Torture and India – An Ugly Persistence

    1457608028558.jpg By Amit Singh
     Torture and India – An Ugly Persistence

    July 16, Oslo: No other human acts can be so degrading as the act of torture; no other human instincts can be as repulsive and repugnant as idea of torturing someone, whosoever the culprit, state or an individual. Stigma on the modern civilization, the practice of torture is widely prevalent -whether US Government’s use of torture in Guantanamo bay against detained prisoners or Islamic State (ISIS) torturing innocent people in Syria. Torture, despite being inhumane practice, is omnipresent.  In modern states, up to some extent, torture has been legalized.

    In Indian states, torture in police custody is widely prevalent which include beating, use of third degree methods, verbal abuse and humiliation in public.  Alarming rate of torture cases have shaken the Indian civil society. Numerous cases of torture have been documented and highlighted by the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. NGOs continued to report deaths from torture of prisoners while in police custody. 93 cases of deaths and 197 cases of rapes in police custody were reported in 2014. In August the National Human Rights Commission recorded 1,327 deaths in judicial custody between April 2014 and January 2015. Most of the reported cases of police torture are from Kashmir region.

    International Center for Prison studies reported India’s prison population is 333,112. Approximately 70% prisoners are waiting for trial . Most of under trial prisoners are vulnerable to police torture as police quite often use torture as means to extract evidence. According to source, more than 14,000 people died in police custody in India between 2001 and 2010, most of them from being tortured .

    Most of the torture victims are quite often from vulnerable groups of society such as lower cast Dalits, tribes, and minorities. Incidents of violence against Dalits and Adivasis were reported from states including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. According to statistics released in August 2014, over 47,000 crimes against members of Scheduled Castes, and over 11,000 crimes against members of Scheduled Tribes, were reported in 2014 .

    However, practice of torture is not limited to the police, but also non-state actors frequently use it to punish their opponents such as Maoist armed groups and insurgents in Kashmir and North-east India.

    Why Torture must be eliminated?
    Torture dehumanizes a person to the level where one’s faith is shaken in society. In addition, the effect of torture percolates, through the survivor of torture, in deep fabric of society, affecting people and communities. A torture victim may deal the impact of torture in various ways; immediate impact of torture may benumb the sense of victims, deeply affecting physical and psychological layers of the personality.

    In most cases, torture victims suffer from, to certain degree, psychological or physical harm. Exposure to extreme traumatic experiences not only affects the victims but also has profound impact on their family, the community, and the nation. Torture may alter personal feeling, beliefs, and judgment. However the cumulative effects of torture extend to the whole society, impacting generations to come. Various studies have proved that torture has lasting impact of fear, feeling of helplessness, loss of control, and anxiety.

    Apart from the visible wounds, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can emerge after traumatic events. The defining characteristic of a traumatic event is its capacity to provoke a feeling of fear, horror, and helplessness in response to a threat of injury or death. Whether, physical torture or mild form of psychological torture, equally leave the lasting impact on the wellbeing on the torture victim. The torture victim is in essence dehumanized, striped of their dignity and self worth. This dehumanization is manifested into various forms such as sexual humiliation, desecration (especially religion), and feral treatment (such as forcing victim to act as animal).
    Torture is not restricted to an isolated event, as conditions of detention and repeated acts of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment can meet the threshold of torture as outlined in the United Nations Convention against Torture (1984). This  includes forced starvation, prolonged solitary confinement, repeated denial of basic medical health care, and custodial violence such as rape or being stripped naked.

    Healing hands from Indian Civil Society
    In its unique endeavor to provide a heeling hand to torture survivor, a north India based NGO, People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) is involved in a pilot project by employing testimonial therapy to improve psychological wellbeing among survivors of torture in India (Torture 2009 vol.19). This is an organized effort of PVCHR to propagate the importance of testimonial therapy as a psycho legal support to the victims of torture. PVCHR testimonial therapy campaign contributes to eliminate impunity for perpetrators of torture in India. Remarkably, PVCHR is not only doing advocacy against police torture, but is also leading ‘anti-torture initiatives and campaigns on torture free society.

    However, high number of recorded cases of torture seeks more attention and consistent vigilance from local civil society. Furthermore, commitment to protect dignity of ordinary person must be a topmost priority of government. There is no justification, legal or moral, that supports the practice of torture.
    Government stand
    India is signatory to the Convention Against Torture (CAT), and while it is yet to ratify the instrument the signature implies an intention to eventually incorporate the provisions of the Convention into domestic law. The Convention specifically prohibits the use of torture, obliging every State Party to "take effective legal, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction."  India must ratify the Convention Against Torture at its earliest. The implicit prohibition of torture is already found in the Indian Constitution and in case law. In its 1998-99 annual report, the National Human Rights Commission expressed regret that the formalities for ratification were still not complete.

    However, even if a country has not ratified a particular treaty prohibiting torture, because the prohibition of torture is so fundamental and customary, the country is in any event bound on the basis of general international law. The prohibition of torture is found in a number of international human rights and humanitarian treaties and is also regarded as a principle of general international law.  General international law is binding on all states, even if they have not ratified a particular treaty.

    Also, state officials are prohibited from inflicting, instigating or tolerating the torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of any person. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification for torture as Nuremberg trials ruling asserts. States are also required to ensure that all acts of torture are offences under their criminal law, establish criminal jurisdiction over such acts, investigate all such acts and hold those responsible for committing them to account.
    Ray of Hope

    However, there is still some hope to combat practices of torture by various stakeholders. In July 2014, the Supreme Court directed state governments to install closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV) in all prisons within two years to prevent torture and other violations of prisoners’ rights, and to consider installing them in all police stations. Also in July 2014, the Ministry of Home Affairs expressed that the government was considering amending the Penal Code to specifically recognize torture as a crime. In addition, vibrant Indian civil society have exerted a tremendous amount of efforts to convince Indian government to rectify CAT and speedy hearing for under trials.

    However, despite the existing legal safeguards, widespread use of torture is continuing in India. Torture remains endemic, institutionalized and central to the administration of justice.

    Practice of torture must be eliminated to restore the dignity of humanity. No society and government can claim to be civilized and democratic, if practice of torture allowed. 

    The Oslo Times International News Network


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