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Custodial torture cases in India

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    23rd May, 2022


  • About custodial torture
  • Forms of custodial torture in India
  • Constitutional provisions
  • Steps to curb the custodial violence
  • Role of human rights commission
  • Law protecting custodial torture victims in India


Haryana human rights panel recommends Rs 25,000 compensation in custodial torture case to the victim.

  • The police are empowered by the state to enforce laws and maintain public order. They do not have the right to take the law in their hands.


  • According to a report by the National crime bureau, between 2001 and 2018, there have been 1727 reported custodial deaths and out of these custodial deaths, only mere 26 police personals have been convicted.
  • The National Human Rights Commission has recorded 2000 human rights violations against police out of which only 34 have reached the level of conviction.
  • India has a mere 5% conviction rate in cases of custodial torture and death. Police brutality and atrocities are mainly towards underprivileged and poor people.


What is custodial torture?

  • Custodial torturea form of torture that generally happens when a person alleged of any crime is under the custody of law enforcement officials.
  • Law commission in 2017 has proposed anti-torture law still the government has not taken any action in this regard.
  • The Supreme Court has held that Custodial torture is a naked violation of human dignity and degradation which destroys, to a very large extent human personality.

Custodial torture

  • Custodial torture is a punishable offense under the existing laws but due to various reasons, the accused do not get convicted.
  • India is a signatory of United Nations convention against torture and other cruel activities since 1997 but it has not ratified it as India does not have any comprehensive law on torture.

Different forms of custodial torture

  • There are different methods to bring or commit custodial violence which are applied to bring the desired results by the government agencies.
  • Physiological Violence:
    • To break the confidence and morale of the victim following methods are used:
    • By communication technique in which the victim is given wrong information and is tortured mentally.
    • By compulsion or coercion where the victim is compelled or coerced to perform activities or to witness actions that torture him mentally. Forcing the victim to violate social taboos or forcing to witness torture of other victims etc.
    • By depriving the victim the basic needs like water, food, sleep and toilet facilities which results into disorientation and confusion.
    • Pharmacological techniques like use of various drugs to facilitate torture of the victim to mask the effect of torture and also as a means of torture.
    • Threats and humiliations which are directed towards persons in custody or their family members or friends.
  • Physical Violence:
    • Causing disfiguration and exhaustion.
    • Causing torture to such an extent that the victim feels fear of immediate death.
    • Forcing the victims to sleep on damp floor.
    • Making the children stay naked in extreme cold weather or under the sun in temperature for more than 30 degrees.
    • Scratches and cuts are made on different parts of the body with sharp objects.
  • Sexual Violence:
    • Sexual violence has great social and psychological impact in the minds of its victims.
    • It may start with verbal sexual abuse and humiliation targeting victims’ dignity. It results into rape or sodomy.
    • The violators or the perpetrators of this crime keep devising new means and methods according to their own mental aptitude and imagination to break the resistance of the subject quickly as well as to satiate his/her own urges.

Constitutional provisions

  • Indian constitution has granted rights to every person and under fundamental rights enshrined under Article 21: Right to life, it includes the person who has been detained or convicted or arrested.
  • Basic human rights cannot be taken away plus under Article 22, rights are laid down for people who are being arrested and detained.
  • The prohibitions imposed by Article 20 of the constitution are directly relevant to the criminal process.
    • Article 20(1) prohibits retrospective operation of penal legislations.
    • Article 20(2) guards against double jeopardy for the same offence.

Steps to curb the custodial violence in India

  • Strict implementation of existing laws and guidelines
  • Reforms in Police administration
  • Investigation and Punishment in cases of Custodial torture
  • Enhancing the role of media

Supreme Court’s stand

  • In the landmark case of K. Basu v. State of West Bengal, the Supreme Court of India observed in this widely publicized death in police custody that using torture to impermissible and offensive to Article 21.
  • The court noted the ubiquity of torture and third-degree methods in police investigations and lamented the ‘growing incidence of torture and deaths in police custody’ and held:
  • “Such a crime-suspect must be interrogated – indeed subjected to sustained and scientific interrogation determined in accordance with the provisions of law. He can’t however be tortured or subjected to third-degree methods or eliminated with a view to elicit information, extract confession or derive knowledge about his accomplices, weapons etc.”
  • It referred to its duty to enforce Fundamental Rights under Articles 14, 21 and 32 of the Indian constitution and the need to make the guaranteed remedies effective and to provide complete justice.

Role of Human Rights commission

  • The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India is a statutory public body constituted on 12 October 1993 under the Protection of Human Rights Ordinance of 28 September 1993.  
  • o   It was given a statutory basis by the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 (PHRA).
  • The NHRC is responsible for the protection and promotion of human rights, defined by the act as "Rights Relating to Life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the constitution or embodied in the international covenants and enforceable by courts in India".

Laws for Protection of custodial torture victims in India

  • Protection under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973: The code of criminal procedure, 1973 contains provisions intended to operate as a safeguard against custodial torture.
  • Section 163 provides that, No police officer or other person in authority shall offer or make, or cause to be offered, or make, any such inducement, threat or promise as is mentioned in section 24 of the Indian Evidence Act,1872
  • But no police officer or person shall prevent, by any caution or otherwise, any person from making in the course of any investigation under this chapter any statement which he may be disposed to make of his own free will.
  • Protection Under The Indian Penal Code, 1860:
  • Whoever, being a public servant, knowingly disobeys any direction of the law as to the way in which he is to conduct himself as such public servant, intending to cause, or knowing it to be likely that he will, by such disobedience, cause injury to any person, shall be
  • Punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both”.
  • It may be reiterated that the expression injury covers harm illegally caused to body, mind, reputation or property.


Police is the machinery which controls crime. If crime takes place in police custody, then we must lean towards some other machinery to curb it. Despite, we have many provisions in our Indian laws, custodial violence continues to exist. It is the duty of the prison administration to provide proper facilities of medical, sanitation, food, security to the prisoners and a monitory body to only review it but also keep an eye on the other activities inside the prison.


Q1. Custodial torture is a naked violation of natural justice. What values do police needs to inculcate to ensure human and constitutional rights prevail while dealing with the accused?

Q2. Despite Supreme Court guidelines, challenges in curbing custodial violence in India remains. Elucidate. What police reforms are required to ensure dignity of the accused is upheld?


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