New Delhi: Every year, 26 June is observed as the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. It was on 26 June 1987 that the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into effect, with the first events to commemorate this day being launched in 1998.
In India, too, custodial torture has been in the news lately, after former Gujarat IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in a 30-year-old case. However, in India, deaths due to custodial torture are hardly a rare phenomenon — according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau, there were 300 such deaths recorded between 2008 and 2016 (the last time the data was released).
Andhra Pradesh recorded 59 custodial deaths, the highest in the country in this period, for which 34 policemen were charged. Assam was second, with 29 deaths and 31 policemen charged, while Uttar Pradesh was third, with 14 deaths and 10 policemen charged.
However, in this eight-year period, there were zero convictions across the country in cases of custodial deaths.
Among the states with the lowest number of custodial death cases and policemen charged for the offence are Tamil Nadu and Tripura — in both states there’s one case and one policeman charged from 2008 to 2016. Odisha ranks third, with four cases of reported custodial deaths and four policemen charged.
Going back to the last 20 years — 1997 to 2016 — for which data for across India is available, there were 790 such deaths, over 385 policemen were charged and over 120 such cases were dismissed by courts after a charge sheet was filed. In all, just eight police personnel were convicted for such crimes.
The quantum of punishment announced by the Jamnagar sessions court for Bhatt was labelled excessive by many commentators. But this is not the first time such a heavy punishment has been handed out.
In July last year, a Thiruvananthapuram special CBI court awarded death penalties to two police personnel convicted in a custodial murder in Kerala.
The accused, constables K. Jithakumar and S.V. Sreekumar, were found guilty of Udayakumar’s custodial death at Fort Police Station in Thiruvananthapuram. The prosecution case was that Udayakumar (26), who was taken into custody for questioning in a theft case, died in custody after being tortured by the police.
Two months later, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of 10 Maharashtra policemen for torturing one Joinus Adam Yellamati to death while in custody. The apex court also more than doubled their sentence to seven years in jail.