Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana has said that custodial torture and other police atrocities still prevail in India and “the threat to human rights and bodily integrity is the highest in police stations." Even the privileged are not spared third-degree treatment, he added.
Addressing an event organised by the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) on 8 August, he said it was necessary to “bridge the gap of accessibility to justice between the highly privileged and the most vulnerable” for becoming a society governed by the rule of law. He asked the organisation to carry out “nationwide sensitisation of police officers”. With his comment on custodial torture in India, Ramana has joined a league of former CJIs and Supreme Court Justices who had in the past spoken about the issue and the need to eradicate it. Here are some of the instances of what his predecessors had said about it —
- Then CJI Ranjan Gogoi in August 2019 had asked: "What is going on in this country?" His comments came in connection with five cases related to the 2017 Unnao case. A 17-year-old girl was gang-raped in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao. Former BJP member Kuldeep Singh Sengar was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in April 2018 for it. Sengar was also found guilty in the death of the girl's father. Evidence showed that not only was the girl’s father beaten up by the Senger’s associates, but also the nexus between the police and the former BJP leader led to his wrongful incarceration and eventual death.
- A bench of then CJI JS Khehar and Justice DY Chandrachud said in April 2017 that it was a matter of both Article 21 (fundamental right to life and dignity) and of international reputation that the government must consider promulgating a standalone, comprehensive law to define and punish torture as an instrument of “human degradation” by state authorities. The court made the comments while it was hearing a PIL filed by former law minister Ashwini Kumar. The petitioner wanted it to direct the government to establish a legal framework in terms of the International Convention against Torture, which India signed in 1997.
- AM Ahmadi, who served as the 26th Chief Justice of India between 1994 and 1997, said in 2005 at a seminar on 'Right to Justice' that it was sad that even in this advanced age, policemen entrusted with a case beat the suspect, extract a confession, and then claim that the case was solved. Because of this, society has to deal with a cruel, uncivilised, and brutal police force, which needs to be trained in the art of investigation, as per a report in the Tribune.
- In February 2021, a Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and Ajay Rastogi said, while refusing to compound the offence of two policemen, accused of assaulting a man, who later succumbed to his injuries in 1988 in Odisha, "The custodial violence on the deceased which led to the death is abhorrent and not acceptable in the civilised society. The offence committed by the accused is a crime not against the deceased alone but was against humanity and clear violations of rights guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution."
- A Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Doraiswamy Raju and Arijit Pasayat said in the case of Shakila Abdul Gafar Khan vs Vasant Raghunath Dhoble And Another on September 2003, “It is… difficult to comprehend how torture and custodial violence can be permitted to defy the rights flowing from the Constitution. The dehumanizing torture, assault and death in custody which have assumed alarming proportions raise serious questions about the credibility of rule of law and administration of criminal justice system... This court has in a large number of cases expressed concern at the atrocities perpetuated by the protectors of law."
- In November 2004, an SC bench comprising Justices Arijit Pasayat and CK Thakker while hearing the case of Munshi Singh Gautam and Others vs State Of Madhya Pradesh said "the diabolic recurrence of police torture resulting in a terrible scare in the minds of common citizens that their lives and liberty are under a new and unwarranted peril because guardians of law destroy the human rights by custodial violence and torture and invariably resulting in death. The vulnerability of human rights assumes traumatic torture when functionaries of the State whose paramount duty is to protect the citizens and not to commit gruesome offences against them, in reality, perpetrate them.
(With input from agencies)