Probe into Custodial Deaths

India is a country of 1.3 billion people with massive social problems, but it is also a democracy, with strong laws, a vibrant media and active public interest litigation lawyers. So, when abuses happen, someone, usually speaks up, even if culprits often avoid jail.

Between 2010 and 2018, National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) records show that out of the 783 custodial deaths. Charges were only filed in over a sixth of the cases. There were no convictions.

Facts and Figures

According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the NCRB data understates the scale of the problem. It put the annual average for custodial deaths at 143, some 46% higher than the NCRB average of 98.

Caste and religious frictions sometimes play a part in custodial deaths in India. While some are extra-judicial killings of criminals who “were trying to escape”.

However, a common denominator for many cases, legal experts say, is the brutish behaviour of officers who know their colleagues will keep their mouths shut.

Yet, the NCRB data shows that nearly 16% of custodial deaths in the five years through 2018 were explicitly classified as being due to “physical assault” by police.

How People Died in Police Custody

Facts and figures graph

“There are very few witnesses in custodial deaths, Mostly due to the witnesses being people who are on duty. Who don’t support the investigation,” said Ravi Kant, president of the National Network of Lawyers for Rights and Justice. As well as a senior advocate at India’s Supreme Court.

Neither the home nor justice ministries responded to requests for comment on the dearth of convictions.

Reforms not adopted

India’s law commission – an executive body responsible for legal reform. Has twice produced recommendations – once in 1985 and again in 1994. Saying the courts could assume that the injuries were caused by the police. If there was evidence that a person was injured in custody.

More than 25 years later, however, the recommendations have yet to be adopted.

Blatant Human Right Violations

A report released in 2016 by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), a rights body for people born into the lowest rung of India’s caste hierarchy. Cases of men in custody tortured by having heavy stones tied to their genitals. Similarly, women having chilli powder and petrol poured on their genitalia.

The Indian President has not pursued any action on the subject.


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