Four people die every day in India’s jails and police stations

August 5th, 2008 - 2:48 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Shivraj Patil
By Richa Sharma
New Delhi, Aug 5 (IANS) An average of four people are killed every day in India’s jails or police stations, says a report by a human rights watchdog. The watchdog found that 7,468 people had been killed in prison or police custody in the last five years, which works out to an average of over four per day. The report, “Torture in India 2008: A State of Denial”, released by the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), stated that an equal number of people, if not more, have been killed in the custody of the army and central and state paramilitary forces in insurgency affected areas. A large number of these deaths are a result of torture.

“Hundreds are killed, dozens are paid compensation but only three to four persons are convicted each year. In the last 13 years only 684 cases of custodial violence have been awarded compensation by the National Human Rights Commission,” Director of ACHR Suhas Chakma told IANS.

The report stated that a pervasive regime of impunity is the single most important factor for institutionalising widespread use of torture even in areas where there are no armed conflicts. Only four police personnel were convicted in 2004 and three in 2005 for deaths in custody.

“The requirement of prior permission under Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code and Section 6 of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 for prosecution of the accused law enforcement personnel promotes impunity. The executive acts as the supra-judicial body to decide whether the accused law enforcement personnel should be prosecuted or not by the judiciary,” Chakma said.

“Judiciary’s role has been laudable but the courts are hampered by lack of specific legislation against torture, immunities offered to the law enforcement personnel under the Criminal Procedure Code and national security laws, and the more general problem of judicial delay,” Chakma added.

In the parliament this March, Home Minister Shivraj Patil attributed the custodial deaths to “illness/natural death, escaping from custody, suicides, attacks by other criminals, riots, due to accidents and during treatment or hospitalization”, the report said.

“However, the home minister failed to clarify as to why so many accused had committed suicide in police detention, what had led them to act in this manner and how they had accessed the means for committing suicide like knives, poisons and open electric cables etc or how the victims could commit suicide with strange objects like shoe laces, underwear etc,” asked Chakma.

“India is in a worrying state of denial about torture. At international level, India’s record on combating torture and cooperating with the UN bodies is not commensurate with its claim as the largest democratic country governed by the rule of law and as an aspiring member of the UN Security Council,” he added.

India holds the record for refusing an invitation to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture for the longest period of time since 1993. Neighbouring Pakistan (1997), Nepal (September 2005), China (November 2005) and Sri Lanka (2007) have all invited the Special Rapporteur.

India has failed to ratify the Convention Against Torture after signing it in 1997. Nepal and Sri Lanka have already ratified it.

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