Police In India Believe More On Fists Than On Wits And On Torture More Than Culture, More On Brawn And Not Brain
It is strange that a democratic country such as India does not trust one of the most important administration organs of its elected government – the police. The ruling elite and middle class citizens see them as political decoys and blame politicians for not letting the police play their rightful roles in the society. The lower income classes, of course, feel intimidated by them and in constant fear of their convenient authority. It follows that there is a grim lack of understanding about the nature and functions of the police in the country. The problems of the Indian police which run as deep as the design, structure, culture and leadership remain hidden.
The Kerala Police Reorganization Committee has echoed these views vividly thus:
“The role of the police as guardians of law and order has undergone an important change after the attainment of independence. The Police Force in the Country was organized nearly a century ago by a foreign Government and during the struggle for freedom by the people, the police as the coercive arms of the Government had to sub serve the interests of the Government then in power. They came to be looked upon with distrust and antipathy by the people who considered them the instrument of aggression used by an alien Government”
Police personnel in India usually subscribe to two kinds of violations. The first is corruption against individuals or institutions which usually targets the income or livelihood of the victim. Traffic police extort money from drivers on a daily basis. Even hawkers, street vendors and small time shopkeepers are familiar with the demands from the local police station. They are forced to pay weekly payments (haftas) or suffer extortion at the hands of policemen at frequent intervals simply to operate their business. Registration of cases, too, requires a bribe to the police station in charge. The second category of criminal conduct practiced by the police is that of physical coercion against suspects of crime or agitators. This misconduct is usually targeted at lower income groups. These groups are regularly subject to harsh physical treatment and even the innocent run the risk of having false cases registered against them. All custodial deaths are largely those of poor or lower class people.
According to an ordinary fruit vendor in Varanasi, the police, spurred by many unrelated false charges, tortured him in an atrocious manner “My hands and legs were tied; a wooden stick was passed through my legs. They started beating me badly on the legs with lathis (batons) and kicking me. They were saying, ‘You must name all the members of the 13-person gang.’ They beat me until I was crying and shouting for help. When I was almost fainting, they stopped the beating. A constable said, ‘With this kind of a beating, a ghost would run away. Why won’t you tell me what I want to know?’ Then they turned me upside down… They poured water from a plastic jug into my mouth and nose, and I fainted.”
Ravi Nair, the man who heads the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre said in a press conference that
“India has the highest number of police torture and custodial deaths among the world’s democracies and the weakest law against torture. The police often operate in a climate of impunity, where torture is seen as routine police behaviour to extract confessions from small pickpockets to political suspects”.
In the aftermath of the Emergency, a period which saw great atrocities committed upon the citizenry by the police, there was a hue and cry against the police and demands for dismantling the Central Police Organizations. The Government of India appointed a National Police Commission on 15th November, 1977. The Commission was appointed for fresh examination of the role and performance of the police both as a law enforcing agency and as an institution to protect the rights of the citizens enshrined in the Constitution. It came out with three reports. The National Police Commission submitted their 8 Volume Report between 1979 and 1981 which contained recommendations to re-organize the police and give them a new face, a new style of functioning, functional independence, strict accountability and professionalism. In their second Report submitted in August, 1979, the Commission in Chapter XV dealt with “Interference with and misuse of Police by Illegal or Improper orders or Pressure from Political Executive or other Extraneous sources – Remedial Measures”. Except for the formation of Police associations as a result of a nationwide police agitation which, as apprehended, have today deteriorated to being support organizations of various political parties, not one recommendation was implemented. The third report of the National Police Commission, referring to the quality of arrest by the police in India mentioned that “power of arrest was one of the chief sources of corruption in the police. The report suggested that by and large nearly 60% of the arrests were either unnecessary or unjustified and that such unjustified police action accounted for 43.2% of the expenditure of the prison department.”
The power to facilitate abuse by the police is firmly set by sections 101 to 114 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 which claim that it is for the prosecution to prove the essential elements of the offence charged and if those essential elements are proved, it is for the accused to prove that the case falls within the general or special exceptions to criminal liability recognized by the criminal law. As the law stands at present, there is no special provision as to the burden proof where injuries were received by a person in police custody.
The case of State of UP v Ram Sagar Yadav was central to the 113th report of the Law Commission of India which discussed the issue of injuries in police custody. According to the case, a farmer named Brij Lal had some differences with his neighbour who, in turn, filed a complaint against Brij Lal for cattle trespass. The police officer concerned demanded money from Brij Lal in return for hushing up the matter. After persistent demands, Brij Lal offered a sum of Rs. 100 to the constable who was unsatisfied with this paltry sum. Brij Lal complained to the Superintendent of Police who in turn forwarded the case for inquiry to the Station House Officer, Hussaingunj. Enraged at this bold step taken by Brij Lal, the Station House Officer decided to teach him a lesson and sent two other constables to bring him to the police station. Brij Lal was brought to the police station at ten o’clock in the morning. By noon, he was in a critical condition and had to be taken in a state of shock to the Additional District Magistrate. He could not even walk into the courtroom. The Additional District Magistrate went out into the verandah and found that Brij Lal had nineteen injuries on his body. The ADM was able to record the dying declaration of Brij Lal in which he charged the Station House Officer and two police constables with having caused the injuries by beating him up while he was in police custody. Brij Lal died that evening.
