Custodial death: when keepers becomes killer

Custodial death: When keepers become killers


Believe it or not, we are time travelers and we went right back to British era exactly to Rowlatt period where rights are oppressed, people are agitated, civil liberty was mercilessly suppressed, basic rights are totally crushed. The current atrocities of policemen bitterly resembles our pre independent struggle. Initially Britishers used police power to collect revenue, then they were used to control thugs, robbers and later on they were asked to prevent the nationalist movements. Today the police force evolved into more than 20 branches dealing with various issues. But their ultimate purpose is to maintain peace in society by preventive measures. Is this purpose really fulfilled? Are we able to differentiate the Imperial police men from current police officers?

If officers and citizens are being watched, we both are more liable to do right thing

Travis eastern

Rights of prisoners:

Custodial death is a death of a person due to the third degree treatment of police during investigation. It is one of the worst crimes in a civilized society governed by rule of law. In the famous Sunil batra vs. Delhi administration, Supreme Court held that prisoners are also entitled to fundamental right. There is D.K Basu guidelines or all cases of arrest and detention. Rights of prisoners under the context of article 21 are as follows,

  • Right to fair trial
  • Right to speedy trial
  • Right against handcuffing
  • Right to free legal aid
  • Right against inhumane treatment by police
  • Right to bail for under trial prisoners

Policemen are essential in order to maintain order in an ideal society. But sometimes, they failed to acknowledge that they are also beneath law. They can also be punished under sec.330 IPC for voluntarily causing hurt, sec.331 IPC for voluntarily causing grievous hurt, and sec.342 IPC for wrongful confinement, even they are charged for murder and attempt to murder.  There is a big difference between person who got convicted and the person in custody. Just because of suspicion, the person basic rights are violated. In worst case scenario this will leads to encounter. Even death penalty was awarded only to rarest of rare cases while policemen just encountered the suspect without even producing before the court of law. The policemen simply used the plea of self-defense and escaped. But no one cared about the violated rights of the deceased.

Recent incidents of custodial deaths

The very recent custodial death of father and son in tamilnadu shows the brutality of policemen. They were naked and beaten to death. Policemen also used unparliamentarily words to magistrate who investigate the crime scene. UN special rapporteurs issued a report of Kashmir Muslims who was slewed in 2019 during January and July to government of India for probing their custodial death. 17 years since Khwaja yunus died in Mumbai police custody and those policemen are still unaccounted for that judicial death. By the time you are reading this, there is a protest going on in Jammu and Kashmir against the custodial death of 23 years old boy. The Indian statistics shows five persons died per day during custody. Not only in India, custodial death happening across globe. American black people dying in police custody is no surprise. George Floyd was brutally killed by police officers while he cried for help. Timur Khinchagov died in October 2019, while he was in police custody in Russia’s north western Leningrad region.

International covenants:

As an active member of United Nations Organization, India is under obligation to fulfill International covenant on civil and political rights (ICCPR) and Universal declaration of Human rights (UDHR).

“No one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment”                                                                          – Article 7 (ICCPR)

There is a strong recommendation for India to ratify the United Nations convention against torture and other cruel and inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment (UNCAT)

A way forward:

Majority of population don’t know about their legal rights. So there should be transparency in police custody so that they know about the investigation. There is a lacunae of anti-torture law in India. Though the prevention of torture law bill 2017 was under construction only four states conveyed their agreement. IPC only criminalize the custodial death as criminal offence. There is no definition of the term torture in any statute. Apart from this, there is no infrastructure for police stations.

Most of the police stations are rental housings and the detention cells are unhealthy. Instead of building new police apartments, it’s time to innovate the old police stations which require maintenance. There are many laws and procedures for human rights to prisoners yet there is no ground level implementation. A 1985 Law Commission report directed the enactment of section 114-B into our Evidence act. But it is still not a law, although a bill was again introduced in 2017. This provision is very important and it must be incorporated in the Evidence act as “it raises the presumption of culpability against the police if the accused dies in custody”. It is crucial to provide legal awareness about human rights and prisoners’ rights not only to public but also to policemen.


Everyone deserves second chance. It is up to the judiciary to decide to whom and when. Humans are nothing without humanity. Without people the concept of state is in question. If these kinds of custodial death happens rapidly, then there will be a massive rebellion more than BLM movement. I conclude by suggest that the recruitment of police should not only concern about the physical fitness but also take into consideration of their psychological mind. Because they are not bodyguards and they not only dealing with accused but also with victims. Custodial deaths can be avoided by giving anger management counselling and also providing more holidays to policemen. After all, they are also human. Constant work pressure can make anyone to do any inhumane activity. It is rightly said,

“Society prepares the crime and the criminal commits it”

Author: K Sangeetha,
Government law college, chengalpattu

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