Combating impunity in ‘the place of impossible’

By Gladson Dungdung 14 November, 2007

Bihar is the most defamed state in India for killings, counter killings and the impunity practiced by the police. Nathnager, Bhagalpur incident of Police torture hit the Media headlines once again when the human rights committee of the Bihar Legislative council gave a clean chit to the cops involved in dragging of a petty thief behind their motorcycle; the entire country was shocked to witness it. Instead of uncovering the facts based on the human rights standards, the committee defined it for shielding the police.

The most startling fact is that the committee released its report within two months and the cops were made innocent despite of evidence. That’s why G.P. Dohre, the Ex-Director General of Police, Bihar calls the ‘Bihar as a ‘place of impossible’. Obviously it’s a great challenge to combat impunity in Bihar, where the society as a large supports police torture and also denies human rights without a second thought.

A Project supported by the European Union and the Friedrich Nuaman Stiftung entitled as the ‘National Project of Preventing Torture in India’ is being implemented in Bihar with the core aim to prevent police torture by combating impunity routinely practiced by the police in the state. Since the launching of the project in the state in July 2006, 260 cases of police torture involved custodial torture and death, fake encounters, torture of women; lathi charge, police firing and police acquiescence were monitored and under taken for the fact finding.

Furthermore, 1200 people from the different sections of the society including professionals and the common men were trained in the various awareness programmes for combating torture. The legal interventions were done in 45 cases and 40 petitions were filed under the Right to Information Act 2005 for acquiring information regarding police torture cases and the implementation of various policies. The special focus was made in Nawada Taluk to make it as a model against the police torture and many marches were organized against the police torture in the state.

The impacts of these efforts can be easily noticed in 85 police stations of four districts – Patna, Bhojpur, Nawada and Nalanda, where abuse, denial of FIR and torture were the everyday’s phenomenon. The ratio of filing complaint has increased in these Police Stations. The Police also give a copy of FIR and post-mortem (in case of death) reports to the victims, which they were not ready to give without the permission of the Senior Officers earlier. The behaviour of the Police has also changed. Now they talk respectfully with the human rights activists in the police stations. As per the police record, the D.K. Basu Guidelines have been displayed on signboards in 21 police stations of Bhojpur district and 1 each in Nalanda and Nawada districts. Their respect for human rights has grown up and they are also cooperating in prevention of torture; previously they used to oppose by assuming the human rights group as their enemy.

“It was a tough job to change the mindset of the Police at the beginning of the project as the ball was in their court therefore they were repeatedly questioning to the legitimacy of the People’s Watch. The police headquarter had even declared the organization as an outfit group of the Naxalites. On the other hand, the people assumed it as one more profit making NGO on the queue, but the fog started disappearing after one year of hard work done for the project”, says A S Prasad state director and former district & session.

The Nawadaben fake encounter created huge impact in the state as the first time a human rights group raised the question against the killings of people in fake encounters in Bhojpur district, which media also reported consistently. As a result, the Police stopped killings of people in encounters in the district, which was obvious in 4 genuine encounters took place in the district after Nawadaben incident but no one was shot dead by the police. The Police caught the criminals alive and put them behind the bars.

On the other hand the People also started questioning the impunity and inhuman treatment of the Police. 100 private complaints were filed in the court by the common men against the police in 2007 in Bhojpur district alone, where the police torture was rampant due to the gang war but the people were afraid of going against the police. The most incredible change was noticed in Umesh Kumar the IPS office and SP, Bhojpur who had badly reacted and questioned the legitimacy of human rights activists, monitoring the cases of Police torture, now he wants to go for the human rights studies for his survival. “If I have to survive as a Police Officer, I must have to study about the Human Rights”, he said.

Furthermore the force eviction was stopped in Nawada Model Taluk where 2000 people were estimated to become the victims of force eviction due to a fishery development project. A local resident 65 years old Ramdulari Devi had become unconscious after hearing the siren of eviction. The district authority withdrew the project after a three days strong people’s movement initiated by the people’s watch. The administration also re-settled 23 poor families who have been displaced in the process and 4 decimals of land were given to each family for the construction of houses.

The reporting graph of media increased on the issue of Police torture in the districts. At the other end the NGOs of the districts has started conducting awareness programme on human rights issue and the human rights organizations became more proactive in the state. The impact is seen in the judiciary too. According to Ram Vinod Singh the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Biharsharif that the first time some one dared to file a case of custodial death in Biharsharif Court. The District Judge of Nalanda Radha krishna convinced by the team and assigned all the Judicial Magistrates of Nalanda district to ask police to produce the arrest memo while producing the accused in the court as per the D.K. Basu guidelines.

The present administration of Bihar has shown the sign of change in the state, which would pave the way in prevention of torture in the state. Though it seems to be a tough job to change the mindset of the police and the people but the impunity practiced by the police can be change only through public awareness, monitoring and intervention on torture cases. The impunity practiced by the police should not be tolerated at any cost.

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