Sensitivity and regard to the life and dignity of an accused in police custody is expected of the law enforcement officials concerned as the progressive worldview is increasingly laying premium to the protection of human rights of those behind bars. But sadly, despite directions for jail reforms as well as courts pulling up governments for laxity on this score, custody cells and prisons continue to be chambers of torture and inhuman treatment. Cases of torturous deaths in custody too are reported with alarming regularity. Especially condemned to such cruelty — stemming from the outdated colonial-era jail manuals — are the poor unlucky ones who have no ‘connections’ with the powers that be. What is horrifyingly shameful is that nobody is punished for inflicting the torture. Many a victim is given the label of suicide. Their families have to usually make do with the pittance of compensation and the fig leaf of a probe into the case. As the guilty roam free, the cruel practice sees no ebb.
The cry for justice for 22-year-old Jaspal Singh of a Muktsar village who died in the custody of the Faridkot police’s CIA wing is heart-wrenching. On May 18, the young man was picked up from a gurdwara over a minor issue and is believed to have been thrashed to death in custody, his body disposed of by the cop who arrested him the same night. His body is untraceable. Complicating matters, that cop has committed suicide. Equally tragic was the fate of another 22-year-old, Karan of Ludhiana. Picked up for a vehicle theft, police custody became his grave. The NHRC had to serve a notice on the Punjab DGP as the state had failed to inform it of the case.
These instances deepen that sinking feeling evoked by the appalling statistics placed before the Rajya Sabha last year: as per a report, 1,674 custodial deaths took place from April 2017 to February 2018. There is an urgent need to sensitise the cops, follow scientific methods of investigation and criminally prosecute the torture agents for a future free of such five custodial deaths a day.