//INDIA: Act now, stop pretending!

INDIA: Act now, stop pretending!


A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the Occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, June 26, 2011

Three years have elapsed since the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh promised the country that India would ratify the United Nations’ Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. India has not moved much forward since then on the issue other than the introduction of a Bill in the parliament, the Prevention of Torture Bill 2010. The Lok Sabha passed the Bill on 6 May 2010. The Rajya Sabha, after considering the Bill constituted a Parliamentary Select Committee to review the Bill. The Committee after its review of the Bill suggested wide-ranging changes to the proposed law. The Bill is now with the government and nothing much is heard about it since then. In the meanwhile, June 26 will be once again observed as the international day in support of the victims of torture.

The declared purpose of the Bill is for the country to have an enabling domestic legislation to effectively implement the Convention against Torture in India upon its ratification at the UN. The Bill however fails to meet any such standards. Rather it is a poor and farcical attempt to have a law for the sake of having one. It does not require a jurist to read the 661 words long Bill to understand that the government is trying to hoodwink itself, and in essence, the nation and feel proud about it.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has analysed the Bill in detail. The AHRC has opined that the proposed law neither speaks of seriousness by the government to control a crime as grave as torture which is widespread in India, nor is it visible in the Bill that it is an initiative in that direction. A complete review of the Bill by the AHRC is available here.

In the meanwhile, the government has yesterday resolved to constitute a National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms to ensure justice to the people. It is reported that the Mission will be mandated to conceive and implement schemes to ensure expeditious and quality justice in the country. It is encouraging news to everyone who is concerned about the appalling state of affairs of justice administration in India. The reality however is that court delays is not the only reason for the appalling justice framework in India. For the ordinary citizen, the most visible presence of the justice framework and that of the government is the local police. Unfortunately for the common person, the aam admi of India, the local police often portray the image of a criminal in uniform.

Conditions have come to such state that today in India the police and other law enforcement agencies are feared than respected as government agencies. The police is viewed, for tenable reasons, as an entity that breaches law with impunity than be an entity that operates within the framework of law.

Police officers complain that they are professionally ill equipped to meet the requirements of a police force serving a modern democratic state and its people. Officers in one voice complain about the unwarranted political interferences in all aspects of daily work and some have dared to take the matter to the highest court of the country, like Mr. Prakash Singh. Most officers honestly believe that they have a right to punish the suspect and justify torture as the only means to investigate crime. Officers often find it acceptable to make public statements, that the only punishment a suspect will ever receive is torture while in custody, since they agree that the courts in the country are incapable of delivering justice.

Politicians publicly subscribe to this view, for instance Mr. K. Radhakrishnan, the former Speaker of Kerala Legislative Assembly. Radhakrishnan while addressing the annual meeting of the state police officers’ association in 2007 said that ” … a third world country cannot afford to have a police that abides the law when investigating crimes”. It is a sad irony that Radhakrishnan himself is a victim of brutal police torture during his college days. In addition, for good reasons the police do not trust the prosecutors and often complain that the prosecutors are appointed after paying bribes to politicians, a fate that they themselves are subjected to concerning appointment, transfer and promotions.

It is common in the country for the police to demand and accept bribes for recording complaints and investigating cases. Indian police today has reduced to an institution that often prefers to play the role of a mediator, who after accepting illegal gratification from the parties to the dispute tries to force a settlement in an issue. During the past 64 years no government, state or central, has tried to address any of these issues. It is not because that the government is not aware about these concerns. It is just that those who hold fort in the national and state capitals prefer to have a corrupt and inept institution that is easily pliable to the requirements of those in power and for that very reason the police is maintained as it is today, in this unacceptable state of decay.

Such institutional wilt has reduced the country’s police into a demoralised force susceptible to all forms of manipulation. It is no surprise thus the number of extrajudicial executions are high in India. The Indian media, criminally oblivious of what extrajudicial executions imply, have promoted ‘killer officers’ showering them with accolades and referring to them as encounter specialists. Stories of how these officers ‘eliminated’ criminals through open murder were a regular feature in most dailies and magazines. None complained why due process is so subjugated to the crude interpretation of the state police. Even the courts failed to intervene.

It is just not the police that engage in torture and other criminal activities with impunity in India. Paramilitary units stationed in states like Assam, Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur abundantly violate basic norms of human and fundamental rights on a daily basis. Unlike as often construed in New Delhi and by many Indians everything about Jammu and Kashmir is not Pakistan sponsored and religiously fuelled extremism, nor is every untoward incident reported from states like Manipur an act of terror carried out by secessionist forces. For the past 64 years the armed forces and state police operating in these two states at least, have engaged in umpteen number of arbitrary executions, rapes, torture and other brutal violation of rights of the ordinary people, that the state agencies have played a key role in alienating the vulnerable communities living in these parts of India, by the way all of them Indians, against India and the government.

It is not that the state or central administration is not aware of such atrocities. It simply chose to do nothing. Worse still, the government, year after year, renewed the operation of the draconian law, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 in these two states as it suited them. Repeated requests, even by government-sponsored bodies to withdraw the law and its operation from the two states are ignored. Thrusting enforced silence upon these people further will not bring them back into the national mainstream, neither will the prevailing culture of impunity help these destitute develop trust about their alienated administrators.

The rule of law must not remain a notion that is most
ly preached but least practised if the people were to trust their government. Justice is not a concept that could be achieved with torture and extrajudicial execution. Nor is a government honest when it claims that it promotes democratic values while does nothing to prevent torture within its jurisdiction. A state that condones torture is as barbaric as the act itself.