India : Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission
The United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture
observed around the world on June 26 serves as a sober reminder of the
reality that this ugly side of humanity is still very much alive in
our contemporary and supposedly civilized society. It is a reality
that is even harder to grapple with in democratic societies which
preach the ideals of equality of freedom, dignity and justice.
India is often dubbed the world's largest democracy, and it has a
remarkable space for civil society engagement. Yet, democratic
progress has to be thought of as a process, for which India is still
on its way towards the democratic ideals that it speaks of. As the
country moves towards democracy, there are still many remnants of
undemocratic practices which continue to plague India and hinder its
pace of progress.
Torture is but one of the many serious problems that
plagues India till today.
The culture of oppression stemming from the caste system has
perpetuated and infiltrated modern India and its existing
institutions, because that system of discrimination has not been
completely weeded out and also because that culture reinforced over so
many years is deeply ingrained in Indian society. This culture of
oppression coupled with a weak institutional set-up has provided the
ideal conditions for a practice like torture to grow and even to
Instead of having firm laws in place to prevent and punish
such crimes against humanity, torture has been cultivated as a
policing tool, as a preferred method in criminal investigation because
it is perceived to be most efficient and effective.
With corruption as its political culture, torture is a useful tool
for controlling what people say or not. This enables the ruling elite
to maintain the power balance and existing power structure. Instead of
ruling by law, policy makers choose to rule by fear because there is a
perverse belief that a country like India cannot be administrated
without torture. There is a lack of adequate training, equipment and
facilities for law enforcement agencies, and in its place, high levels
of impunity exist to protect criminal police who use torture for
extortion and corruption.
India has signed but has not ratified the United Nations Convention
against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or
There is a lack of commitment in addressing this
issue even though India has signed the above-mentioned convention in
1997 – there is no official definition against torture, much as a
law against torture.
The proposed law against torture is still pending
in the parliament but without a definition for torture, it is
difficult to imagine how such a law may pass and how it may be useful.
As it stands, having no policy against torture seems to be the
government policy, which is in fact contradictory to its supposed
democratic foundations where the right to life, liberty and security
or person is fundamental. On top of that, the right to fair trial is
also violated since torture negates all aspects of equality and the
presumption of innocence.
The Indian judiciary may have come down heavily upon the state for
resorting to torture, but it is necessary for the state to be motivated
to correct this fallen justice framework and restore the democratic
republic that India sees itself as.
Only then will the distant dream of reversing this trend be possible, and
India can move forward as a country without its people losing their
humanity in the process.
/*Author:* Ms. Vivian Ng/