's life or personal liberty can be taken away unless they follow the legal process. The right includes a constitutional guarantee against torture, assault, or harm, and hence acts as a deterrent to torture and violence.The Supreme Court broadened the scope and ambit of Article 21 of the Constitution in Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India (1978),emphasizing that this right is not limited to physical existence but also includes the fundamental right to live with dignity.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court decided against mandatory handcuffing of inmates in Pram Shankar Shukla v. Delhi Administration (1980), finding the practice to be prima-facie inhumane and establishing some norms in this regard.

Thereafter, the Supreme Court even ruled in the case of Inderjeet v. State of Uttar Pradesh (2014) that punishment that includes an element of torture is unconstitutional. Apart from these cases, the landmark case of Justice Puttaswamy in the year 2017 is significant because it affirms the 'right to be left alone,' which is an important aspect of personal dignity. This includes the right to be free from bodily harm, which the State cannot claim immunity from. Although the judgement did not directly indicate that the right to privacy encompasses the protection against torture, it is clear that both are fundamental rights that are inextricably linked.

Article 22 of the Indian Constitution: This article grants protection to a person being arrested or detained. It is clearly stated under this article that any person being arrested or detained have a right to be notified of the grounds for detention, and to be represented by an attorney of his or her choice.In addition, the key point to make note of under this article is that a person has the right to appear in front of the nearest magistrate within 24 hours of being arrested and to be released from detention beyond 24 hours unless there is a magistrate order prohibiting the same.

The Indian Evidence Act, 1872:Under sections 25 and 26 of the Evidence Act, it is seen that a confession given to a police officer cannot be used against someone accused of committing a crime. Unless made in the immediate presence of a magistrate, a confession made by a person in police custody cannot be used against them. The purpose of this provision is to prevent the authorities from coercing the accused into confessing. In this regard, the Supreme Court has pointed out that if an accused is forced to deliver a confession under this section, he or she can invoke Article 20(3) of the Constitution's right against self-incrimination. However, this is a contentious matter, with many legal experts claiming that such protection does not exist in practice due to the difficulty of the accused proving their innocence.

The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973: Sections 46 and 49 of the Code safeguard persons in detention from torture if they have not been charged with a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment. Section 46(4) of the CrPC, as amended in 2005, states that no woman can be arrested between sunset and sunrise, except in rare circumstances when a woman police officer obtains written authorization from the Magistrate. Another key protection on the use of arrest power is Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The person who has been arrested must not be put to greater restraint than is required to keep him from escaping; in other words, he must not be tortured or subjected to violence in the name of making an arrest.

JUDICIAL PRONOUNCEMENTS AND THEIR SIGNIFICANCE

There has been an abundance of media bombardment on the news related to police brutality in India, which was previously neglected. It was only later that the heinous occurrence of the custodial killing of a father-son duo named Jeyaraj-Benix that such violence came to the public's attention. The brief facts are that they used to live in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, and ran a mobile shop in a neighboring market. They were accused of keeping their shop open for fifteen minutes after curfew on one of the days and were imprisoned for three days and tortured inhumanely over a minor infraction. Thereafter on the third day of their imprisonment, they were declared dead.

Another sensational case that shocked the world was the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African - American man. The facts, in this case, were that on May 25, 2020, a white police officer in Minnesota crouched on his neck for nine minutes straight, killing him. At a neighborhood deli, George was suspected of using a fake $20 bill. When he was told to get out of his car, George resisted and fought the arrest, according to the cops. Despite George's repeated gasps and requests for the officer to stop, he was forcibly carried out, his hands shackled, and he was forced to lie on the road with white police kneeling on his neck. When George became unconscious, he was transported to the hospital, where he was proclaimed dead by the physicians.

These two examples demonstrate that some officers believe that threatening and using violence is the only way to get someone to confess, therefore they try every cruel tactic to get information from the accused. Despite a plethora of laws, custodial violence continues to occur not only in India but throughout the world.

In a recent landmark case titled Paramvir Singh Saini vs Baljit Singh (2020), the Supreme Court of India ordered that CCTV cameras be installed in all police stations across the country, including interrogation rooms. The Hon’ble Court observed that this is a matter of people's fundamental rights as outlined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The executive, administrative, and police departments must all take reasonable steps to carry out the order that was ruled out in this case. All of this must be completed within six weeks of the date the order was issued. The Supreme Court further directed those copies of the order be sent to all chief or main secretaries of each state and union territory.This was decided relying on the case of Shafi Mohammad vs. State of Himachal Pradesh (2018),where the court had ordered that CCTV cameras be installed at police stations to monitor human rights breaches. A few other landmark judgments are discussed below, referring to the current case and the Supreme Court's observation.

