Torture in police custody should stop

By M Ghazali Khan,

Reports of police torture of Malegaon blast accused are shameful. The notice issued by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to Maharashtra’s director general of police and the chief secretary over the alleged torture of Sadhvi Pragya Thakur is a good beginning to bring law enforcement agencies to sanity.

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This probably is the first time in Indian history when any governmental/semi-governmental body has taken notice of police’s hitherto unchallenged and unlimited powers that have tacitly been approved and accepted by the society.

Ironic, though it is that it took some members of the majority community to be arrested and tortured in police custody to give a wakeup call to the society.

Muslims have been the main target of these brutal and inhuman torture by the police and have therefore been complaining for long of police’s so to say normal behaviour but their protests have always fallen upon deaf ears, notwithstanding the famous case of the death in police custody in 2003 of a Muslim youth, Khwaja Yunus.

The third degree torture of Imran Khan, one of the four accused of Macca Masjid bomb blast, 18 May 2007, and acquitted by the court is one of the many examples that went unreported. According to Imran, “This time they [police] tied a five litter water bottle to my penis and made me stand up with hands stretched upwards. I became so miserable that I was ready to confess any thing they wanted to…”

The reason of this sudden change in the thinking of NHCR and media reporting is not that one of the detainees and the victim of police torture is a woman. We know how badly women detained, along with their families, in connection 1993 Bombay blasts were tortured and there has not been even a single mention in any of the newspapers of what these miserable souls went through. Theirs are really heart rending stories documented in a booklet PREVENTION OF TERRORISM or Religious Intolerance: Stories of Torture and Terror as told by the Victims, A report Distributed at United Nation’s World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, 27 August 1st September 2001, Durban South Africa”

Families were detained and in addition to being subjected to physical torture they were humiliated and taunted upon. For example, male members of a family “…were stripped and were made to stand naked for a long time before their womenfolk. When the women closed their eyes and put their hands on their faces they were severely hit by batons… [they] were forced to prostrate in the fashion of Namaz (Islamic prayer), before the full naked bodies of their male family members. They also teased the women to recite Qur’an in Marathi and forced them to drink liquor.”

While the real perpetrators of these blasts have been arrested and others are being chased and searched, no action has been taken against the uniformed tormentors and to date there has not been any debate on the need to reform and restrain the lot who happen to be where they are because an ordinary Indian, who is looked down upon with contempt by them, pays taxes for their salaries.

Photo by Harini Calamur

let us see what Salim Khan Durrani, a member of the family of Nawab of Tonk, who was detained in Bombay blast case narrates of his ordeal in the aforementioned booklet, “They stripped me completely and touched my shoulder with two live ends of wires. I felt that as if my blood had curdled. As I cried with pain, one wire was inserted into my nose; another was touched with my tongue From time to time the wire was touched with my penis as well and each time they gave me these shocks, one of them used to rotate the voltmeter to increase the voltage of the current. My body became blue and I vomited several times then I fell unconscious.”

This extract is from Mr Durrani’s affidavit submitted in the Supreme Court that has been produced in the booklet. But no consideration was given to it. Having already spent four years in prison, Durrani was acquitted of involvement in the 93 Bombay blasts. Nonetheless he was awarded a five years rigorous imprisonment by the designated court under section 5 of the TADA Act for illegal possession of deadly weapons.

Now let us examine a recently reported case by the Urdu daily Inqilab, Bombay. According to the report, Bombay police requested the court to extend the remand of some Muslim detainees on the plea that respecting their religious rights it had allowed them perform their prayers and because of that much of the time was wasted and thorough interrogation could not be carried out. In spite of the fact that the detainees complained of torture, the court accepted police’s plea and extended the remand. Compare this episode with that of Sadhvi and Purohit case. This is perhaps because there is no one able to raise their voice for the Muslims as loudly as Advani et el have done for the Malegaon accused.

In the absence of a strong leadership and concerted efforts by Muslims themselves, Muslims will continue to face not only custodial tortures but also the so called encounter killings. Their demands even for a judicial enquiry will continue to be mischievously misinterpreted as their support for terrorism and undeterred communal police officers will, as usual, continue to quench their thirst of Muslim blood in encounters.

In Kashmir habeas corpushas ceased to have any meaning. There are cases in which the court acquitted individuals detained in high security prisons, for long periods, under PSA but no sooner had they come out of the prison than they were taken to the so called joint interrogation centre and locked up again on new charges of terrorism. Unfortunately sometimes courts appear to be helpless before the supposedly “public servants” in uniform and to quote a dialogue delivered by Sani Deol in an Indian film, “Adalat ne aam admi [we can replace aam admi with Musalman] ko diya hi kiya hai tareekh pe tareekh, tareekh pe tareekh” (What has the court given to an ordinary man except date after date and date after date). And in the meantime lives of the detainees and their dependents are destroyed.

Indian judiciary, however, deserves praise that has been trying through whatever means it has to restrain the police in its excesses but unless there is some law against it and penalty for the abusive officers court orders will continue to be flaunted by the police.

>No one in their sane mind can condone the terror or the so-called terrorists — be they Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or any of the other race or religion – cause and thus disrupt the harmony and welfare of the society. These criminals have to be dealt with and the police and other agencies have it as their duty to hunt down and root out such elements from the society. Terrorism is not a specialist crime happening only in India and practiced by a single element of the society. It is a plague threatening to destroy the very existence of societies throughout the world today. Civilised states deal with this crime in a civil manner. An accused is only an accused till found guilty and guilt can be extracted by various means – physical as well as psychological so long as these means do not destroy the human soul and dignity of the accused.

Targeting, victimising or marginalising any sector of the society due to the whims and prejudices of those who wield the power entrusted to them by the law cannot be justified and has to be stopped. Forensic science has come of age and can be deployed by those who are properly trained in this field. We do not now live in medieval times when the only means to extract guilt from the criminal was physical torture and insult of all kinds. Indian police can afford to obtain modern means of investigation and train their officers in the use of these means without subjecting the accused to inhuman bestial treatment. Our constitution does not allow such inhuman treatment of any of its citizen and therefore the law-makers in the Parliament should pause for a moment and try to rectify this blemish in the practice of the enforcement of the law they have made.