Author : Swetalika Das, Student at Amity University, Kolkata
Custodial deaths are a raising concern in our society which is leading mistrusts in public. As because police officers were considered as safeguards and have the rights to protect public’s fundamental rights sometimes the same person violates those laws instead of protecting it. In this article, the author analysed various legal perspectives on custodial deaths and the causes of the same.
The main objective of this article is to spread an awareness of custodial deaths issue and how it is highly important to maintain equality and to protect dignity of person’s right to live . The issues which were raised in this article are :
- Does custodial violence is the only cause of deaths?
- If no, then what are the other causes?
- What does the law saying? ( by preferring some case laws)
- What are the solutions to custodial deaths?
After analysing all the issues, it was discovered that maximum people were died in custody just because of the torture and violence by police authorities and people were also dying because of unavailable healthcare, medical aids which is showing a sheer negligence of police authorities.Further, the article will eventually conclude with a final observation.
Keywords: Custodial deaths, fundamental rights, police officers , violence.
The Custodial cruelty is one of the Heinous Crimes in India which often go unpunished. It’s a bitter truth but custodial torture is the worst thing which can happen to destroy someone’s fundamental rights. There were numerous cases of custodial deaths and according to the recent annual report of the year 2019 , 1606 people died in the judicial custody and 125 in police custody which in total of 1731 people died in custody which means that every five people die daily according to a report released by a human rights group.
The word “ custody” means the legal rights or duty to take care of someone even when the accused is arrested it doesn’t not give anyone the power to create terror or violence against the accused. According to the National Health Rights Commission (NHRC), it strictly mentioned in their lists that custody is to prevent any kind of torture or infringement of human rights. In country like India, where the constitution believes in the liberty towards fundamental rights, offences like custodial deaths aren’t acceptable and most of the custodial deaths cases goes unpunished resulting in more number of cases . Due to the increase in custodial death cases people have started to lose faith in the legal system of our country.
Police officers are supposed to protect the fundamental rights of common man and violation from the same person is disgraceful.
This article argues on the causes of custodial deaths, why custodial deaths goes unpunished and case laws associated with it. The main objective of this article is to bring awareness about the most concerned issue like custodial deaths and further, this article will deal with the problems and suggestions.
HUMAN RIGHTS AND CUSTODIAL DEATHS
The constitution of India has given specific rights to the citizens of India and safety or protection against any violation towards them. There are seven such fundamental rights mentioned in the constitution of India among which the most common and important is Article 21 which is stating:
“No person should be deprived of his life or personal liberty” except according to the procedures done by the law.
This constitution of law implies that Every person is equal and the Supreme Court also stated that “ The protection of the article extends to all the persons not merely citizens which also includes the person under imprisonment and it shouldn’t be violated by any public authority”.
The basic duty of any public officer is to protect those fundamental rights by offering adequate medical treatment in case of any injury or illness regardless of questioning whether he is innocent or guilty.
Unfortunately, the mentioned above laws were always ignored by the police officers . Firstly, they arrested the Accused ones and bought under custody and further, tortured very harshly which resulted in infringement of their rights. Even after the torture they weren’t provided with any medical aid or support which is eventually causing custodial deaths. The most concerned fact is the accused ones who were under trial or inquiry stage have to face all the ill treatments from the society as well. Generally, the accused ones were looked down by the society, but according to the law even an accused person under the trial or in prison shouldn’t be deprived of his rights.
The Supreme Court also stated that “Every convicts , prisoners and under trials have right under Article 21 and only such Restrictions can be imposed as permitted by law.”
In most of the cases, many accused ones weren’t even proven guilty by the court but still assumed to be a criminal and consequently, they get an ill treatment from the police officers. The police officers try to infringe of person’s basic rights who can be held as an innocent in future.
The custodial death is the death of a person in a police custody or judicial custody while custodial violence can have two forms of violence.
- In Section 330, Section 331 and Section 348 of Indian Penal Code, Section 76 of CrPC and Section 29 of the Police Act it implies that the police officers can torture to only extract confessions but only in necessary circumstances.
- In other part, there are police officers who were misusing their powers just to extract the confession of crimes from the accused. They were committing some heinous cognizable offences such Rape which is eventually leading to death of an accused.
In a recent study by a group of human rights, the majority of victims of custodial deaths are from the lower level of society who aren’t even aware of their basic fundamental rights. Due to this reason, they couldn’t raise their voice against the torture they are facing.
According to a survey of the year 1991, when the police officers were asked about the reason behind such cruelty they answered that “ all the ways they are applying only to make the person confess his crimes which is mentioned in our Indian jurisdiction”, but just for the sake of confession they were using all the illegal ways which is beyond anyone’s imagination.
Some of the inhuman acts includes electric shock, rape , forcing to perform oral sex, putting chilli powder in eyes, beating with iron rods, inserting hard objects in the private parts and many more resulting into deaths in custody.
