Indo-Asian News Service, New Delhi, December 17, 2006
Custodial deaths in India are on the rise largely due to a lack of sensitivity and poor training of the police force, say human rights activists after a former senior Delhi police officer was sentenced to death for severely torturing a man and causing his death 19 years ago.
"A major reason for the rise in custodial deaths is the archaic training of the police force. Officials below the rank of inspectors, who keep in touch with people in custody on a day-to-day basis are very insensitive," said Pushkar Raj, secretary of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), a human rights organisation.
According to data available with the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there were 121 custodial deaths in 2003, 94 in 2004 and 144 in 2005.
"Currently police personnel of inspector rank and below, who form the bulk of the force, receive about seven days of in-service training every year which is too less," Raj said.
He suggested that special training could be given to the police officials on how to deal with criminals. "Using third degree methods is not the way to get a confession. They must research the procedures followed by other countries," said the rights activist.
Rajendra Sachar, a former chief justice of Delhi High Court, shared the same views. "Proper training is very essential to make the police sensitive. They must be aware of the human rights aspect of the people."
On Friday, retired assistant commissioner of police RP Tyagi was awarded capital punishment for severely beating and causing the death of Mahinder Kumar while in custody at the Vivek Vihar police station in east Delhi in August 1987.
Dipendra Pathak, additional commissioner of police Delhi, said: "We need to give serious thought to the issue. Proper training of our personnel on respecting human rights could be taken up."
Activists said that severe work pressure and poor working conditions were also leading to such incidents.
"Currently police officials are working nearly 16 hours a day, which is another area of concern. When one works like this for a longer time, one loses his psychological balance," Raj added.
Prashant Bhushan, senior Supreme Court lawyer and leading human rights activist, was critical of the "inhuman behaviour" of police.
"In spite of the National Human Rights Commission guidelines and an apex court order of 1977, police in our country are not aware of their duty. How can we expect humane behaviour from these people when they are trained to torture people," he said.
"Our police force was created by Britishers in 1861 and it has not been revamped. The rules are archaic and training is pathetic. You may call it drastic, but the government must dismantle the present set up and start it altogether again."
"Prosecution is a good precedent but police officers prolong the judicial process. Influential people in this country delay the delivery of justice and this should stop immediately for the betterment of common people," Bhushan added.
He said the judiciary and NHRC were to blame for not playing a very pro-active role to punish the culprits behind custodial death and fake encounters.
"The judiciary should take action against errant police officers for not adhering to its directive. The NHRC too can be little forceful and take note of these activities."
"I think we need to be less tolerant towards torture."