Earlier this week, the Lok Sabha was informed that over 2,150 deaths took place in judicial custody and 155 deaths were reported in police custody in 2021-22, according to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai informed Parliament that Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of deaths — 448 — in judicial custody in 2021-22 till February, while Maharashtra reported the highest number of deaths — 29 — in police custody during the year.
“The NHRC announced a total compensation of Rs 4.53 crore in 2021-22 in 137 cases of custodial deaths, lower than the Rs 4.88 crore compensation awarded in 161 cases in 2020-21,” Rai said in reply to a written question. “There were 2,152 cases of deaths in judicial custody in 2021-22,” he said.
Meanwhile, the India: Annual Report on Torture 2020 released in March 2021 by the National Campaign Against Torture (NCAT) — – a platform for NGOs working on torture in India – reported that despite the virtual shutdown of the country, including complete lockdown from March 24 to July 31 2020, India witnessed an increase in custodial deaths during the year and over one suicide every week because of alleged torture in police custody.
“Though reported robbery, theft and burglary declined significantly, falling by more than 50 per cent in most countries with the larger decrease in countries with stricter lockdown regimes as per a study conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), there has been increased deaths in police custody in India. On 17 September 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs informed the Lok Sabha that 113 persons died in police custody from 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020 but the NCAT recorded deaths of 111 persons in police custody in 2020 despite India having one of the strictest lockdowns in the world for months. This makes the increase in deaths in police custody obvious,” stated Suhas Chakma, coordinator, NCAT.
The highest number of custodial deaths in 2018-2020 were reported from Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh with 11 custodial deaths each; followed by 10 in Madhya Pradesh; nine in West Bengal, eight in Tamil Nadu; six each in Odisha, Punjab and Rajasthan; four each in Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Maharashtra; three each in Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir and Karnataka; two each in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Uttarakhand; and one each in Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Manipur, Mizoram, Telangana and Tripura.
“Police stations are increasingly becoming centres for suicide due to alleged torture. At least one person commits suicide every week due to alleged police torture. In 2020, the NCAT recorded 55 deaths by suicide as a result of police torture i.e. more than one suicide per week because of torture in police custody. The maximum number of cases of suicide as a result of torture were reported from Uttar Pradesh with nine cases, followed by Andhra Pradesh with seven cases and Madhya Pradesh with four cases,” Chakma stated further.
The NCAT further recorded the deaths of 18 victims as a result of torture and beating by the police while enforcing the COVID-19 lockdown from March 25 to May 31 2020.
Apart from the police, Forest Department officials were also responsible for perpetrating torture. The NCAT documented at least three deaths at the hands of Forest Department officials in 2020, including Maniram Gond in Madhya Pradesh on July 19, 2020, 70-year-old Anaikarai Muthu in Tamil Nadu on July 23, 2020 and Balabhadra Behera in Odisha on October 13, 2020.
The NCAT documented a number of cases of torture, including deaths of Dalit and tribal people in police custody in 2020. Torture of women in custody and custodial rape of women, including two minors and a victim of a gang rape who had approached the police, were reported.
Illegal detention and torture of children in gross violations of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 were reported while the NCAT documented the deaths of four children due to torture in police custody. The NCAT also documented two cases of death of minors due to alleged torture in juvenile homes.
The armed opposition groups in Jammu and Kashmir and the Naxalites were also responsible for a number of cases of torture and extrajudicial executions.
The Dalits and the tribals faced killing, torture, degrading and humiliating treatment and sexual violence. The Hathras gang rape case of September 14, 2020, in which a 20-year-old Dalit girl was gang-raped by four upper-caste men at a village in Hathras district, Uttar Pradesh, exemplified the atrocities on Dalits.
In 2019, another report by NCAT had highlighted how torture continues to remain a favoured tool in the hands of the police to extract information and confessions, or sometimes just to victimise oppressed sections of society. The ‘India: Annual Report on Torture 2019’ also identified ‘15 trends of torture and impunity’ which reveal how torture has also become a systemic tool of oppression, extortion and silencing dissent. Further, it alleges that high levels of criminality exist within the police and amongst jail officials.
Beating And Burning
As revealed in the report, the methods adopted for torture show the levels of criminality in police and jail officials. The report also shows how they have a sense of entitlement and operate with impunity, since they function in closed systems.
The report said from acts like slapping, kicking with boots, beating with sticks, pulling hair, torture also includes barbaric methods like hammering iron nails into the body (as in the case of Gufran Alam and Taslim Ansari of Bihar), applying roller on legs and burning (as happened to Rizwan Asad Pandit of Jammu & Kashmir), and ‘falanga’ or beating with sticks on the soles (as with Rajkumar of Kerala).
Sometimes, the police and jail staff even go to the extent of stabbing people with a screwdriver (as Pradeep Tomar of Uttar Pradesh was subjected to) or giving electric shocks (as with Yadav Lal Prasad of Punjab and Monu of Uttar Pradesh). Often, private parts are also targeted. There have been instances of cops pouring petrol on private parts (as in the case of Monu of Uttar Pradesh) or applying chilly powder to them (in the case of Raj Kumar of Kerala).
As part of torture, the report pointed to cases where the victims were forced to perform oral sex (as in the case of Hira Bajania and 12 others of Gujarat). Also, it said women continue to be tortured or targeted for sexual violence in custody.
In this regard, the report said a 35-year-old Dalit woman was allegedly illegally detained, subjected to torture and raped in police custody by nine police personnel at Sardarshahar police station in Churu district of Rajasthan. Her nails were also plucked by the cops who tortured her, the report said.
Most Victims Poor, Marginalised
The report said most victims were from poor and marginalised sections and were targeted because of their socio-economic status. It said 75 of the 125 people killed in police custody belonged to such communities, with 13 of them being Dalits or from tribal communities, 15 being Muslims and 37 being those who were picked up for petty crimes.
Meanwhile, in the last five years, Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai said, disciplinary action was taken in just 21 cases of custodial deaths. As per NHRC data shared by the Home Ministry, there were 1,840 cases of deaths in judicial custody across the country in 2020-21, 1,584 in 2019-20, 1,797 in 2018-19, 1,636 in 2017-18 and 1,616 in 2016-17. As per the NHRC data, the number of police custody death cases stood at 100 in 2020-21, 112 in 2019-20, 136 in 2018-19, 146 in 2017-18 and 145 in 2016-17, the minister said.