The Author of this blog is Mr. Anirudh Tyagi, Student, Dr. RML National Law University, Lucknow

An effective police department is the guarantor of a peaceful, lawful and inclusive civil society. Police is not only bestowed with the responsibility of maintenance of law and order, detecting crimes and bringing criminals to justice but with a much bigger task of solidifying the very roots of humanity. Police officers take oath to uphold the values of the constitution in India. However this is all a paradox that policing has instead become a threat to civilians, just next to criminals. Police was used in every unrighteous political act in global history and continuing.[1] This discussion, however, is not to mourn the dead horses but to lament what happened to a father son duo in Tamil Nadu few months ago where they were charged for violating the imposed “lockdown” and were beaten in the police station so excruciatingly that they succumbed to their injuries.[2]

A Supreme Court bench, under U.U Lalit J, has allowed hearing a plea seeking a curb on custodial violence. In the light of these events, the author analyzes how police brutality has a taciturn camouflage under the pretext of being saviors of our lives. They are not, most certainly when the number of deaths in police custody is looked at. Here both the psychological picture of sadomasochism and legal implications are discussed with suggestions to beef up and strengthen the police while controlling and condemning the iniquitous policing.

Police, Crime and Torture

The Cambridge dictionary defines police as “the official organization that is responsible for protecting people and property, making people obey the law, finding out about solving the crime and catching people who have committed the crime.”

If we are to take excerpts from a report in 1976 submitted before U.S. House of Representatives delineating the torturous treatment of prisoners in India, we would find notations such as stamping on bare body with boots, beating with rifle butt, inserting live body wires into the body cervices etc. The whole report is too painful to be read and picturesque a society much in similar to that of hunter-gatherers. Although the report is five decade older and there are good chances for the conditions to improve, the fact is that they have not. According to National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB), there were 11,820 custodial deaths in India from 2006 to 2012 but only 3,520 have ever got reported and less than 50 policemen have ever got convicted.[3] Another finding by National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) depicts more than 4,000 custodial deaths alone in 2015-16.[4] A few testimonies of police victims (the number is very less given the tortured people ever managed to reach court) have shown how same kind of cruelty still continues in Indian police stations. In a case in Bihar, a boy was detained by the police for fourteen years even after being released by the court.

In majority of custodial death cases, police had intentionally neglected the normal arrest procedure and did not follow basic CrPC provisions.[5] The health checkups of arrestees have been denied on unscrupulous and unrealistic grounds. When such a person dies, senior police officers came up from their dozes with a pile of excusable reports claiming the deaths to be caused by illness, suicide or any other natural causes. According to government data, in 67 of 92 custodial deaths, either the police failed to produce the suspect before the magistrate in 24 hours or the suspect never lived for 24 hours.[6]

A Retrospection on Policing in India

If we do a little retrospection, we would find India with a long unending history of police cruelty. If we link the present context, it would go as far as the establishment of British rule in India. British modernized the Indian police in every way possible but continued with the age long practice of custodial cruelty, something they found beneficial to strengthen their upper hand. With the development of modern political thought, police became a subject of heavy discussions in the politico-social spheres and even Englishmen felt disgusted at the way they used to treat the common people. The rampant beefing up of rapes, deaths and brutalities persuaded the government to enact the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in 1860 and the Indian Police Act, the very next year. The IPC made “wrongful restraint” a crime and included “illegal custody” as one of its forms. Lord Curzon in 1902 constituted the Police Commission in 1902 which severely criticized the Indian police for is inefficiency, and being corrupt and oppressive.

India in 1950 became a country with a constitution guaranteeing equality, promoting fraternity and promising welfare of citizens. This came up as a hope for positive changes in policing but the hope didn’t last long. The leopard of police couldn’t change its spots. By the late seventies, some incidents appalled the nation including the Bhagalpur case where 33 men were blinded by the policemen.

 The same happened in Maya Tyagi case where lady named Maya was molested by a policeman who later on shot down her husband Ishwar and other relatives. She was then raped by ten policemen and paraded naked in the market area.[7]

From Maya Tyagi to the latest father son custodial death in Tamil Nadu, this country has had enough of police tortures, iniquities and ignominies.

The Third Degree Tortures: Their Legality and Justifiability

Third degree investigations are nothing but euphemisms for barbaric extra-legal method which are notoriously, and yet very commonly, applied on suspects to make them speak the truth out of the pain inflicted upon them. This is similar to an act of a bloodthirsty maniac having a psychopathic compulsion to maim people without any reason. This is where a policeman degrades to the level of a criminal.

