People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, Varanasi (PVCHR) in collaboration with Human Rights Law Network, New Delhi organized an Independent People’s Tribunal on Police Torture Against Muslims in Uttar Pradesh. The event took place on April 3 and 4, 2013 at Kamesh Hut Hotel in Varanasi. During the tribunal around 30 to 40 victims deposited before a six-member panel of prominent judges, academicians, former police officials with necessary testimonies about their problems. Majority of the victims belonged to the poor section of society and suffered due to the biased attitude of police towards Muslim minority. Muslims are the principle minority group in Uttar Pradesh. They have not only suffered historical discrimination socially and economically but in recent years with the “tag of terrorism” they have also been subjected to worst forms of repression all over the state. Muslim victims are given selective treatment on their complaints and thereby denied the right to be treated equally and equal protection before the law. Their rights, freedom and dignity are denied everyday just because they happen to belong to a particular religion.
After the completion of the two days event the jury members expressed their serious concerns about the increasing number of cases of human rights violations in Indian society as most of the victims demanded to put an end to tortuous practices used by the Indian police and a change in their functioning while dealing with common people.
To put a check on the practice of torture, inhuman and ill treatments of innocents in police custody, the jury made the following recommendations:
1- The jury unanimously agreed that in all the cases deposed before it, they have noticed that discrimination has assumed an institutionalized form which is manifested in the behavior of crucial constitutional institutions of public importance like police and judiciary. This discrimination is clearly visible in the attitude of Indian police which is primarily responsible for growing cases of human rights violations such as forcible and illegal arrest, false cases against innocents, prolonged detention, custodial torture, rape and extra-judicial killings.
2- In its observation about the human rights situation in Indian state of Uttar Pradesh the jury noted that increasing police power coupled with flourishing feudal social structure in Uttar Pradesh, a vast majority is oppressed on various grounds such as class, caste and gender. Gap is widening between people and police which lacks accountability as a result the victims of police harassment and torture do not get justice.
3- The jury suggested that police accountability mechanism should be developed and strengthened in order to establish the rule of law.
4- The absence of proper police accountability promotes crime incidents, communal riots and contributes to public sense of insecurity. Accountability based policing system can put a check on the institutional discrimination.
5- There should be defined provisions for reparation. Compensation is hardly paid to victims of police accesses. Because nobody is paid and no one pays and therefore police feels free to act in an undemocratic manner. It is therefore required that a compensatory mechanism should be evolved with international standards under which victims of police atrocities and communal onslaughts can be rehabilitated in a place of his or her choice with same economic standards.
6- Police should be sensitized to respect diverse cultures, traditions and religions. Police personnel should be given on-job training for this purpose and they should also be sensitized towards the culture of human rights.
7- More often police action in any incident is found to be one sided. There is a need to clearly identify the aggressor and the aggrieved. No attempt should be made to target a person belonging to a particular religious community specially the Muslim minority without credible evidences. Indian Police have pre-conceived notions about the Muslims, for instance the notion that Muslim is one such community that is always involved in instigating riots and so on. This mentality provides the space and opportunity to the lower level police officials to act arbitrarily. Such tendency and practice gets further encouragement due to negligence shown by the senior level officers.
8- For an independent and unbiased functioning of the police, it is highly essential that people from all communities, faith and religion should be recruited in the force. Steps should be taken to develop spirit of secularism among police personnel. A secular police force is crucial for a country which is diverse in culture. Some lessons can be drawn from developed western nations.
9- Police administration should strictly follow the reformatory steps suggested by various police reform commissions from time to time and the guidelines provided by the Supreme Court of India. Indian police structure is the byproduct of British colonial model which needs transformation.
10- Cases related to death in police custody and death in encounter against the concerned police officials should be registered and investigated in the same manner as it is done in cases related to ordinary citizens who attempt to kill or who has killed someone in self defense. In addition, the responsibility to investigate cases related to death in police custody should be entrusted to an independent and impartial agency.
11- Court proceedings are a lengthy process which takes many years to ensure justice for the victim. Legal provisions with regards to police custody during the trial period should be clearly defined. Judicial magistrates or judges should be held responsible for not following the due process of law or ignoring the legal process.
12- Police complaint committees should be official formed at district levels which should function as per the guidelines suggested by the police commissions from time to time.
13- In Uttar Pradesh police administration there is a common practice of giving out of turn promotion to police officials on the basis of their work performance, this practice should be immediately stopped. The practice has contributed to the culture of false police encounters.
14- Grievance Redressal Mechanism of State Human Rights Commission should be further strengthened. There should be an impartial body with sufficient man power to investigate the cases of human rights violations.
15- In cases related to police torture, use of Right to Information Act should be promoted.
16- Supreme Court of India’s guidelines with regard to bail procedure should be strictly followed. This can help in proving speedy justice to the cases related to arrest and disappearance. This will also help minimize the cases of human rights violations.
17- In general there is a practice when some people are arrested on the basis of mere suspicion; they are presented before the media during press briefings of senior police officials as a mark of good work by the police. Photographs of such accused are immediately published by the media. But they are declared innocent and freed, they generally do not figure in media reports. This practice should be immediately stopped.
18- People should not expect police to achieve more than they can do as per their capabilities. This tendency compels police administration to use illegal method and practices to achieve desired results.
In sum, all the jury members noted that increasing incidences of human rights violations are a matter of serious concern for Indian society and democracy as a whole. There is a need to reform the functioning of police and improve its image so that faith of victims and people can be established on the justice system in the country.