On June 9, it was reported that 26-year-old law student, M Stalin, had been tortured by the police in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh. On his way to drop his family members at the bus station, he was picked up by the police on suspicion of being part of a red sander smuggling network and detained for 18 hours. According to news reports, he pleaded with the cops to enquire with the college authorities and check up on his identity but to no avail.
During his 18-hour detention at the Tirupati East police station, Stalin was reportedly beaten by canes and boots and his mobile phone confiscated. He was then thrown into jail with other accused persons. His phone was returned to him around 10 p.m. the next day, at which time he made a call to his fellow comrades in the CPM’s youth wing, DYFI. The news reports quoted Stalin,
“The police realised their mistake and were also ready to pay for the injury they caused. But I refused the money. They should have cross-checked my claims. Instead, they ignored everything I said and did not even give me a chance to speak,”
This incident highlights the pervasiveness of the use of torture within India’s justice system, which the Asian Human Rights Commission(AHRC) has been raising for many years. Due process is an inalienable component of the rule of law, which in this case, as in many others, the police failed to follow.
In India, due process has been codified within the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. Section 50 of the Code mandates that the person arrested must be informed of the grounds of arrest and of his right to bail. Furthermore, Section 50A (1) mandates that the arresting officers have an obligation to inform someone else nominated by the person about the arrest, and the place where the person is being detained. The police officer must inform the arrested person of his rights as soon as he is brought to the police station.
Under Section 50A (3), the police are bound by law to document the name and details of the person who has been informed about the arrest. When an article is seized from an arrested person, Section 51 requires that a receipt showing the articles that have been taken must be given to the arrestee.
These rules are grounded in Articles 20, 21 and 22 of the Indian Constitution, which detail the fundamental procedural safeguards comprising due process.
None of these were followed in Stalin’s case. He was arbitrarily detained, his mobile phone was confiscated and he was prevented from informing a family member or friend about his arrest. He did not have a lawyer present during his ‘interrogation’, which was in fact torture. Even if Stalin was a confirmed member of a red sander smuggling network, it is not a justification for torture.
In the landmark case of D.K. Basu vs. State of West Bengal (AIR 1997 SC 610), Justice D. Anand wrote:
“Efforts must be made to change the attitude and approach of the police personnel handling investigations so that they do not sacrifice basic human values during interrogation and do not resort to questionable form of interrogation. With a view to bring in transparency, the presence of the counsel of the arrestee at some point of time during the interrogation may deter the police from using third degree methods during interrogation.”
The police have committed patent illegalities in the present case of the law student Stalin. He was arbitrarily detained; his mobile phone was confiscated and he was prevented from informing a family member or friend about his arrest. He did not have a lawyer present during his ‘interrogation’ which was in fact, torture. Even if Stalin was a confirmed member of a red sander smuggling network, it is not a justification or ground to use torture as a tool of investigation or indeed, punishment for being a criminal. The AHRC calls for a speedy investigation into this crime and swift conviction of the guilty.
This case reaffirms that it is crucial for India to draft a robust anti-torture legislation, which is a current subject of debate regarding extradition of suspects from abroad. The Asian Human Rights Commission has written extensively about India’s lack of torture law as well as the major loopholes in an earlier draft law. While we are eagerly awaiting the new and amended draft for discussion, it is hoped that the Indian state recognizes the huge vacuum it will leave if the new law is drafted without keeping in mind India’s human rights obligations under international law.