The Supreme Court, in this case, stressed the need to adopt a different approach in an incident that involves allegations against the police. The Supreme Court was anxious that the enforcers of law and order do not use their position for oppressing innocent citizens who look to them for protection. The court noted that police officers “bound by the ties of a kind of brotherhood” often prefer to remain silent in these kinds of situations and “when they choose to speak, they often put their own gloss upon the facts and often pervert the truth”. The Supreme Court was anxious that police officers who commit atrocities on persons in the custody of the police do not escape punishment for want of evidence. The following observations occur towards the end of the Supreme Court judgment:
“ Before we close, we would like to impress upon the Government the need to amend the law appropriately so that policemen who commit atrocities on persons who are in their custody are not allowed to escape by reason of paucity or absence of evidence. Police officers alone, and none else, can give evidence as regards the circumstances in which a person in their custody comes to receive injuries while in their custody. The persons on whom atrocities are perpetrated by the police in the sanctum sanctorum of the police station, are left without any evidence to prove who the offenders are. The law as to the burden of proof in such cases may be re-examined by the legislature so that handmaids of law and order do not use their authority and opportunities for oppressing the innocent citizens who look to them for protection. It is ironical that in the instant case, a person who complained against a policeman for bribery was done to death by that policeman, his two companions and his superior officer, the Station House Officer”
The Parliament established the National Human Rights Commission to deal with such abuses but police torture continues unabated. According to the latest available government data, there were 1307 reported deaths in police and judicial custody in India in 2002.
Rationale Behind Police Abuse
According to Raghuraj Singh Chauhan, a senior officer “The police in India are under tremendous pressure, as people need quick results. So we have to pick up and interrogate a lot of people. Sometimes things get out of control. After all, confessions cannot be extracted by love. The fear of police has to be kept alive – How else would you reduce crime?” There are many occasions when a petty thief or pickpocket is manhandled by an angry mob. These same people want the police to do something to the criminal and there is usually no objection to the manhandling of a criminal if he does not die in police custody. Enforcement injustice also takes place in a law and order situation. The people come with stones and weapons and attack people on duty. The purpose of this to provoke the police to attack. Political parties cash in on police actions and resulting casualties. Enforcement injustice by the police does not come up in a vacuum. Too often, there may be sufficient provocation, instigation or encouragement from the people to resort to force.
The infrastructure and amenities provided to the police are rudimentary at best. For a country with nearly one twenty crore people, six lakh towns and villages there exist only 14,000 police stations with an astounding fifty lakh crimes which are registered every day. There is no provision given by the government for sufficient manpower, machines or facilities. In addition there is political intervention at all stages, with the police force as a pliant tool in the hands of notorious officials.
A retired police chief says that all cases of police misdemeanour are quietly buried after the initial commotion is over. The cases are investigated and charges framed in such a manner that there are enough loopholes for those guilty to escape. Political leaders are inclined to consider by top police officials that if they are taken to task, it would demoralise them and this would lead to a lack in efficacy of the force.
It is the apathy of the common man and the insensitivity of the Government which has led to the accretion of power, and consequently abuse, of the police.
Prakash Singh V Union Of India
In Kishore Singh v State of Rajasthan, the Supreme Court showed its deep concern regarding the police atrocities in the following words “No police life style which relies more of fists than wits and on torture more than on culture can control crime because it means boomerang on ends and re-fuel the vice which it seeks to extinguish. Secondly the State must re-educate the constabulary out of their sadistic arts and inculcate a respect for human person – a process which must begin more by example than by precept of the lower rungs are really to emulate….Nothing is more cowardly than a person in police custody being beaten up and nothing inflicts a greater wound on our Constitutional culture than a State official running berserk regardless of human rights”
But it was only after years of public pressure, lack of political will and continually dismal police implementation that the year 2006 saw a landmark Supreme Court judgment which mandated the reform of the existing police laws. The need for reform was particularly acute as the archaic Police Act of 1861 continued to govern policing, despite far reaching changes in the same. In 1996, two former Director Generals of Police requested the Supreme Court’s assistance in instructing both the central and the state government to address the issue of police reform with its evident gaps and abysmal functioning. The Supreme Court considered in 2006 that it could not “further wait for governments to take suitable steps for police reforms” and would issue “appropriate directions for immediate compliance”, binding the government to these directions until they framed appropriate legislation for the same.
