By Gladson Dungdung
“A study on custodial torture is revealing of what is wrong with Bihar’s governance”
At a time when the government of Bihar is trumpeting its achievements as good governance, the images of a mob led by policemen assaulting a petty thief in Nath Nagar in Bhagalpur, Bihar, shocked the entire country after it was shown on TV. To prove its commitment to good governance, the government took immediate action and punished the two policemen involved in the incident. But the Police Men Association and many senior police officers deny that the incident was a case of police torture and want the two dismissed policemen to be reinstated. They argue that the policemen tried their best to protect the thief but the crowd did not allow them to do so.
But initial outrage created by the live telecast by TV news channels of the Allahabad fake police encounter and the Bhagalpur incident has had little impact on the Bihar police. The cases of police torture are increasing day by day in the state. Soon after the Bhagalpur incident, the police of Bikram Police Station of Patna district severely beat and caused the disappearance of an accused Kaushal Kumar and declared him an absconder to save them from the allegation of torture. In another incident, the officer in charge of Phulwarisharif police station broke the hands and legs of a footballer Santosh Kumar and extracted his teeth. There have also been several incidents of police locking up minor boys after involving them in false cases.
It is notable that these heart-breaking incidents of police torture and high-handedness have taken place near the capital city of Bihar। They serve as crucial examples of misuse of power by the officials who are responsible for the law and order. After Nitish Kumar became the Chief Minister of Bihar there, there has been a rise in the occurrence of such cases, at a scale that has not been seen in the history of Bihar before.
People’s Watch, a human rights organisation has monitored and analysed the cases of police torture in four districts of Bihar: Patna, Bhojpur, Nalanda and Nawada। Most of the cases included in this study involved custodial torture and death, fake encounters, torture of women, lathi charge, police firing and negligence in duty that took place between July 2006 to June 2007. The study reveals that out of the total victims in these cases of police torture 76 percent victims are male and 24 percent female.
Furthermore, the study shows that the highest number of victims, about 47।5 percent of the total number, is from the Dalit community, followed by the backward community with 31 percent and victims from the higher castes forming 21.5 percent. And occupation-wise comparison of the victims reveal that 45 percent of victims are daily wage labourers, 9 percent students, 5.4 percent house wives, 3.6 service holders, with the remaining 38.4 percent victims coming from other walks of life.
The study reveals the cases of police torture from the angle of age of victims; 11।4 percent of victims are children of age between 0 to 14 years, and 28.3 percent between 15 to 30. On the basis of education, the study showed that 30.1 percent of victims are illiterate or uneducated, 59.1 percent literate or educated, and 10.8 percent highly educated.
The most startling fact is that in 47।7 percent cases, the perpetrators, whether police or private persons, have lodged criminal cases against the victims. The 7.2 percent of torture victims have died up till now and 5 percent cases of police torture have been compromised. The study also reveals that highest number of torture cases, 32 percent, took place in police stations, 27.5 percent at home, 22.6 percent in villages or outside villages and 17.3 percent elsewhere. The perpetrators are 57.8 percent constables, 28.5 percent sub inspectors, 9.8 percent inspectors, 2.5 percent DySPs and 1.4 percent higher officials. The data clearly shows that the lower ranks in police are responsible for the majority of torture incidents.
But none of this constitutes an answer to the key question: why the police use torture on ordinary people? The state director of People Watch and former district & session judge Abhaya Shanker Prasad discloses that the main purposes of police torture is to acquire information from suspects, as punishment to the accused, and for intimidation and teaching a lesson for future। Fake encounters, according to him, are often done for promotion in service, to get a reward but also under political pressure.
The society is also not less responsible for the incidents of police torture। It can be said that the society as a whole has become more violent and demands instant justice. The majority of the people, whether they are from the professional class or common men, support police torture and also denies human rights without a second thought. What is the police for, if not for punishment, is the question they commonly ask. In such a society, the police alone cannot be blamed for such incidents. For the situation to change, individuals must start with respecting human rights within the family as well as the community. Only then will the government’s thrust to create an accountable and transparent system of governance can succeed and the human rights of ordinary citizens can be protected.
The fact is that the Nitish Kumar administration has shown some signs of good governance in the state, but the increasing number of incidents of torture, lynching and atrocities against the weakest section of the population has put a question mark over the government’s achievements. Police torture is one of the worst forms of human rights violation, which must not be tolerated. The Constitution of India guarantees the right to life, equality, liberty and dignity of individual to its people and the State has duty to protect these rights. There can be no talk of good governance when the basic human rights of citizens are being violated on a day-to-day basis.
Tehelka Oct 20, 2007