When it comes to custodial deaths in India and human rights protection, the case of D K Basu vs. State of West Bengal, is one of the most important decisions. The ruling, in this case, provides important guidelines for dealing with police brutality and suffering in detention. They target the central areas of ensuring central privileges, ending police criminalization, and policing changes. It was also agreed that additional directives should be issued, such as establishing an oversight structure in each state whereby an impartial committee can examine CCTV camera footage and publish a report on its findings regularly. Therefore, the case of Paramvir mentioned above considers the directive issued in D.K. Basu vs State of West Bengal &Ors. The important judgments on which the DK Basu case relied upon was Nilabati Behera v. State of Orissa (1993),Joginder Kumar v. State of UP (1994),and Shyamsunder Trivedi v. the State of MP(1995). A summary on each of the case is therefore explained below.

Firstly, in the case of Nilabati Behera v. State of Orissa (1993), where the deceased's mother claimed that her son died in the custody of Odisha (formerly Orissa) Police after being beaten up, and that she was entitled to compensation for the infringement of her son's fundamental right under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The court found the state liable for violations of fundamental rights and ordered criminal charges to be brought against the officers involved. More crucially, it directed that Rs 1.50 lakh in compensation be handed to the deceased's family. There was no defined methodology for granting compensation in circumstances of custodial death before this judgment. The decision was a defining moment in this regard, paving the path for similar decisions in the future.

And, the case ofJoginder Kumar v. State of UP (1994),where the Hon’ble Supreme Court ruled that no arrests can be made based on mere suspicion or accusation. It provided various orders outlining the procedures to be followed during the arrest. Any of the arrested person's acquaintances or family would have the right to be informed of his arrest and detention location. The police would tell him of his right and make a note of the details of the person who had been notified of the arrest and further the magistrate in front of whom the arrested person will be presented will also ensure that the police have followed these instructions.

Lastly, the case of Shyamsunder Trivedi v. the State of MP(1995) where the Hon'ble Supreme Court rightly recognized that in the absence of direct proof, it becomes progressively difficult to charge guilty police employees. Because all police officers would want to save their colleagues, the Court ordered the introduction of Section 114-B into the Indian Evidence Act 1872. This would ensure that if an injury occurred while the individual was in custody, the court would conclude the police officer in charge was to blame. As a result, the burden of proof is reversed.

CONCLUSION

The police force is one of the coercive arms of government tasked with keeping society in order. India is a welfare state controlled by its Constitution, which protects citizens' lives and personal liberty in general. However, the rising incidence of custodial offenses in many sections of the county is a major source of concern. When news broke that people in the custody of Jeyaraj and Benix in Tamil Nadu had died as a result of torture by police personnel, it brought the victims of police torture under the spotlight.

To conclude, we see that there has been a pattern of non-compliance with Supreme Court orders, which were first issued in the famous DK Basu case and then again in Shahfi Mohammad v. State of Himachal Pradesh in 2018. Installing CCTV cameras is just one step in combating the systemic impunity enjoyed by criminals. Police officers' strong objection to giving victims access to documentation, as well as a consistent effort to hide their colleagues from any investigation or prosecutorial action, can be seen in case after case. The Apex court brought clarity to certain aspects of the above-mentioned occurrence by setting standards for police accountability for such an incident, the rights of victims of such an incident, and judicial transparency.Similarly, even in the recent case of Paramvir Singh Saini vs Baljit Singh, the Hon'ble Supreme Court set a rigorous time limit since it is an issue of protecting individuals' fundamental rights, and failure to do so eventually led to the failure of the Indian court. With the aforementioned analysis, we can see that the government, tends not following or act under the court's decisions.The recent case of Kaushal v. State of Haryana and others (2022), which was before the Punjab and Haryana High Court it had to clarify again that, following the Supreme Court's directives, no area of a police station should be left unprotected by CCTV surveillance, which would inevitably include interrogation rooms. But as already stated, we can see, the rulings for the installation of the camera have been coming out case by case, but the administration has taken no proper action yet.


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