We in India are so happy with the India-US civil nuclear deal and the active role played by president George W Bush in pushing it through — we are still to live down the embarrassing effusion of sentiment of prime minister Manmohan Singh when he told Bush that Indians love him — that we may not like to believe anything bad about his presidency even when the facts stare us in the face. So, it should not come as a surprise that many of us would not like to pay attention to the CIA memos about torture methods used in Guantanamo, which president Barack Obama had released into the public domain.
There are two things about the Guantanamo torture practices and the secret prisons that the US’ CIA maintained all over Europe which should concern people in India as well as elsewhere in the world. First, that abuse of power and the brutal use of force against prisoners are not confined to Asian, African and Latin American countries. The savagery is to be found in the most democratic and developed countries as well. Even as the US and Europe point to human rights violations in the rest of the world, it is necessary on our part to keep a watch over violations in other countries. This is not for settling scores but as a genuine concern for human dignity anywhere in the world. If you protest against rights violations in other countries, then you will also protest against violations in your own country.
It is here we enter troubled waters. It is a fact observed by the few civil rights organisations which function that every day in every police station in this country torture in the sense of physical abuse is a daily routine. The majority of the victims are poor, innocent people, petty criminals, Naxalites, in that order. In the last few years, it has been the turn of terror suspects. Of course, in the majority of cases, the torture victims happen to be poor and innocent.
This should not be taken to mean that proven criminals, Naxalites and terrorists can be tortured. The general principle has to be laid down in stone that torture under any circumstances is not acceptable in a civilised society. It is this assumption about human dignity that is missing in our political consciousness. That is why there is not a vocal and high profile anti-torture lobby in this country. The real test of democratic culture is the manner in which we treat the most heinous enemy. And that is the test India fails miserably.
The only cases of rights violations that are highlighted by activists are that of the torture of Naxalites. They do not care about the plight of the innocent and the petty criminal.
Right-wing parties like the BJP would justify torture of jihadi terrorists, left-wing and secular parties would want Hindu terrorists to be put on the rack, and the police force would want to torture anyone who is in their custody. Of course, all of them would vehemently deny that they believe in torture of people whom they consider to be enemies of state and society.
The most cultured and civilised police officers are in total denial about torture being a routine practice in police stations. Most of them show a false sense of esprit d’corps and try to protect the good name of the police and the hard work they do. It is true that Indian police force, especially among the ranks, is both underpaid and overworked. The issues of the conditions of service need to be addressed. But that should not take attention away from the question of torture.
A civilised police force is not necessarily a weak and effete force. It is assumed that it is so. That is why the police in India are not civilised while in uniform. That is the sad truth. That is why Guantanamo is an everyday nightmare in India. The most shameful thing is that we as a chest-thumping democratic society are not outraged by it. It is time to get angry over this fundamental issue.
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr, DNAINDIA.COM, April 20, 2009