From the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre to the 2019 Jamia Millia Islamia attack, India has seen innumerable cases of police brutality. Since the British Raj, police illegal misconduct and excessive use of power have cost thousands of innocent lives. Recently, a case of custodial death of two men, Jayaraj and Bennix in Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu has led to nationwide rage and resentment against the police authorities. This article culminates the shortcomings of the existing legal framework for controlling police misconduct and the need to have stringent laws to protect and safeguard the lives as well as rights of the people who fall prey to these brutalities. The authors shall also put forth some of the measures that can be made to tackle the police barbarity.
The main reason for the perpetuation of the crime is the support of the common masses. Amidst these unprecedented times, when the lockdown was imposed throughout the country, families sat in their respective homes, watching the police authorities punishing the violators. The social media was ambushed with hashtags like #Such People Deserve This Treatment. We, as responsible citizens have failed to realize that this support is not for the “justice” but the oppression that is mostly directed towards the unprivileged section of the society. Since the beginning of the lockdown, the police authorities have been mostly flexing their muscles towards the marginalized section. This brutality, instead of being curbed, has been cheered by almost all the media houses. Many necessitous people, who step out of their houses for procuring the necessary commodities have been beaten black and blue by the authorities. It is distressing to note that the actions of the police were always justified because they are performing their so-called “duty”.
One such instance of state terrorism happened in the Tuticorin district of Tamil Nadu, where a father-son duo was brutally tortured and then killed in the Judicial Custody of the Sathankulam Police Station. The issue sparkled when the shop owned by Bennix (32) was opened for 15 minutes beyond the permissible limit. Subsequently, Bennix’s father (Jayaraj) was arrested and taken into police custody. As soon as the Bennix found out about it, he rushed towards the police station and witnessed the police beating up his father. When he questioned the brutality, he too was taken into custody and was lashed. An eyewitness also reported that more than 5 policemen, including the sub-inspector, tormented the duo. Both Jayaraj and Bennix were so brutally beaten that their bodies were soaked in blood. The relatives reported that police administration even inserted a baton into his anus, which triggered unrestrained bleeding. This brutal harassment was far ahead than 3rd-degree torture, and that too for such a trivial matter. This instance has once again exposed the loophole in the Indian legal framework, as despite of incalculable instances, we don’t have a stringent law to monitor the police illegal misconduct.
DISCREPANCIES OF THE EXISTING LEGAL FRAMEWORK
Since independence, numerous committees have worked and recommended ways to end the barbarity of police and rebuilding a police force to meet the changing dynamics of our society. 1980 report of the National Police Commission recommended that the police force, all across the country, should be trained mentally and equipped to perform the service, and help people out of distress rather being a reason for the same. In the case of Prakash Singh v. Union of India, the Apex Court gave directions to both the central as well as state government, to make structural changes in the whole police system, to insulate them from adventitious pressure, and to make them accountable to the general public. This landmark verdict also led to the formation of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) in 2006. It was to be formed at both the district and state levels, as recommended by the Apex Court. The rationale behind the formation of this body was to help the general public to file complaints and seek redressal against any misconduct of police officials. But it all went in vain.
According to the Commonwealth Human Rights report, the recommendations and the provisions set out by the Judiciary are rarely adopted by any state or U/T. To date, 17 States and 6 UT’s have passed legislation regarding the formation of PCA, in partial conformity of provisions laid down by the Supreme Court. Only six states- Assam, Goa, Kerala, Haryana, Tripura and Uttarakhand and four Union Territories have Police Complaint Authority that is operational at ground level. Not only this, but even the members of PCA are also directly appointed by the state government, which is in clear violation of the guidelines issued by the Apex Court. The Court suggested that the members of PCA are to be appointed by the government from a panel prepared by the Chief Justice, State Human Rights Commissions, Lokayukta, and State Public Service Commission. Many states have appointed serving police officers as the member of the body, which defeats the very purpose of Police Complaint Authority. There are no set of rules and regulations governing the working of PCA in many states, which results in the body lacking its investigatory powers.
Lack of execution at the ground level is one of the main reasons for increasing instances of police brutalities. Formulation of certain provisions and setting up of entities like PCA will not work until the rationale behind their formation is clear in the minds of the concerned authorities. A fair and transparent process of appointing the authorities needs to be the first step towards an independent and institutional entity such as the PCA. The central and State government should ensure that the institutional entities like PCA, are free to form any political and outside interference. There are several cases in which the police try to manipulate the facts of the case, fabricate evidence to their benefit. Independency of PCA will keep a check on these malpractices as the whole investigation would be independent of any interventions. Just like Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) in the USA, which is an independent body responsible for investigating, conduct hearing, and make recommendations against police brutality, India should also look forward to an entity similar to that.
SUGGESTIVE MEASURES: THE WAY FORWARD
After this gruesome custodial death, the division bench of Justice B. Pugalendhi and Justice P.N. Prakash took suo moto consideration into the matter. The Madras High Court directed the State Government to resume its Police Wellbeing Programme. This program is aimed at improving the mental health of Police officials. Police officials who have a working day in and day out to safeguard the society, their mental peace, and mental health are something that has never been talked for decades. Under this program, counseling sessions will be scheduled at various centers throughout the state, for the officers from highest to lowest ranks.
Apart from this, the governments across the globe are adopting varied measures for ensuring police accountability. For example, in Norway, while the police force is used to disperse unlawful gatherings, human rights experts are called in the control rooms to gauge and advice for the proportionality and need of the police officials. Also, in the USA, civilians are being called to evaluate and judge the allegations of misconduct against the police. In India too, such measures should be explored by the concerned authorities to build the general public’s confidence in the police administration. It is high time that our country should amend the policy manuals and introduce strict, stringent laws to counter police brutality. A serious disquisition is required to ensure that police are held liable for their ill-doing. Police Complaint Authorities should be established in every district and state as per the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in the case of Prakash Singh v. Union of India and should be vested with the power to investigate and take independent actions against police atrocities.
This article has been authored by Aayush Maheshwari and Akshat Jaithlia second-year law student at the Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala.