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POLICE BRUTALITY: A HARSH REALITY


“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.” – Mahatma Gandhi

The term ‘Police’ instils many emotions at once. Their duty is to act as the protector of the state. However, a very pertinent question which has to be considered is whether the action of the Police is only resulting in the protection of the people, or is there anything more.


INTRODUCTION

Police Force, for the smooth functioning of the country, finds its roots in the State List of the 7th Schedule. The State Government are empowered to make rules for their enforcement agency, and only in the cases of National Security of the country can the Union Government intervene.

The duty of the police is to protect life and property, prevent crimes and play a role in protecting its people. It is worthwhile to note here that police force is expected to be made of utmost integrity and professionalism. However, in the process of protecting life, liberty and preventing crimes, the hands of the police forces are tied to the stringent procedure of law and various procedural laws that are to be followed.

The Police Force in attempting to fulfil the Constitutional obligation do sometimes end up acting in a manner which is not fitting of the post and position they hold. These could be in the form of Fake Encounters, Custodial Violence etc. A part of the reason why the power of the Police results in the use of excessive force is the ‘end justifies the means’ mind-set. The present article seeks to highlight this.


HISTORY

The history of Police Brutality has found existence even before India became a free country. A very common example of this would be of a British official being pleased by a ‘thanedar’, who would carry out illegal activities at the behest of the said officer. The police force overtime are accused of becoming corrupt and cruel with close to no regard to the Rule of Law. One such incident was the subject matter of Bhagalpur Blindings, when the police were accused of blinding 31 under trials by pouring acid into their eyes. The widely acts of Brutality by Delhi Police stemming from the CAA protests (2019-20) is another recent example. Other evolved forms of harassment are mental torture, rape by policemen & exploitation of marginalised communities.


VARIOUS METHODS OF POLICE BRUTALITY

Custodial death: The police in India are known to not honour the rights of criminals/ accused/ under-trials. In an attempt to gain a confession, the Police often root to mental and physical torture that leads to extreme psychological trauma or death of the accused. This ruthless behaviour of the police is termed as “Custodial Violence”. As per the National Crime Records Bureau, between 2001 & 2018, 1,727 people have died in police custody. It may be noted here that this number is only the reported number and the actual count may be much more.


  • One of the landmark cases of custodial death is ‘Nilabati Behera vs. State of Orissa & Ors.’, where a mother reported to the Hon’ble Supreme Court under Article 32, that her son was found dead on railway tracks, a day after he was taken into police custody, and was killed by them. The police were highly criticized after this incident as it was a violation of Article 21 and the state was directed to give compensation to the mother of the deceased.

  • In D.K. Basu vs. State of West Bengal’, the SC laid down 11 guidelines to emphasize Constitutional and Statutory safeguards to be followed in all cases of police custody.

  • The recent case of custodial death on 19th June 2020 was of a father-son duo, P Jayaraj and Bennicks, who were picked up by the Tamil Nadu police for violating the COVID-19 protocols, were sexually assaulted and tortured in custody, which later lead to their deaths. This incident was widely detested by the public, and two sub-inspectors and an inspector were suspended.

  • Sheela Barse vs. State of Maharashtra’, was another case where Sheela, a journalist, complained of custodial violence to women prisoners while confined in the police lock-ups in the city of Mumbai.


Negligence: When any person is in the custody of police, the police are under a duty to honour one with dignity. It is necessary for the police to follow the golden rule of Criminal Procedure i.e. “innocent until proven guilty”. A person who is merely accused of committing an offence cannot be treated in a manner which is against or in conflict with their Fundamental Rights.


In a case involving NHRC, a student, Sonali Bose, was killed in a shootout by the Uttar Pradesh police mistakenly as they assumed her identity to be of someone else. It was observed that this mishappening occurred due to negligence and over-enthusiastic action on the part of the Police officials. The Commission demanded the state government to sanction the family of the deceased a sum of Rupees 5 lakhs as compensation.


Illegal detention: It can be defined as unjustifiable imprisonment or unlawful deprivation of liberty by arresting for a wrongful cause or suspicion and continued restriction of personal freedom of such person by retaining him/her in custody. This illegal detention is a form of infringement to many Fundamental Rights.


  • In the case ‘Rudal Shah vs. State of Bihar, the petitioner had been illegally detained for 14 years even after his acquittal. He filed for writ of Habeas Corpus, claiming that he was illegally detained, and demanded compensation. The court ordered that a sum of Rs. 35,000/- be sanctioned as compensation by the State. However, the question still remains as to whether this compensation would ever do justice to the amount of mental agony and pain he must have gone through in those 14 years.


Further, the National Security Act, 1980 provides power to the Central Government to detain any person on the basis of suspicion of them being a threat to the Nation. The police many a time misuse this power to illegally detain and torture suspects.


  • In many instances it has been observed that police use ‘The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967’ and falsely charge the riot accused in multiple cases to keep them in jail. A 5-month pregnant woman, Safoora Zargar, was put behind the bars under the UAPA in a case related to communal violence that erupted in North East Delhi, in 2020. The police had been quick to arrest the accused even when she had not violated UAPA. She was later given bail by the Delhi High Court on humanitarian grounds.


  • Prominent lawyer and human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra had asserted that around 25,000 sikhs were illegally killed and cremated by the Punjab Government. His claims had alarmed the state, and on 6th September 1995, he was allegedly abducted and detained by the Police and never seem to have returned. Although the witnesses implicated the police, they have denied ever arresting or detaining him and have claimed to have no knowledge of his whereabouts.


