‘Torture is the norm, not the exception’

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Photo: Shailendra Pandey
Photo: Shailendra Pandey

Do you think torture in Indian jails is a norm rather than an exception?

Yes, this is the case not just in jails but even in police lock ups. Even in normal times of peace, when there is no conflict- communal, “maoist” or “terror”, what happens inside the dark walls of jails is not monitored properly. Even in police stations of cities like Mumbai and Delhi, you will find the most atrocious practices being indulged in on a regular basis. Then when it comes to sensitive cases or cases of voiceless people being picked up, it is unspeakable. I think the real challenge is not just for the judiciary, which is not vigilant enough, but it is time for statutory bodies like the NHRC, the Minorities Commission to visit lock ups on a regular basis and meet the inmates without being monitored by the police authorities.

What forms does torture take?

Some of the detainees and undertrials in the 1993 blast case (in the 2001-02 period) would complain about injections being given to them which would result in swelling and skin disorders. About seven-eight years ago, a young boy who was walking with his companion was randomly picked up by a police station in Mumbai near my house while he was passing by and was brutally sodomised. There is a lack of monitoring of police conduct, the way they behave with citizens on a regular basis and ofcourse, the lack of any training or sensitisation is allowing this to go unchecked.

What do you think about the response of the judiciary and legal provisions to prevent torture?

The first thing that the judiciary should do is not allow time to elapse. We have provisions under the law that a person who is picked up should be produced in court within 24 hours, he is supposed to be medically examined immediately and at regular intervals. This simply does not happen.

At the moment I have filed an RTI because I have come to know that between 2004 and 2007, 54 people died of TB and HIV-AIDS in Arthur Road Jail, Mumbai. This is just scandalous. They were most likely too poor to pay Rs 5000-10000 to be taken to the hospital. One used to keep hearing complaints but the middle class today, which used to be the conscience of the country, is allowing anything in the name of fighting terror. I think what we really need to do is talk about proper monitoring and constant sensitisation on this issue.

Torture needs to be defined under the IPC. An amendment is pending in Parliament and that needs to be enacted. There is a proper definition of torture that is universally accepted, and it should be brought in as an offence.

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