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Police Brutality in The Context of Prisoner's Rights

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Police are one amongst the foremost vital organisations of the society. The policemen, therefore, happen to be the one of the most explicitly visible representatives of the government. In an hour of need, danger, crisis and difficulty, when a citizen does not know what to do and whom to approach, the police station and a policeman happen to be the most appropriate and gapproachable unit and person for him. Phani Mohan K, Functions, Roles and Duties of Police in General. An effective police system is the substratum on which the whole edifice of constitutional will, maintenance of law and order, detection of crime, and enforcement process of social legislation. 

The police are expected to be the most accessible, interactive and dynamic organisation of any society. Their roles, functions and duties in the society are natural to be varied on the one hand; and complicated on the other. Broadly speaking the main role of the police is maintenance of law and order. However, the ramifications of those 2 duties are varied, that end in creating an oversized inventory of duties, functions, powers, roles and responsibilities of the police organisation. Vesting of assorted powers within the hands of police, whereas necessary to perform their duties on the opposite hand leaves door to misuse and hence infringement of human rights. These infringements take many forms.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, between 2010 and 2015, 591 people died in police custody. Police blame most of the deaths on suicide, illness, or natural causes. For instance, of the 97 custody deaths reported by Indian authorities in 2015, police records list only 6 as due to physical assault by police; 34 are listed as suicides, 11 as deaths due to illness, 9 as natural deaths, and 12 as deaths during hospitalization or treatment. However, in many such cases, family members allege that the deaths were the result of torture.

Prisoners and detainees are subjected to torture or other ill treatment. They are held in conditions that are so poor that they amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Prisoners as ‘persons’ are entitled to all those rights available to ‘persons’. Inhuman treatment, custodial violence, handcuffing of prisoners, third degree methods, which are more often than not used and practiced by police officials during the course of their official duties, are against the norms of the civilized nations and are barbarous activities violative of the principles of rule of law and human dignity. The questions that arise now are those of necessity and accountability of action of the police force in the context of violation of the constitutional and legal norms and to what extent can prisoner’s human rights be mutated to serve “the greater good” of society. Can attempt at a better and safer society allow perversion of rights of the wrong doers?

Chapter V of the Code of Criminal Procedure addresses arrests by the police. It authorises a police officer to use ‘all means necessary’ to effect an arrest when either the person forcibly resists arrest or attempts to evade arrest. Section 46 of the Code of Criminal Procedure If the person is accused of an offence punishable with death or life imprisonment, the police officer may use lethal force. This does not comply with international law, which restricts the use of firearms to situations of imminent threat of death or serious injury or a proximate and grave threat to life.

Chapter X of the Code concerns the “maintenance of public order and tranquillity” allowing the dispersal of an assembly by force. Section 129 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. However, this “force” is never defined, providing a legal loophole for misuse and abuse of power.

The police have, therefore, become highly vulnerable to abuse of power, corruption and criminality and the very things it is expected to fight. Consequently, while the public at large becomes distrustful of the organisation that is expected to protect it, it is the prisoners whose rights are mutated and even extinguished, creating a mockery of the very concept of a welfare state.

Analysis of Prisoner’s Rights in light of Police Brutality

There always a slight hesitation when we talk about human rights of prisoners. The question arising now is whether someone who infringed on his legal duty not to injure members of the society in such a capacity that punitive measures had to be taken to remove him from civil society, to punish him deserves human rights?

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Article 1 of Universal Declaration of human Rights Human Rights are commonly understood as those Rights which are inherent to the human being. Every human being is entitled to enjoy his or her human Rights without distinction of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, National or social origin, property, birth or other status. Article 2 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Prison sentence deprives prisoner’s right to liberty. But at the same time, it should not deprive a prisoner of other human rights. Therefore, it becomes very important to keep the police in check who are dealing with prisoners first hand. However, this has not been achieved, making way for police to abase prisoners in the most hostile manner, extinguishing any hope for protection of their rights.

Torture has been most frequently used by police to quell any form of dissent. The basic immediate use of torture is to seek information. Yet the underlying strain is to create an atmosphere of terror – of seeking to set an example by breaking the backbone of dissidents through the sheer threat of pain. Egregious violations of human rights in light of the tortuous instincts of police personnel, have become the matter of daily routine. It is difficult to think of any police station in India where the police have not used brutal and barbaric methods while treating the persons in their custody. The essential character of torture is that it is a crime of obedience. A crime that takes place, not in opposition to authorities, but under explicit instructions, or in a political environment in which such acts are implicitly sponsored, expected, or at least tolerated by the authorities. Furthermore, modern state torture and organised violence is characterised by being goal oriented. It serves a wider purpose than violence, punishment or confession as such. Malene Mikkelsen, Causes of Torture and Other Forms of Organised Violence: Implications for RCT Preventive Efforts and Rese. There are numerous examples which reiterate just how pervasive this culture of torture has become. Some are as follows :-

A dangerous anachronism, the police have largely failed to evolve from the ruler-supportive, repressive forces they were designed to be under Britain’s colonial rule. While sixty years later much of India is in the process of rapid modernization, the police continue to use their old methods. Instead of policing through public consent and participation, the police use abuse and threats as a primary crime investigation and law enforcement tactic. A situation takes birth where police officers are functioning with a greater willingness to obey unwritten and informal orders to subvert legitimate democratic processes in lieu of personal gain and political patronage. We have before us an organisation which remains alienated from the main public allowing it to develop a psychology where overshooting their powers is acceptable because it attempts to serve the ‘greater good’ of the society A dynamic has been created where though, the police is the appropriate forum to seek immediate redressal of any legal injury, the people more often than not always wish to avoid them.

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