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SC directive on torture, welcome

July 28, 2015, DHNS 22:51 IST
The Supreme Court has issued a laudable directive that can be expected to go some way in reducing torture in custody. It has ordered the Central and state governments to install close circuit television (CCTV) cameras in prisons and police stations. Such surveillance should act as a deterrent to authorities who use torture during interrogation. In addition, the apex court has asked governments to compulsorily fill vacancies in their respective state human rights commissions (SHRC) within the next three months. This is aimed at strengthening institutional protection of the human rights of citizens. And in an attempt at making police stations less hostile to women, the court has called for deployment of two women constables in a police station. The Supreme Court’s suggestions are welcome. Governments must act immediately to put the order into effect.

The use of torture by state officials to elicit information or punish is widespread in India. Often such use of violence results in death. According to a study by the New Delhi-based Asia Centre for Human Rights, over 14,000 people died in custody in India between 2001 and 2010, most of them dying as a result of torture. The study described torture in India as “endemic, institutionalised and central to the administration of justice and counter-terrorism measures.” While authorities often justify the use of torture as necessary to elicit information from terrorists, it is widely used against ordinary criminals and small-time crooks, as well. It has become part of standard operating procedure in many of our police stations and prisons. Especially in conflict zones like Kashmir and Chhattisgarh, prisoners and people in custody are routinely subjected to electrocution, beatings and sexual humiliation.

Successive prime ministers have said that India will have ‘zero tolerance’ towards torture and custody killings. Sadly, such declarations have remained in the realm of rhetoric. Little has been done to fulfill these pledges. The Prevention of Torture Bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha in 2010, is still pending. Parliament must act to enact legislation that makes torture a punishable crime. The Supreme Court order calling for installation of CCTVs in police stations will serve to deter cops from torturing people in their custody. But this will not stop its practice as cops will resort to torturing prisoners in areas outside the reach of CCTVs. It is for this reason that we need a strong legislation making torture a crime carrying stiff penalties. India’s claims to being a vibrant and modern democracy will ring hollow so long as torture is practised.

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