PUCL Bulletin, November 1995

Police and the Rule of Law
By R. M. Pal

Policemen in India are known for inflicting cruelty and torture. We have been watching over the years an increasing number of violations of rights and growing disregard for the rule of law with dangerous consequences for the country.

The behaviour of a Gurgaon (in the state of Haryana) jail superintendent accused of branding (tattooing) his name on the back of an undertrial (reminiscent of Punjab policemen branding the face of three women suspected to be pickpockets); policemen beating a primary school teacher, Mr. Ehtramuddin, to death in the presence of large number of onlookers in Moradabad in the state of U.P. for the undertrial, and offering him fruit-the policemen had removed their name plates before beating Mr. Ehtramuddin to death; Mr. Jinichi Mikami, a Japanese tourist, languishing in Delhi's Tihar Jail for three years for the "crime" of not allowing the hotel staff to grab his money at the cost of being framed by the police in collusion with the hotel staff- all these incidents took place last month (October). (In the case of Japanese tourist, a Delhi judge, while acquitting him honourably, expressed his anguish, "this court, and indeed no court can restore the three years which he has spent in jail". The judge ordered that "appropriate action be taken against those police officials who were instrumental in curtailing his freedom").

That a section of senior police officers treat the rule of law with contempt was reinforced when this writer was recently invited to give lectures on "rule of Law and the Police", and "Human Rights in Relation to Weaker Sections", to a group of IPS officers of the rank of Inspector General of Police and Deputy Inspector General of Police from different states of our country.

When instances similar to the ones mentioned above were brought to their notice, several police officers present at the lecture took a dismissive attitude about the Supreme Court, the National Human Rights Commission, activists and groups, saying that the critics had no understanding of the problems that the country was facing. They contended that the police had to act in "certain" ways in "national interest"; and it was wrong to do away with TADA. These were the usual refrain. It is the same mindset that is exhibited by the middle class - utter contempt for the rule of law. (Among the specific cases cited by this writer was: (1) the Punjab police killing people in West Bengal on the assumption that they were terrorists and the Supreme Court's indictment of the Punjab police-West Bengal police and authorities did not know anything (2) the Supreme Court's judgment in a habeas corpus case early this year declaring that it will ensure "that the law is maintained and its majesty upheld"; (3) the Supreme Court's indictment of the police in different States for their action against the law; and (4) the National Human Rights Commission's annual report detailing violations of rights by the police resulting in torture, custodial death, custodial rape, etc.

It must be added however, that there were a number of IGs and DIGs, not a large number though, who acknowledged the traditionally brutal attitude of the police, and admitted that the police cruelty for law will result in the destruction of our democratic system. They also showed awareness that inflicting torture is not the way to curb crime, the fight insurgency and terrorism. It is in this context that interaction between activists of voluntary agencies and the police becomes necessary, as was suggested in a previous issue in these columns (PUCL Bulletin, Aug 95, "Remedial Measures").

It is an uphill task to inculcate in the police a culture conductive to respect for human rights but should be pursued all the same. More than abstract teaching and text book reading of the subject of human rights education (as is being introduced by the NHRC), discussion of specific instances like the above will be useful to drive home the point that the suffering and loss of freedom of the victims can never be redeemed even if the courts ultimately right the wrongs. Accountability should be stressed because in the name of living up to their duties the police indulge in excesses. If they are to be lauded for bringing criminals to book and overcoming terrorist threat they should also be responsible and accountable for cruelty and sadism that they deploy in the process.

It may be added, by way of a footnote, that hardly any officer present at the lecture have read any of the reports of the National Human Rights Commission. One may hazard the guess therefore, that not many police officers in the country have any first hand knowledge of NHRC's periodical and annual reports.

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