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Who Is Responsible for Custodial Violence?

Sections of Indian society are complicit in tolerating custodial torture and killings.

On 22 July, 32-year-old Bennix died allegedly of wounds and injuries due to police beatings in Sathankulam ­police station in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu. The next day, his 62-year-old father P Jeyaraj succumbed to the injuries that the police had reportedly inflicted on him. As usual, there was an attempt to hush up the deaths, but due to the public outcry on social media, the issue has gained momentum. Every day brings fresh stories of brutality by the police in that state. In this case, the policemen are accused of abusing a judicial magistrate who was inquiring into the violence against the father–son duo. Rights and civil society organisations have, for years, been releasing figures on torture and killings in police and even judicial custody in India. Needless to say, in the aftermath of the Thoothukudi violence, the media released reports of the number of custodial deaths, which are highly disturbing.

Reams have been written on the need for police reforms, even after the Supreme Court laid down seven guidelines for states and the centre on starting police reforms in 2006. Besides this, the iconic D K Basu judgment of the apex court covers almost all crucial areas that directly and indirectly relate to the issue of custodial torture and murder. It also further spawned other landmark court rulings. Despite all this, the police brutality and arbitrary behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic have repeatedly received attention in the mainstream and social media. These cases have shown that the “cover” of the lockdown and the impact of the pandemic have led to a reliance on stern measures and strict enforcement that has allowed the law enforcement agencies to not only set human rights aside but even violate them. Across the country, videos and news reports have detailed these phenomena and a citizen even petitioned the Bombay High Court through a public interest litigation (PIL) on this issue.

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