Encounters: Legally defined as “Extra-Judicial killing” by the police or armed forces, supposedly in self-defence, when a suspected terrorist or gangster proves to be a threat to them. These killings are supposed to happen in ‘rarest of the rare cases’, as held by the Supreme Court in ‘Prakash Kadam & Etc. vs Ramprasad Vishwanath Gupta & Anr’.


In a democratic country like India, the disturbing part is that nowadays fake-encounters have become a child’s play. Some people strongly approve the ‘instant justice’ system as conviction via judiciary is a slow and tiring process. No matter how gratifying it may seem, extra-judicial killing of criminals is considered to be utterly illegal, even if they are accused of an extremely horrendous crime. Fake encounters are nothing but brutal, cold-blooded murders.

  • The recent encounter of Vikas Dubey in July 2020, arises a question mark whether there was an actual need for it, considering he had willingly surrendered himself, or did the police have some other political motive?

  • In the case ‘PUCL vs. State of Maharashtra, The Supreme Court laid down 16 guidelines to ensure independent investigation of encounter killings by police.


Though cases like the Batla House encounter, where two terrorists were killed and others taken into custody, proved to be a boon for the nation, yet instances like the Ishrat Jahan case shall not be tolerated.


COMMITTEE REPORTS


  1. The Law Commission of India suggested the Supreme Court regarding expeditious investigation and trial of criminal cases against influential personalities.

  2. The Ribeiro committee gave the recommendation of establishing the “Police Performance and Accountability Commission” which will oversee the performance of the Police and ensure that it is accountable to the law of the land.

  3. Similarly, the Padmanabhaiah Committee was set up to study the functional capabilities of Indian Police Service and proposed the reorganisation measures to revamp the force.


Various other committees & commissions such as the NHRC, National Police Commission, etc. have also examined the issue of police reforms.



CONVICTION RATE

The harsh truth is that the Police are very rarely executed for their brutalities. It’s because the investigations fall onto the same police department that the officer is from. The NHRC has the authority to recommend an independent investigation, but it still results in the police effectively investigating itself. Inspite of impartial probing, the victims and their families are always suspicious of the process. Only in certain circumstances are these officials convicted. Otherwise, the punishment consists of temporary suspension or transfer of the offending officer to some other police station. Oftentimes, the commissions only recommend that the state must provide the victims interim compensation. But giving compensations without prosecuting the officers who commit such crimes, will be inadequate to halt such recurring violations. Apart from custodial deaths, more than 2,000 human rights violation cases were recorded against the police in India between 2000 and 2018. Only 344 policemen were convicted in those cases.


  1. In the landmark case of ‘Gauri Shanker Sharma vs State Of U.P. the Hon’ble Supreme Court reprimanded the police & held that the offense of brutality was of a ‘severe nature’ and decided to punish the officials.

  2. Another controversial encounter case was witnessed in Connaught Place of New Delhi in 1997 where an ACP, S.S. Rathi, and 9 other officials killed a businessman and two others with him, mistaking them to be gangsters of U.P. The SC upheld the conviction of all ten officers terming the incident as a part of “common intention” to kill the victims.




CONCLUSION

Police is a prime tool for bringing social change and they are trying hard to do so, but as reflected from the aforementioned incidents, several police officers under pressure of work and driven by a desire to achieve quick results, leave the path of patience and take the aid of force in different forms to pressurize the suspect/accused to reveal all the facts known to him/her. While law recognizes the need for use of force by the police on some specified occasions like the dispersal of a violent mob or the arrest of a violent character who resists the arrest, the use of force against an individual in custody succumbed to loneliness and helplessness is a grossly unlawful and the most degrading and despicable practice which tarnishes the image of the entire police fraternity & that requires to be condemned in the strongest way possible.

To tackle these issues an autonomous body should be constituted that would work impartially and take into cognizance the working of police stations under its jurisdiction. It must comprise of ex-police officials having strong background knowledge of this field and a track of honesty and integrity. Strict action is a necessity so that the police officials can become an effective instrument of social change and help in reinforcing the foundations of justice and fair play




REFERENCES

1. Bhagalpur Blindings Case- Anil Yadav & Ors vs State Of Bihar & Anr, AIR 1982 SC 1008

2. Crime in 2018, Volume 1, ncrb.gov.in

3. Nilabati Behera vs. State of Orissa & Ors, AIR 1993 SC 1960

4. Right to life and personal liberty, Constitution of India, 1950

5. D.K. Basu vs. State of West Bengal, W.P. (CRL) No. 592, 1987

6.https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-tamil-nadu-police-custodial-torture-father-son-killed-thoothukudi-6479190/

7. Sheela Barse vs. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1983 SC 378

8. Rudal Shah Vs. State of Bihar, AIR 1983 SC 1086

9. Prakash Kadam & Etc. vs Ramprasad Vishwanath Gupta & Anr, 6 SCC 2011, 189

10. PUCL vs. State of Maharashtra, CDJ 2014 SC 831

11. https://www.hindustantimes.com/static/ishratjahan/index.html

12. http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/report239.pdf

13.https://humanrightsinitiative.org/publications/police/recommendations_ribeiro.pdf

14.https://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/programs/aj/police/india/initiatives/summary_padmanabhaiah.pdf

15. Gauri Shanker Sharma vs State Of U.P., AIR 1990 SC 709

16.https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/sc-upholds-life-for-10-delhi-cops-in-fake-encounter-killing-133036-2011-05-02


AUTHOR

CHINMAYEE SINHA

2ND YEAR, L.L.B (3YEARS) COURSE

DR. AMBEDKAR COLLEGE, DEEKSHABHOOMI, NAGPUR


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