At least 591 people died in police custody in India between 2010 and 2015, according to a report published by Human Rights Watch. Police in India often bypass arrest procedures and subject those to extreme torture to elicit information in the cases that they are investigating. The report also says that the authorities instead of holding police responsible, they have stalled reforms needed to build a more rights-respecting force.
The 114-page report, “Bound by Brotherhood: India’s Failure to End Killings in Police Custody,” examines police disregard for arrest regulations, custodial deaths from torture, and impunity for those responsible.
Police in India will learn that beating suspects to confess is unacceptable only after officers are prosecuted for torture. Our research shows that too often, the police officers investigating deaths in custody are more concerned about shielding their colleagues that bringing those responsible to justice.Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
The report says that the Indian police blame deaths in custody on suicide, illness, or natural causes, family members of victims frequently allege that the deaths were the result of torture or other ill-treatment. Indian law and the Supreme Court have laid down procedures for law enforcement that deal with various aspects of police work, including registering cases, the treatment of arrested persons, and conducting questioning.
However, without proper training, oversight, or resources to gather evidence, police mistreat criminal suspects in police stations to obtain information or confession.
The report draws in-depth investigation into 17 deaths in custody that occurred between 2009 and 2015, including more than 70 interviews with victims’ family members, witnesses, justice experts, and police officials. In each of the 17 cases, the police did not follow proper arrest procedures, making the suspect more vulnerable to abuse.
Forms of torture include severe beatings with boots and belts, sometimes suspending people from their wrists. Autopsy reports examined by Human Rights Watch show injuries and hematomas consistent with blunt force trauma.
Human Rights Watch primarily details cases in which family members assisted by lawyers or rights defenders sought a judicial remedy, and in which police records, medical records, and other relevant documents were thus publicly available. Many of these cases are still pending in courts. Independent investigations ordered by courts in a number of cases have uncovered serious due process violations in addition to compelling evidence of physical mistreatment. For instance, one policeman in Mumbai, during an inquiry after a detainee died in custody, said the beatings occurred because the suspect was “a hard core criminal, he refused to give any information.”
The report cited the case of 37-year-old Shyamu Singh, who was arrested in April 2012 in Uttar Pradesh when police couldn’t tell him apart from his older brother Ramu, who was suspected of involvement in a string of extortion and theft cases. When neither brother would give his identity, a group of policemen forced Ramu to the floor.
Four people held me down and one man poured water in my nose continuously. I couldn’t breath. Once they stopped on me, they started on Shyamu.the report quoted Ramu as saying.
When Shyamu fell unconscious “they started worrying and talking among themselves that he is going to die. One of the men got a little packet and put the contents in Shyamu’s mouth,” Ramu said.
Shyamu Singh died later in a nearby hospital. Police told his family he had killed himself by taking poison. An initial inquiry by the State Investigation Department concluded in 2014 that seven police officers had tortured Singh and poisoned him to death. But a final inquiry report submitted a year later cleared all seven, according to the report.