Causes of Custodial deaths:
- Violence and cruelty in the name of extracting confessions
- No safety or protection and medical aid provided
- Commitment of suicide out of fear from the legal proceedings
- Deaths due to natural causes
CASE LAWS RELATED TO CUSTODIAL DEATHS
- Nilabati Behera vs State of Orissa
In the case, the apex court observed that “every prisoners and arrestees are having their fundamental rights according to the article 21 of the Indian constitution. They have the equal rights to enjoy all the basics of fundamental rights and the police are bound to obey the law and to protect their fundamental rights by ensuring that the citizen in custody isn’t deprived from his right to life”. The Court further took a reference of Article 9(5) of the international convenant on civil and political rights which implies the right to compensation should be taken into consideration and anyone who is the victim of unlawful arrest and tortured in the custody shall be awarded with compensation. In this case, the apex court awarded the deceased’s mother a compensation of Rs. 1.5 lakhs who was a victim of custodial violence and unfortunately died in the police custody.
- D.k. Basu vs. State of West Bengal
In the case, a non-social organisation, legal aid services and executive chairman has wrote a letter for the matter of increasing custodial deaths in the state of West Bengal. Later, the letter converted into a public interest litigation (PIL) which was passed by the Supreme Court and filed a petition regarding the rising concern of custodial death in February 1998 while in this period, the news of the death of Mahesh Bihari in Aligarh police custody spread rapidly and The court observed the case and came into a conclusion to form a set of rules and regulations regarding the arrest of a person and put a strict 11 guidelines on the police department.The Court also included this observation in D.K.Basu’s case. The Observation of the court was:
“ In almost every states there are cases and those cases are increasing day by day with a rising of frequent custodial deaths . At present, there’s no appearance of any such methods to deal with such cases. Since, this is a matter of whole nation and the state governments . Therefore, it is to issue notices to state government if they have any suggestions or say regarding the concerned matter.”
In this case, the supreme court said that the custodial deaths are need to be reduced as it will have a great impact on legal system and people will eventually start to lose faith in law. Further stated “every high court should have an eye check on every actions of police officers and should have all the details of accuse in a report and the punishment imposed on them.”
- Yashwant and others vs. state of Maharashtra
In this case, 9 police officers of Maharashtra were found guilty under section 330 of Indian Penal Code (IPC). On September 4, the Supreme convicted all the 9 officers in the case of 1993 custodial death case which involved rigorous violence, extortion and hurt. Later, the court ordered an imprisonment of seven years to each of them. A bench of justices N R Ramana and MM Shantanagoudar said “enhancement in the imprisonment term of police cops is important so that incidents like custodial deaths get reduced and police officers should realise their duties before committing any offence”. The court also stated “ the great power comes with great responsibilities” .
Solutions to the custodial deaths
- There should be CCTV cameras in every lockup room.
- Medical aids should be given at proper time in case of any injury or illness
- Negligence by any police officer there should be strict punishment for them without any kind of delay
- If there’s any kind of attempt of suicide by the accused then there should be a therapy session for the accused.
The idea of custody is only to give protection and safety to somebody even when the person is a culprit but this idea is being continuously ignored by some police officers. A police officer is a person whose duty is to maintain the law and order and we can’t expect the infringement of human rights from the same person who is obliged to protect it. Custodial Deaths are undoubtedly a serious concern for our society as its leading to put a question mark on our judicial system. A person whether he is guilty or not guilty shouldn’t be deprived from his fundamental rights , he still has his right to live and police officers are bound to protect that right.
People in a country wouldn’t follow the rules and regulations until and unless the law makers themselves follow all the rules. The police officers were regarded as the safeguards of our country and a common man follows their ideas and perspectives but this kind of offences giving an unpleasant example to the society.
As such, enforcement of law is permanent process and therefore, every public authority irrespective of their positions should follow and obey the provisions law. If possible, the same public officer should be convicted at the very moment after committing the offence so that there wouldn’t be any misuse of powers and common man wouldn’t have any kind of mistrust on the judicial system.
 Dr D.D Basu, shorter constitution of India, 12th ed, 1999, p.168
 Anwar vs. state of Jammu and Kashmir (1970) 2 S.C.W.R 276 (279)
 State of Maharashtra vs. Prabhakar 1966 S.C. 426(426)
 Nilabati vs. state of Orissa A.I.R 1993 S.C. 1960
 B.Maria Kumar, Custodial deaths in India: a research study, paper presented in the svp national police academy, Hyderabad, 1994
 Smt. Nilabati vs. state of Orissa A.I.R 1993 S.C. 1960
 D.k. Basu vs State of West Bengal, (1997) (1) SCC 416
 Yashwant and others v. State of Maharashtra (2018) 4 MLJ (Crl) 10 (SC)