The Court, thus, delivered a notable judgment in Prakash Singh v Union of India whereby it instructed the central and state governments to act in accordance with a set of seven directives which lay down practical mechanisms to initiate police reform. The objectives of these directives were twofold:
- Functional autonomy for the police – through security of tenure, streamlined appointment and transfer processes, and the creation of a “buffer body” between the police and the government and
- Enhanced police accountability, both for organisational performance and individual misconduct. The Supreme Court, thus, required all governments, at centre and state levels, to comply with the seven directives by 31 December 2006 and to file affidavits of compliance by the 3rd of January 2007
The response of the State government vastly varied, ranging from complying with the directives through executive orders to expressing strong objections to the directives and asking for a review of the same. Yet others requested the Court to give them additional time to comply with its judgment.
It took a year for the Supreme Court to cast off the objections raised by the state government. In 2007, the Court stated that all the directions it had given had to be obeyed without any modification. It granted a three month extension for compliance with four of its directives while stating that the others had to be complied with immediately.
While the judgment was the first tangible step towards reform, it was only an initial step. The central government, along with most state governments significantly failed to implement the Court’s orders suggesting that officials have yet to accept the urgency of comprehensive police reform which includes the need to hold police accountable for human rights violations.
In his pioneering study on Police and Political Development in India, Bayley had pointed out that the “Police can play a formative role in political development by virtue of what they do, how they do it, what they are, and what they do to each other”, He expanded this thesis further and argued that the “police affect political development through the things they do, the nature of actions they perform.”
The criminal justice system and in particular, the police have remained unchanged for the last 140 years. There has been no difference in the behavioural aspect of police personnel either. Police personnel see themselves as rulers and guardians of the state, emphasizing order maintenance rather than service to the people. India is a nation where bureaucrats of every rank indulge in notorious dealings undaunted by the police, the so called enforcers of law and order, because these officials are practised in the art of bribery and influence. It ranks 70 in the list of 163 least corrupted countries. It is worth a mention that the total monetary value of bribes paid in the country in a year amounts to the obscene sum of Rs 3899 crores. Another remarkable fact is that in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, 53 and 43 percent (respectively) of police officials are transferred from one district or place to another. It is fairly evident that the police function in a way that subsequently involves the filling of their own pockets. Schemes initiated by the government for the public at large are never implemented. The problem lies in the fact that there are a section of police officers who, instead of combating crime and its perpetrators, decided to join them – a proposition that is more profitable and less risky. The criminalisation of politics has affected police performance more than that of any other State institution.
While there are numerous provisions in the Constitution of India along with other laws, most of these provisions are not implemented. It is usually the poor and deprived sections of the society who are victims of custodial crimes and police atrocities. The increasing and excessive workload of the police is a chief factor contributing to this situation. Third degree torture is usually assumed to be a short-cut method of investigation by the police. The inability to cope with the rising crime rate and hierarchical pressures from above to generate quick results often compels police to practice third-degree torture methods. Those subjected to such brutal interrogations often break down and confess to crimes they may not have committed.
It is needless to emphasize that accountability, transparency and access to information are imperative as safeguards to prevent any abuse of the power to arrest a citizen. In D.K. Basu’s case, the Supreme Court laid down certain requirements to be allowed in all cases of arrest or detention. Maladministration is discriminatory and denies quick justice to the citizen.
There is a proverb in Malayalam which reads as “the carpenter’s ignorance and the wood’s defect” which means that both the carpenter and the wood are at fault. Similarly, both the police as well as the people are responsible for the enforcement of justice in society.
Criminal Procedure Code, 1973
Indian Evidence Act, 1872
Naresh Mahipal, Custodial Violence by Police in India – Social and Administrative Attitude, August 2009. Available online at http://expertscolumn.com/content/custodial-violence-police-india-%E2%80%93-social-administrative-attitude
David H. Bayley, Police and Political Development in India. Available online at http://books.google.co.in/books?id=hlFm1FUrVP0C&pg=PA22&lpg=PA22&dq=police+and+political+development+david+bayley
“Police Reforms in India : Too important to neglect, too urgent to delay . Available online at http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/programs/aj/police/india/initiatives/writ_petition.htm
Crisis of the Indian police force, MeriNews. available online at http://www.merinews.com/article/crisis-of-the-indian-police-force/146442.shtml
PUCL, 2003, Recommendations of the Malimath Committee on reforms of Criminal Justice System, available online at http://www.pucl.org/Topics/Law/2003/malimath-recommendations.htm
Law Commission of India, One Hundred and Thirteenth Report On Injuries In Police Custody, 1985. Available online at http://vigilance.pon.nic.in/tender8(1)(h)-98(1).htm
Gopalganj District Police, 2007, Investigation Details and Present Position, available online at http://gopalganjpolice.bih.nic.in/firstatus.html,
Rama Lakshmi, “In India, Torture by Police is Frequent and Often Deadly”, The Washington Post, 5th August, 2004. Available online at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A41162-2004Aug4.html
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