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The unending series of custodial deaths


It is nothing accidental that the custodial death of Rajkumar, from Wagamon, Kerala following severe torure by police,  has put the state police and the government in the dock.     

Rajkumar,  owner of Haritha Finance, Nedumkandam was arrested in a loan fraud case.   As per reports that have come out, Rajkumar's arrest by Nedumkandam police on 12 June was registered on 15 Jun night,  and was produced before the court at 9.30 pm on 16 June.  Later the accused was transferred to Peerumedu sub-jail and when his health condition deteriorated,  he was admitted at the Taluk hospital.  He  died that very day, i.e. 21 June.    According the post-mortem report,  he had suffered over 30 injuries in his legs alone , caused by blunt weapons.   This is the fifth case of custodial death since the left front government came in office in 2016,  and which are blamed on the police department handled directly by chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan.  The chief minister who explained in the assembly that circumstances of Rajkumar's death were suspicious, and said that it will be examined whether there was a failure on the part of police officials,  also assured the house that a comprehensive enquiry will be conducted with a special investigation team.

In addition to suspending a few police officials and transferring some others,  police has also registered charge of murder against two of them.  But the Opposition says justice cannot be expected since there is no point in the police making an enquiry about a police excess,  and therefore has demanded a judicial probe.  Even if this is accepted,  going by recent precedents it is highly unlikely that the High Court will spare a sitting judge for the enquiry.    If it comes to that, the judicial enquity will have to be conducted by a retired judge.  In such case, a report will be available only after several extensions of the commission's term.  And even then, the government will not be bound to publish the report or take action based on the recommendations in the report.   Naturally,  by that time,  the tempo of the matter will have died out.   What is needed is a comprehensive and speedy enquiry and follow-up actions.  But then the critical doubt is whether that can be expected from our police force.

Reports indicate that custodial deaths have been increasing alarmingly in India.  In 2015-16 alone,  there were 4,000 custodial deaths in the country,  as per National Human Rights Commission report.  Mainly two reasons are cited for this sad state of affairs.    One, the degradation,  inefficiency and slackness of police.   Two,  absence of strong legislation against torture in custody.   India is signatory to the UN ' Convention Against Torture, and other inhuman, cruel or degrading treatment, or  punishment' of 1975.  And the Supreme Court has on many occasions fixed safety criteria against torture.   But the differentparties who ruled the country so far,  have not been ready to make law in line with them.   As for the police,  it still continues with its impervious attitude to criticisms in this regard.    As per current practice, recruitments to police are held merely based on chest masurement and physical fitness with minimum educational qualification,  and appointed to enforce law and order and ensure rule of law after a short and inadequate  training.    The recruits will thus include criminals,  those with political partiality and communalism,  and those who accept bribe.  What happens usually is that the party or alliance in power will always justify police during their regime,  and when they are in Opposition they will clamour against the same police.   For this reason,  criticisms or protests do not bring about any change in police.

Some time ago,  information under RTI emerged that 1,129 officials of Kerala Police force were accused in criminal cases.  Out of this,  10 were of  Superintendent of Police (SP) rank,  46 of Circle Inspector rank,  and 230 of Sub Inspector and Asst Sub Inspector ranks.   250 of them are working in Thiruvananthapuram,   the hub of administration.   When this information came out in November 2018,  the government appointed a five-man commission headed by  DGP.    But on examining the  matter,  the committee could find only 350 cases in which police officials were accused.  Clause 86 of the  Police Act, lays down that if a police officer becomes accused in a criminal case,  he should be suspended immediately and if his innocence is not established,  his service should be terminated.    Only 59 such cases came to the notice of the five-man committee,  where the provision can be invoked.   If this is the situation of Kerala police – with a relatively higher reputation in the country -   to who can any one complain about third degree torture and resultant deaths - and to what avail?

If police has to be convinced about ensuring a just rule of law and about the need to be a literally people-friendly police force,  the ruling class has to be seized of such an insistence and purpose.   For them to have that,  they should be free of political and factional interests.   When the governments are run by those who compel the police to hide the real murderers and produce fake accused,  and  create an opportunity for crass criminals among prison inmates  to throw their weight around,  it will be nothing short of a surprise if such governments are able to develop a police force with honesty,  integrity and humanity.

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