x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Human rights report says 14,000 Indian prison deaths in a decade

Report highlights "endemic, institutionalised" use of torture in country desperately in need of police reform and resources to fight crime.

Almost 13,000 of the deaths occurred in prisons such as Kotbhalwal central jail in Jammu. Most died within of 48 hours of being arrested.
Almost 13,000 of the deaths occurred in prisons such as Kotbhalwal central jail in Jammu. Most died within of 48 hours of being arrested.

NEW DELHI // Jiten Yumnan, a 35-year-old human-rights activist in the state of Manipur, is one of thousands to have experienced torture at the hands of the Indian police.

He was arrested in September 2009 after leading protests against police killings.

"On the first day, they took me into a room at the headquarters of the police commandos in Imphal," he said in an interview. "They used electric shocks on me for three or four hours - all over my torso and around my groin.

"The pain was extreme. I was worried for my own survival. I thought about my baby girl growing up without a father."

Mr Yumnan was freed after three months in jail when the terrorism charges against him were dropped as part of an agreement that he refrain from further protests.

A report released this week by the Asian Centre for Human Rights suggests Mr Yumnan is one of the lucky ones. The New Delhi-based group said more than 14,000 people died in police custody in India over the past decade - an average of four deaths every day - many of them due to torture.

The study collates evidence of 1,504 deaths in police custody and 12,727 in prison over a 10-year period ending in March 2011. It said this reflects only "a fraction of the problem" because the figures rely on official reports by government authorities to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and do not include deaths in army custody.

The report said that "99.99 per cent of deaths in police custody can be ascribed to torture and occur within 48 hours of the victims being taken into custody".

India's conflict zones do not figure high in the results, which the report blames on chronic under-reporting by state authorities. Jammu and Kashmir recorded only six in-custody deaths over the decade. Chhattisgarh, which is at the centre of the conflict with Maoist rebels, recorded 24 deaths. Manipur had two.

The highest number of deaths in police custody - 250 - were reported in the state of Maharashtra, followed by Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat - none of which have continuing insurgencies.

A typical case listed in the report is that of man identified as "Mr Sampath", a 25-year-old murder suspect arrested by Kerala police in March 2010 who died shortly after his arrest. The post-mortem examination revealed head injuries and 63 injuries to his body.

"Torture remains endemic, institutionalised and central to the administration of justice and counter-terrorism measures," the Asian Centre for Human Rights said. "India has demonstrated no political will to end torture."

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said India desperately needs to embrace police reform, particularly better training that teaches officers not to rely on torture. "If senior members of the police and politicians take a strong stand, then we see the message trickle down. But, often, they approach questions of torture with a shrug and a wink, and it gets ignored," she said.

The problem ultimately stems from a crisis of resources, she said, particularly in rural police stations where officers lack even rudimentary tools for proper investigations.

"We have interviewed policemen who cannot even afford stationary to record incident reports or vehicles to reach the scene of a crime," she added.

The human rights report congratulates the NHRC for helping to increase the levels and frequency of compensation paid to deaths-in-custody victims' families in recent years. The government paid out more than US$1 million (Dh3.67m) to families of deceased inmates in 386 cases between April 2006 and February 2010, according to a statement in parliament last year.

But it also stated that the report points out "the failure of the NHRC to establish accountability and ensure punishment of perpetrators".

In August, the ministry of home affairs said the NHRC had not recommended disciplinary action against a single official in three years, despite compiling evidence of 45 custodial deaths and 17 torture cases.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae