Suvrajyoti Sengupta Guwahati India
On Custodial Torture, Murders, Encounters, and Extra-judicial killings and Civilisation
July 11, 2020
I wish to begin by categorically stating that I am not an apologist for criminals including rapists or murderers. In the same vein, I wish to put on record that neither do I hold the police services, the civil services, and most politicians in very high esteem. This has been my consistent and considered stand; you may also say it is a big part of my little accumulated wisdom.
Many of us have grown up hearing the term ‘third degree torture or method’. Let me give you an example of what the ‘third degree’ is all about, “On August 1, 1930, Christine Colletti was murdered and left lying on the side of an abandoned road with five bullet wounds (e.g., Leo, 1994). Shortly after learning of his wife’s death the next day, Tony Colletti, an 18-year-old Cleveland resident, accompanied plain-clothes detectives to police head-quarters for what he was told would be routine questioning. During the car ride to the station, Detectives Corso and Welch told Colletti that they knew “what really happened,” instructing Colletti to “come clean” and tell them about the murder. Colletti responded, as he would continue to do many times over the next two days, that he did not know what the detectives were talking about, explaining that he had last seen his wife the night before and was as surprised as everyone else to learn of her murder. At the station house during the next 26 hours, Colletti was questioned continuously in relays, lied to, threatened, yelled at, cursed, deprived of food and water, made to stand for hours, forced to stay awake, slapped, slugged with bare fists, stripped naked, and beaten with a rubber hose until he no longer denied killing his wife and finally agreed to sign a confession statement acknowledging guilt.” (The Third Degree and the Origins of Psychological Interrogation in the United States by Richard A. Leo, 2004). The term third degree is a euphemism for something more grotesque and sinister.
I intend to present before you some forgettable moments from the annals of policing in India.
- Rajiv Rattan was confined at Kharar police station (in the state of Punjab) for two weeks. While in custody, he was tortured and sustained grave injuries that culminated in the fracture of the neck of his femur bone, making him permanently disabled (Times of India, December 5, 1999)
- Milan Sengupta was picked up by the police on December 4, 1999, and was detained at Sadar police station in Patna (in the state of Bihar).In custody, the police beat him up mercilessly resulting to a bone fracture on his left leg(Times of India. December I l. 1999).
- During early morning hours on August l, 1996, 37-year-old Elangbam Ahanjaobi Devi was stripped and raped by two police officials in front of her son at a police station in Imphal in the state of Manipur. Ahanjaobi Devi and her husband finally reported the incident to the Manipur Human Rights Commission in February, 1997 (Amnesty International, 1997c).
- On June 19, 2000, 25-year-old Lalan Chakraborti died in police custody at the Bolpur police station in Birbhum district of the state of West Bengal. Consequently, a judicial investigation has been ordered by the Calcutta High Court (Anandabazar Patrika, June 19, 2000). (Reference: Brutality in Police Custody in India by Sudipto Roy, Department of Criminology, Indiana State University, USA, 2000)
I can go on and on with more such examples of atrocities in police custody but find it beyond the scope of my present post to compile a compendium of such incidents.
But instead, I will attempt to jog your memory by trying to attract your attention to some gruesome incidents that gave off a lot of stink. Many of us, I am sure will remember the infamous Bhagalpur blinding incidents of 1980, the more recent Hyderabad custodial killings of four rape accused persons and now the elimination of Vikas Dubey, a notorious gangster of Kanpur, UP.
Instances of the general public going gaga over the ‘accomplishments’ of the cops in Hyderabad earlier and now in Kanpur, I am afraid is driven by the electronic media and it’s based on a sense of collective emotion and has little to do with love and respect for the police services or logic for that matter. Will it be inappropriate on my part, if I were to remind us about how we the common people generally feel about policemen? Will I be wrong if I infer that there is no love lost between the commoners and those that police them? Generally, the common perception of police is that they are a conglomeration of licensed goons that are up for purchase by the highest bidder, the masters could be politicians, gangsters, or perhaps anyone that can make them financially happy. The reason behind this I am sure you will appreciate isn’t exactly imaginary.