Law expects police to investigate with a keen and sleuthing acumen but in no case envisages them becoming analogous to criminals. The Article 22 of the Indian constitution forbids the self-incrimination and unambiguously declares that no accused “shall be compelled to be a witness against himself”[8]. Section 29 of the Indian Police Act clearly prohibits any unwarrantable personal violence on any person in custody.[9]

International Conventions and Declarations

The Declaration on Protection of all Persons from being subjected to Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1975 under Article 2 declares torture to be a violation of human rights and a gross transgression of human dignity.[10] Article 6 in the declaration mandates the state to keep a systematic review of methods used by police for interrogation and to do special arrangements for custodial cases.[11]

The United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), which came into force in, 1987 prohibits any kind of exception to allow torture; the prohibition against torture is absolute and cannot be tolerated. India is a signatory to UNCAT.[12]

Judicial Pronouncements in India

When Police with very shoddy backing from politician and discreditable sections of bureaucracy unethically transcended every limit of humanity, the burden to safeguard the victims of police brutality and the very fundamental essence of constitutionalism lied with the courts of the country. As its verdicts address and bind the whole nation, the Supreme Court has emerged as a redeemer with few of its spectacular decisions.

In Delhi judicial Service Organization v. State of Gujarat,[13] the SC while condemning the excessive use of force proclaimed that this is unfortunate and deplorable to see the “police excesses and aberrations to deal with suspects” even decades after independence.

This was followed by Joiginder Kumar v. State of U.P[14], where the apex court held that a police officer should justify the purpose of arrest and if he fails do to so no arrest could be made. The court noted the reputational loss an arrest causes and directed the police to refrain from making any arrest except in heinous offences. A friend or a close relative of the arrested person should be apprised of whereabouts of the arrested and the name of such relative must be noted in a diary maintained by police. The magistrate has to check if these requirements are being complied with.

These two decisions had very small or no effect at the ground level. The realities didn’t change with the fancy articulations of the court and that’s why the time was ripe for SC to handle the matter more seriously. Here comes a case which became famous for ages to come.

D.K Basu v. State of West Bengal[15] was the first case where the Supreme Court “warned” the police department of being liable to contempt of court as well as departmental proceedings, if the mentioned guidelines are not complied with. The court laid down certain guidelines which are to be followed while arresting the suspect and also during the custodial interrogation. Court wrote that the custodial deaths strike a blow to the rule of law and directed the state governments to follow the guidelines as their “primary responsibility”.

The subsequent problem was the investigation of custodial deaths. The court was apprised of the fact of tampering with the evidence by the police to save their own personnel. Therefore in Secretary Hailakandi Bar Association v. State of Assam[16], the apex court instantly directed the CBI to probe into a matter of custodial death noting the “futility to assume an independent investigation by the police”. The stand of SC towards an independent inquiry was strengthened in Mrs. Parmit Kaur case.[17]

Last but not the least the Maneka Gandhi case[18] and the advent of the due process of law which further strengthened the hands of the judiciary, has shown its effect in decisions of court granting heavy compensations to heirs of victims of custodial deaths. This was seen very graciously in People’s Union for Democratic Rights v. Police Commissioner, Delhi Police Headquarters,[19] wherein a damage of Rs. 50,000 was awarded to the family of a police custodial victim. This was exuberantly followed by a compensation of Rs. one lakh in Shakila Abdul Gafar Khan.[20]


The courts have always used the best of acumen and pragmatism to make the police pay for their wrongdoings and also took lead in initiating ground police reforms. No matter how big it is, money cannot compensate for a person’s life, especially when it is also get charged out of taxpayers’ pockets. The country needs responsible policing- a police which citizen can trust and put faith in and for that matter we are yet to cover a long journey. Neither the day of police repudiation nor that of police glorification, but the day of police reformation would be the doomsday for hundreds of lives that goes lost in custodies.

[1] Jitendra Mishra. Custodial Atrocities, Human Rights and The Judiciary, Journal of the Indian Law Institute, 508, (2005).

[2] G.C Shekhar, Custodial Death of Father-Son duo in Tamil Nadu, Outlook, Jun 27, 2020,

[3] Dhananjaya Mahapatra, 11,820 Custodial deaths in Five Years, The Times of India, Nov 24, 2013,

[4] India’s Failure to End Deaths in Police Custody, Human Rights Watch, Dec 19, 2016,

[5] Raja Bagga, Why Custodial Deaths go unpunished, Hindustan Times, Jul 05, 2020,

[6] Mishra, Supra note 1, at 513.

[7] Sahar Bhog, Who Decides the Definition of Rape, Feminism I India, May 22, 2019,

[8] Article 22, The Constitution of India, 1950.

[9] Section 29, Indian Police Act, 1861.

[10] United Nations, Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1975,,Universal%20Declaration%20of%20Human%20Rights.

[11] Id at Article 6

[12] United Nations, Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1984,

[13] (1991) 4 SCC 406

[14] AIR 1994 SC 1349

[15] (1997) 1 SCC 416

[16] (1995) 3 SCC 736

[17] JT 1995 (8) SC 418

[18]  AIR 1978 SC 597

[19] (1989) 4 SCC 730

[20] (2003) 7 SCC 749