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June 23, 2005


A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission




India: Failure of the justice system means impunity for torturers


Much of the public prosecutor’s office in India now functions as a brokerage office where unholy deals are fixed between the police, the defence counsel and the prosecutors. Nothing worse could be expected when the prosecutors are appointed by the state at the whims and fancies of corrupt politicians after a long period of horse-trading. The justice dispensation system in India has hit rock bottom. The system crawls in its rotten rut of ineptitude and corruption. The officers who assume duty on the pretext of safeguarding the interests of the ordinary citizen also crawl in this foul-smelling rut like poisonous snakes puffing poison and flexing their diabolic tails and hissing at ordinary citizens who out of sheer fate end up at the mercy of these officers.


The situation is even worse at the police stations. Police stations are state-sponsored torture chambers, and police officers are criminals in uniform on the payroll from the state exchequer. Policing is a commodity that can be bought as if rotten fish from a cheap market. The modus of investigation, had it been a few centuries earlier, would have put the inquisitors to shame because of the sheer cruelty employed. The entire investigation is based on a forced confession. The term “suspect” has only one meaning in India: one will be pulverised under the iron fists of inhuman law enforcement officers. Thus, in this way, punishment is meted out at the police station. Criminal trials have become a matter of mere formality. Today there is no mechanism whatsoever to prevent this form of police rule in India.


The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received numerous cases from several parts of India which disclose cruel treatment meted out to the detainees at various police stations. The latest case is reported from the state of Kerala from the Kollam police station. The officer who arrested the victim is alleged to have pounded upon the detainee at the police station along with five other police constables, killing the detainee within hours of their arrest. This police station, according to local people, has a designated room known as the “museum” where the officers keep instruments for torture. None of these cases has the chance of being properly investigated or prosecuted and the criminals brought to justice.


Even if a case is pursued and investigated, the existing system does not have enough mechanisms in place to ensure a fair investigation and proper prosecution. For example, if a human body is to be examined by a forensic surgeon or expert, there are not enough facilities in India which can provide a fair report in time. The forensic facilities available in the state of West Bengal should be a matter of extreme shame to any government. Human bodies are left to rot on the floor since the morgues do not have appropriate freezers, and it is often a horrifying sight to see stray dogs and rats eating human remains at the morgue. The morgues often do not even have a door to keep the stray dogs away. Inexperienced and unqualified people who have received no training in handling human remains conduct the examinations of the bodies. The reports are prepared by these inexperienced hands, who are appointed as cleaners, and the reports are signed by doctors who never even enter the autopsy room. Moreover, these reports are often prepared according to the instructions of the police who bring the body to the morgue. It is an irony that the autopsy report of a person killed in custody is prepared under the instructions of the same police. The same police also will investigate the case.


The existing legal framework in India also in no way helps to correct this system. The police enjoy absolute impunity, and the national or state human rights commissions in India watch this brutality helplessly. Even if the human rights commissions take up a case, the commissions do not have any independent mechanism to investigate the cases. The investigation of the cases are left with the local police or a police officer deputed to serve the commission, which ultimately has to depend upon the mercy of the local police. The orders of the commissions are merely recommendations that are ignored by the government.


India, although it signed the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), failed to ratify the convention on the pretext that the existing domestic mechanism in the country has enough built-in provisions to serve the purpose of the convention. However, the domestic mechanism has proved to serve not even the purpose of a scarecrow. It is often said that the people get the police they deserve. If that is so, what wrongs have Indians done to be ruled through sheer fear by their own police and their torturous ways? India needs to ratify the convention against torture at the earliest possible date.


Sri Lanka could be sited as an example. This neighbouring country, with all its difficult times, has advanced a step further ahead of India in this respect. Although Sri Lanka has yet to be free from torture, the difference is that there is a law that can be put to use when a person is tortured. There is also a special and independent unit to investigate torture cases. Investigations are being monitored by independent agencies. In Sri Lanka, there are already cases where perpetrators have been brought to justice, not by affluent, public-spirited individuals or retired judges, but by the initiatives of ordinary people and a handful of non-governmental agencies supporting the victims to pursue their cause. It will definitely take a long time for Indians to rise up to the standards of Sri Lanka in this regard. However, this process requires enormous courage, the courage to accept one’s own pitfalls as a first step, and that is exactly what India lacks.


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About AHRC The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984





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Asian Human Rights Commission

19/F, Go-Up Commercial Building,

998 Canton Road, Kowloon, Hongkong S.A.R.

Tel: +(852) - 2698-6339 Fax: +(852) - 2698-6367