Unlike in the army, comradery amongst policemen is generally shallow and steeped in the self-preservation above all else. Therefore, under the present circumstances we will be fooling ourselves if we begin to believe that Vikas Dubey was eliminated because the cops wanted to avenge the deaths of their eight fallen colleagues. No sirs, things do not quite work like that at least not in the Indian police world. But this will be the vociferous alibi of the UP police to justify the killing of Vikas Pandit.
Vikas Dubey knew that he would be killed by the UP cops and that is why he was running from city to city contacting lawyers to find a way out, may be even surrender. It will be naive on our part to believe that this hardened criminal who even audaciously shot dead a minister of state in UP would be visiting a temple as a devotee. He orchestrated his surrender or apprehension in the Mahakal Temple, Ujjain to be seen and filmed by the media which he perhaps thought would put him out of the scope of an ‘encounter’. His repeatedly stating that he was the ‘Kanpurwala Vikas Dubey’ was also an attempt to baulk the MP cops.
But Vikas Dubey had to die, why? He had way too much on his plate – sympathetic politicians of varying affiliations that used him, corrupt and conspiratorial top cops, and perhaps even the bureaucracy. His germination and blossoming into a dangerous and feared gang lord was a joint venture of all these stakeholders, therefore, that he would die any which way if apprehended after the killing of eight policemen was a given, and even a cursory understanding of rocket science isn’t required to comprehend why?
The cost of letting Vikas Dubey live would have been very heavy, given the broad spectrum of his association with the big guns of the state of UP that are the movers and shakers of politics and life in general in that state. The paradox in Indian democracy is that elected ‘representatives’ impose themselves on the electorate in many constituencies across the nation. These ‘glorious’ representatives are ably assisted in these endeavours by the minions of criminal elements like Vikas Dubey. In the case of Vikas, the fact remains that he preponed (a ‘word’ I am using for the first time ever) his best before date by overestimating his clout and killing those eight cops, thereby, becoming a useless load of garbage for his numerous benefactors who were also his beneficiaries, from different quarters who have to have clean pairs of hands, and Dubey was thus sacrificed in the interest of suppression of deplorable and criminal facts. He was just a small ‘unholy’ cog in the massive fiendish nexus of UP politics.
The cops concerned, after being feted by a section of the society and praised by the media for Dubey’s killing have upped the ante. They have organised groups to ask a question – whether punitive action should be taken against these ‘errant’ cops or not? Many are of the opinion that their offence should be condoned given Vikas’ antecedents. My questions are, can condoning an act of murder of any person be a tenable option in a civilised society? Does it matter who the murdered person was? Should law enforcers be above the laws of the land? Allowing and nurturing this inhuman trend isn’t without its implications – won’t it lead to a judge, jury and executioner state? Is that sort of a situation desirable in a democracy?
Yet another question that keeps troubling me more often today than in the past – can a civilised nation adopt torture, custodial murders, and concocted encounters as a policy of the state? I am inclined to come to that conclusion in the present instance that we are headed that sad way. And more so when there provisions in our extant laws where clear cut procedures are in place to tackle such situations. To establish my point, I am quoting from the order of a judgement of a division bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Chief Justice RM Lodha (Retd.) and Justice RF Nariman. I quote:
- “Article 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees “right to live with human dignity”. Any violation of human rights is viewed seriously by this Court as right to life is the most precious right guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution. The guarantee by Article 21 is available to every person and even the State has no authority to violate that right …
- “Court has stated time and again that Article 21 confers sacred and cherished right under the Constitution which cannot be violated, except according to procedure established by law. Article 21 guarantees personal liberty to every single person in the country which includes the right to live with human dignity.”
- “… killings in police encounters require independent investigation. The killings in police encounters affect the credibility of the rule of law and the administration of the criminal justice system. “
After these profound pronouncements by the Supreme Court can we still justify custodial torture, custodial murder, and orchestrated encounters of criminals to suppress uncomfortable facts? Can all these be practiced in statecraft as a policy? Haven’t we witnessed what happened in our neighbourhood? Can we, for a moment think of ZA Bhutto, Zia-ul-Haq, and Pervez Musharraf, and what happened to them?
I leave all of you to think about these impertinent matters when you have the time and inclination.