INDIA: Police Investigations -- Mind over batter
December 25, 2010
Increasing police atrocities on suspects have led a parliamentary committee to recommend capital punishment to police officials for custodial deaths. The committee has suggested that "threats of rape" during interrogation would be considered torture. It is alleged that interrogations of suspects is all about inflicting torture: threat of rape, sodomy, electrocution or forced sniffing of clothes soaked in menstrual blood, apart from physical pain. These measures are used by the police to extract confessions from accused persons, especially since most investigations in terror-related cases are primarily based on confessional statements of suspects.
Instead of resorting to such extreme measures, a better way would be to utilise trained psychologists to question suspects along with the police. Psychologists have expertise that can effectively distinguish between recounting a story out of memory or imagination. They also enable traumatised victims of behaviourial crimes to open up, which helps in nabbing culprits in cases of sexual assault, child sex abuse, homicide, kidnapping and violence. Such cases cause mental trauma, leaving the victim's memory and perception fragmented, and leading to post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Psychologists can not only assist the criminal justice system by empowering victims to book the culprits but also help them overcome the trauma, guilt and self-blame that makes them a non-person psychologically," says Justice V.S. Malimath, former chief justice of the Kerala and Karnataka High Courts, who chaired the commission on the rights of victims. Psychologists' testimonies on crimes and their perpetrators have helped secure convictions in about too cases over the last three years in Delhi.
A 19-year-old rape accused was convicted after the il-year-old mentally challenged victim deposed in court with the help of a psychologist. She was able to recall that the accused had a burn mark on his feet, which led to his arrest. When the body of a six-year-old girl was found floating in a water tank in Delhi's Mehrauli area in 2008, Rajat Mitra, who heads an ngo called Sanchetan, was called in to assess the crime. He concluded that the perpetrator was young, was known to the girl, was a paedophile and a local. Om Prakash, a 30-year-old, was then arrested. After three days of rigourous psychological questioning, he confessed to having sex with children and that he had killed the girl. Mitra also helped solve the murder of a woman whose is-year-old daughter went mute after witnessing the killing. Such assessments could have helped nab the culprits in the May 2008 twin murder case of Aarushi and domestic help Hemraj in Noida.
In the July 28,2003 Rajouri Garden double murder case, the Delhi High Court upheld convict Rajesh Kumar's death sentence based on a psychologist's report that negated Kumar's insanity plea. Kumar had killed his brother-in-law's two minor sons.
Unlike the narco-analysis test which is inadmissible in court, psychological inputs have helped secure convictions where they provided details/analysis to the court about motives, deception, memory, nature of recall and the victims' trauma. They have helped investigations by profiling the suspect by analysing the scene of the crime. Justice Malimath says: "Third degree treatment by the police makes a suspect suffer the same way as a rape victim; he becomes a non-person psychologically. He says what police want to hear".
In the battle against criminals, psychologists may be ones with the answers.