Friday, Oct 24, 2003
Front Page |
Southern States |
Other States |
Advts: Classifieds | Employment | Obituary |
By Anjali Mody
NEW DELHI. OCT. 23. The death in police custody of a 32-year-old telephone-booth operator, Sushil Kumar, is symptomatic of the violence that is part of the work culture of the police in the Capital, say human rights groups. Kumar's death on Tuesday triggered violent street protests in the west Delhi neighbourhood where he lived, and police used teargas to disperse the crowds. The public anger was directed at the police, whose use of force is rarely challenged.
Harish Dhawan of the People's Union for Democratic Rights said that what set this form of police violence apart was that it was not "sanctioned". Police have always used larger political motives to justify the use of torture as a means of interrogation. However, unlike the third-degree methods that they use, the sort of violence that Kumar was subjected to was "not ordered by superior officers".
In Delhi, there appear to be mainly "individual motives" for police violence. ``This comes from the simple exercise of the power that a policeman has over a citizen, especially if the citizen is from the lower economic or social strata". In the 20 or so years that the PUDR has monitored custodial deaths in the capital, it has found political motives in only three cases. These were people arrested in connection with the `transistor bomb blasts'' in the mid-1980s.
The incidence of custodial deaths in Delhi, however, has declined since the mid-1990s, largely due to the work done by human rights groups, the more stringent reporting requirements set out by the National Human Rights Commission and media scrutiny.
A study of deaths in custody in Delhi from 1980 to 1997 found that there was an average of one death a month until 1990-91. The figures for custodial deaths in Delhi for the last couple of years, collated by the National Human Rights Commission, are two in 2002-2003, three in 2001-02 before and nine in 2001-2002.
While this is seen as a positive sign, what remains unchanged is the attitude of police and its unwillingness to acknowledge the use of violence and of custodial death. Senior police officers' instinctive reaction is to deny that police personnel were or could have been responsible for a death.
The Delhi-based Human Rights lawyer, Rakesh Shukla, said this jeopardised the possibility of a fair inquiry, as "it establishes bias and the lack of an open mind which is necessary to any criminal investigation".
Even in as well-publicised a case as Kumar's, prior to the completion of the post-mortem examination, Delhi police have tried to suggest that there were causes, other than police brutality, for his death. In numerous cases in New Delhi, post mortem reports have shown that a death in custody was not `natural'. But police have invariably challenged these findings and maintained that the death was ``due to natural causes'' or ``suicide'' or ``accidental''.
An illustrative case is that of Ashwin Gandhi, a shopkeeper in north Delhi, who was picked up and badly beaten by policemen from Sadar Bazar police station in October 2000.
The post-mortem report said that the shock of the beating had triggered a heart attack leading to his death. Police said he had died of ``natural causes''. The same month Sukhvinder, who had been accused of sheltering alleged ISI agents, died in police custody.
The post-mortem report said he had been poisoned. Police again said he had died of ``natural causes''.
Police complain about the lack of public appreciation for its work and felt the angry crowds in Kumar's neighbourhood unfairly targeted them, yet they seem unable or unwilling to see where the problem lies. The treatment of the five policemen who picked up Kumar is an example of this. Police have registered a case of murder, but none of the five has been arrested. Mr. Shukla said that they should have been arrested immediately.
Delhi police, as a matter of routine, make arrests in far less serious cases like ``suspicion of theft''. In the case of policemen it was imperative to arrest them as they had the power to influence the investigation, threaten witnesses and tamper with the evidence. Mr. Shukla said, "the problem with the police is that it has one set of rules for themselves and another for the rest of us".
The Hindu Group: Home | About Us | Copyright | Archives | Contacts | Subscription
Group Sites: The Hindu | Business Line | The Sportstar | Frontline | The Hindu eBooks | Home |
Copyright © 2003, The
Hindu. Republication or redissemination of the contents of
this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of