Be it the death of George Floyd in USA, or the death of the father-son duo (Jeyaraj and Bennix) in Tamil Nadu, it is a very clear fact that police brutality is a prevalent and inevitable problem in modern society. The police are the supposed saviour of the common people, the protector of the innocent. But to our horror and disgust, more and more incident pops up every day that only confirms the contrary.
In 2019 alone, according to various reports, there have been around 5 deaths per day in police custody all over India. These statistics are as shameful as they are terrifying. India often prides itself to be a country build on the moral values of justice and liberty. Such instances only go to show that we might be master of words, but not so much of action.
The Constitution of India aims to safeguard the fundamental rights of everyone. “Everyone” includes even persons who are arrested. “Innocent until proven guilty” is a cardinal principle of law. But our police seem to operating on principles of their own, violating the ‘Rule of Law’ (no one is above the law) in process.
The problem of police brutality in our country is not a recent phenomenon. Back in 1986, one Mr. D.K. Basu addressed a letter to the Chief Justice of India in order to draw his attention to certain news articles regarding custodial violence and death in West Bengal. A butterfly effect occurred and it was revealed in the following years that violence by police is problem faced by all the States in India. The State Governments attempted to save face in order to hide the incompetency in their administration, but fortunately such attempts failed. The Supreme Court issued certain guidelines for arrest in the case of D.K. Basu V. State of West Bengal, (1997) 1 SCC 416. These guidelines are as follows-
- The police personnel carrying out the arrest and handling the interrogation of the arrestee should bear accurate, visible and clear identification and name tags with their designations. The particulars of all such police personnel who handle interrogation of the arrestee should bear accurate, visible and clear identification and name tags with their designation. The particular of all such personnel who handle interrogation of the arrestee must be recorded in a register.
- That the police officer carrying out the arrest shall prepare a memo of arrest at the time of arrest and such memo shall be attested by at least one witness, who may be either a member of the family of the arrestee or a respectable person of the locality from where the arrest is made. It shall also be counter signed by the arrestee and shall contain the time and date of arrest.
- A person who has been arrested or detained and is being held in custody in a police station or interrogation centre or other lock up, shall be entitled to have one friend or relative or other person known to him or having interest in his welfare being informed, as soon as practicable, that he has been arrested and is being detained at the particular place, unless the attesting witness of the memo of arrest is himself such a friend or a relative of the arrestee.
- The time, place of arrest and venue of custody of an arrestee must be notified by the police where the next friend or relative of the arrestee lives outside the district or town through the Legal Aids Organization in the District and the police station of the area concerned telegraphically within a period of 8 to 12 hours after the arrest.
- The person arrested must be made aware of his right to have someone informed of his arrest or detention as soon as he is put under arrest or is detained.
- An entry must be made in the diary at the place of detention regarding the arrest of the person which shall also disclosed the name of the next friend of the person who has been informed of the arrest and the names land particulars of the police officials in whose custody the arrestee is.
- The arrestee should, where he so request, be also examines at the time of his arrest and major and minor injuries, if any present on his /her body, must be recorded at that time. The Inspector Memo’ must be signed both by the arrestee and the police officer effecting the arrest and its copy provided to the arrestee.
- The arrestee should be subjected to medical examination by the trained doctor every 48 hours during his detention In custody by a doctor on the panel of approved doctor appointed by Director, Health Services of the concerned State or Union Territory, Director, Health Services should prepare such a panel for all Tehsils and Districts as well.
- Copies of all the documents including the memo of arrest, referred to above, should be sent to the Magistrate for his record.
- The arrestee may be permitted to meet his lawyer during interrogation, though not throughout the interrogation.
- A police control room should be provided at all district and State headquarters where information regarding the arrest and the place of custody of the arrestee shall be communicated by the officer causing the arrest, within 12 hours of effecting the arrest and at the police control room it should be displayed on a conspicuous notice board.
A scrutiny of the guidelines
If we look at the aforementioned guidelines carefully, we can see that they primarily aim to increase liability and accountability of police officers while making an arrest. These guidelines, if followed, leave no place for fogginess in the workings of police. Transparency is essential where accountability is in question. If there are police officers who are in the habit of breaking the ‘rule of law’, the fear of accountability is bound to have a deterrent effect on them.
The Apex Court’s attempt at curtailing and possibly preventing custodial violence by the police through these guidelines is commendable.
Based on these guidelines, and in order to implement them more strictly, amendments have been made in the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 in 2005 and 2009.
Has anything changed?
While the guidelines and directions issued in the instant case of D.K. Basu are in place in the letter of the law, ongoing events have proved that they have achieved very little in limiting police brutality in the State.
Police officers continue to terrorize and intimidate common people for financial and other benefits. Power and money are dangerous drugs. Our police are spiralling down in addiction. Taking bribes, committing unwarranted violence, encounter culture are just a few atrocities faced by the society from police officers.
“Bound by Brotherhood” is a study conducted by Human Rights Watch in 2015, which revealed the ugliness of custodial violence by police in India. The study revealed that the medieval “third degree torture” method is still adopted by our police officers in order to extract confessions. This is wrong and pointless on several different levels because confessions made in police custody is inadmissible evidence anyway under Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
To expressly point out the irony, our police need better policing. An overhaul in administrative machinery is needed if we are to have any hope of curtailing such disgraceful events. As seen in a mural during the Hong Kong protests of 2019- “Who do you call when the police kills?”