INDIA: A country where torture is the norm

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) on the occasion of International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

India is the only country in Asia that has during the past seven decades remained a parliamentary democracy, having elected its government through a transparent and accountable democratic process. Its judiciary is independent, and its administrative machinery and armed forces accountable to the parliament, and hence in principle, to the people.

Despite this, the country is not without its problems. The Indian judiciary though has not faced any onslaught of illegal interventions by the government, has long lost its trust among the people. The administration is beset with corruption, inefficiency, and nepotism of all forms, that the institution is viewed by the ordinary citizen as a problem than being a solution. The parliamentary processes have lost the trust of the people, that the ordinary person on the street considers her/his role in the democratic process limited to casting of votes. In short, in India today, no one believes that the three founding principles of the republic – equality before the law, and dignity and freedom to all, are virtues and legal principles that the state would follow at all times.

A few questions every Indian therefore must ask is why is one in every four children in the country below the age of five malnourished? Why is 60% of the population living in abject poverty? Why are corrupt state officers and politicians not punished? Why are the women and children not safe in public places? What allows caste based discrimination to continue?

The answer to all these questions can be found, if one investigates what has the country done in the past seven decades to establish the principles of fair trial in the country?

In India, fair trial is negated at all levels and at all times. Policing in India is viewed and experienced as an organised criminal syndicate in uniform, paid from the state treasury. An institution that must provide safety to the person and property of all citizens is considered to be a threat by all. The institution is infamous for corruption, inaptitude, lack of professionalism, and accountability. It is used as a tool by successive governments to impart fear upon the population. It has failed to earn people’s respect and trust.

Officers who run the institution, from the constable to the State Police Chief, are known to be suffering from demoralisation. Rare are officers who are known for their meticulous adherence to discipline and the law. Professional and upright officers are more likely to be deputed to undertake non-policing responsibilities and are often seen in conflict with the government or political leaders. Crime investigation for all practical purposes is limited to confession statements. The absence of professionalism and modern skill in crime investigation is visible in invariably every instance. Police officers openly complain that if the suspect refuses to confess the crime, the investigation could end in a deadlock. Exceptions do exist, but are rare.

No government in India has publically declared prevention of torture as a norm. No government has so far published its policing policy. In fact, having no policy on policing is India’s policy. India has made the least investment in modernising the police. Forensic facilities that exist are far too less than adequate. Professionalism is a rare character within the institution.

The argument that a country like India cannot be policed without use of force is widely accepted as a policy in India. Corrupt politicians are the advocates of this propaganda. They argue that criminalising torture is a step that will destroy the police.

The knowledge, that the practice of torture will demoralise the police and is universally recognised as a crime against humanity, is almost non-existent in India. A large section of the Indian civil society also see no importance for modernising the police, and accuse those who work for it as ignoring other important concerns. In short, the Indian intelligentsia is unaware about the importance of prevention of torture, and the role torture plays in ensuring constitutional guarantees. India is yet to see a social movement against torture, and for police modernisation.

No country has been able to ensure equality, dignity, and freedom to its people without first establishing professional policing. No nation where civil liberties are respected have torture as a norm. India is no exception.