Custodial violence primarily denotes the violence that the prisoners are put through while in the police or judicial custody. This violence has been in various forms such as rapes, verbal abuses, physical violence, etc. The gravest violence suffered by the prison mates is custodial deaths. Custodial death is the death of an individual who has been in police or judicial custody when he/she has either been convicted for an offence or under trial.
The Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) in its report titled ‘Torture Update: India’ released on June 26, 2018 mentioned that there was a total of 1,674 custodial deaths out of which 1,530 deaths were in judicial custody and the other 144 deaths in police custody 1. These numbers have only spiked on yearly basis. The huge number of custodial deaths only shows the widespread use of torture used by the police officers showing no mercy towards the prisoners and treating them with nothing but utter disrespect.
On June 19, 2020, P. Jeyaraj and his son Bennix were arrested for violating the lockdown rules laid down by the state of Tamil Nadu by keeping their shop open beyond the designated hours. After two days of their arrest, the father-son duo died due to the police brutality faced by them. This brutality only leads to weakening the faith and trust that the general public has over the justice system. The biggest question that comes to one’s mind is if these kinds of deaths serve justice?
Police brutality has been practised extensively behind the curtain of routine procedures to extract confessions and truth from the accused. The police brutality recently caused the death of George Floyd in the United States which is again a big example of this issue happening at a global level. The increasing number of encounters that take place for the purpose of self-defence has not only created a ruckus in public for justice but also for taking the appropriate actions against the actual wrong-doers.
The Vikas Dubey encounter in July 2020 bought out the rage in the general public. It marked the 119th encounter killing since March 2017 in Uttar Pradesh. The reason given by the police was that the accused tried to flee. This led to a series of questions standing before the Uttar Pradesh government.
The Supreme Court of in its landmark judgment about custodial deaths i.e., in case of DK Basu v. State of West Bengal the Supreme Court asked the various High Courts to keep a track on the number of prisoners and the punishments that are imposed on them, to maintain a list of the all the people who were arrested and kept in the lockups. The apex court has laid down guidelines that should be followed by every arresting officer.
Any policemen being convicted for such heinous crime has hardly ever made to the news headlines. The ever-increasing number of custodial deaths and next to negligent convictions for the same only shows how flawed are the roots of the system where neither humans nor their dignity is of any value. Every prisoner who is accused or is a convict or even going through a trial deserves a fair chance to fight for themselves and not die due to the inhuman behaviour of the strong powered policemen.
In such a big democracy that India is, it breaks one’s heart to see that those who are bound by law to protect the people are the ones who are responsible for the loss of lives. The government needs to bring about structural changes with respect to the training at the foundation level, the human rights angle, the change in the thought process from the grass-root level. Where the Constitution of India provides a fundamental right under Article 21, the right to live why should humans be the one taking away the same?