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Sathankulam Incident – Time To Eye Watch On Police Arbitrariness

INTRODUCTION

No man is born perfect in this world. Erring is a part of the nature of society. Mere because a person committed an offence which can be punished by the law, does not mean that the person deprives of being a human. He is entitled to all the basic rights which the fundamental rights guaranteed to everyone.

SATHANKULAM INCIDENT: CAN POLICE SEEK REVENGE ON PUBLIC?

The terrific incident of custodial death which shook the entire nation happened on 22 June 2020 at Sathankulam, Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu when one of the accused Bennix died in hospital due to the injuries sustained at the police custody. The next day his father, Jeyaraj also died at the hospital due to the same reason.

It was alleged that the police arrested Jeyaraj on June 19 because he opened his shop beyond the time given during lockdown. Following his arrest, his son Bennix reached the police station and when he saw police brutally assaulting his father, he questioned them which leads to the arrest of him.

The widely said statement on the reason for their arrest is that Jeyaraj said some abusive remarks about police patrol before the day of his arrest when they asked him to shut his shop early due to lockdown. The main eye witness women constable Revathi, stated around five policemen brutally beaten the duo for the whole night and they sustained severe injuries.

This Sathankulam incident is completely a revenge act made by the police and to show their power over the people for their verbal statement about the police.

RIGHT TO LIFE: CAN POLICE TAKE AWAY IT?

In the case of D. K. Basu v. State of West Bengal, the Hon’ble Apex Court observed that the torture of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment to an accused would be within the constraint of Article 21 of the Constitution. In another case of Neelabati Bahera v. State of Orissa, the Supreme Court adduced that the prisoners and detenues are not deprived of their fundamental rights as envisaged under Article 21 and such restrictions are imposed on the enjoyment of their fundamental rights which are permitted by law.

It is clear from the observations of the Supreme Court that no one including the police officers has the right to take away the right to life of the arrested person which is protected under Article 21.

The irony is the observations of the Court went in vain. Cases of custodial deaths are increasing in India. The NCRB report reveals that in 2018, the total deaths that occurred in police custody is 70 with Gujarat and Tamil Nadu topping the list with 14 and 12 cases respectively.

Among the 70 cases of custodial deaths, 32 cases were due to death due to illness or treatment at the hospital, 17 cases of suicide and 3 cases of injuries at the police custody. The most shocking report is a total of 5459 cases were registered against police in 2018 and only 40 were convicted.

The police use their power arbitrarily with the intention they will be discharged or acquitted in most instances. Even in the Sathankulam incident, the police were not arrested. Initially, they were suspended or transferred, only when the issue became societal in nature they were arrested. This is the sad reality of India, those who enjoy powers absolutely and those who have no power are denied. There would be many cases which would go unreported as the case is against the persons who have to deal with that.

CUSTODIAL DEATHS: AN END TO THIS?

In India, there is no particular enactment which deals with the prevention of custodial deaths. They are regulated under the age-old legislation, Police Act, 1861. It is the need of the hour to make necessary amendments in the Act or repeal the Act and enact a new one taking into consideration of the contemporary developments and atrocities by the police.

The Law Commission in its 152nd report stated about the injuries in police custody. The major recommendation of the report is the presumption of death or injury while the person is at the custody is presumed to be caused by the police officer who is in charge of the custody. Based on this recommendation, The Indian Evidence (Amendment) Bill, 2016 sought to amend the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 thereby including Section 114B as a presumption in the prosecution of custodian death or injury. The Bill is pending before the Rajya Sabha. The incorporation of this provision will act as a deterrent to the police officials and the cases of custodial death would be reduced.

CONCLUSION

The law says that the person charged with an offence is presumed to be innocent until his guilt is proven. But the investigating officers take the laws in their hands and punish the offenders by imposing third-degree treatments and other inhumane activities.

Investigating officers like police officers are not the ones who are supposed only to aid the judiciary in finding the truth of the case. Having such limited powers on them, they use their power abusive. The offence of Jeyaraj was a petty offence which would be punished with certain months of imprisonment if proved. The accused persons would also have a family and at times they would be the sole breadwinner of their family. So, the laws such be made in such a way to put an end to custodial deaths with stringent punishments.

About Authors – This article is authored by Aayush Akar and Bini. R. A. Aayush Akar, third-year law student pursuing BA.LLB (Hons) from National Law University Odisha. Bini. R.A is a fifth-year law student of School of Excellence in law, Chennai.

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