A federal investigation found that a Christian father and son who died in police custody in Tamil Nadu in June were the victims of police torture. P. Jayaraj (left) and his son Bennicks Immanuel were members of an evangelical church. (Image: YouTube)
India's Supreme Court has directed police to digitally record all arrests and interrogations of crime suspects in a move welcomed by church groups as a step to safeguard human rights.
The court on Dec. 2 also directed the federal and state governments to install cameras and recording equipment in the offices of all investigating agencies across India that have the power to arrest citizens.
"It is an order that can check human rights violations," said Father Sahaya Philomin Raj, a Jesuit lawyer practicing in Tamil Nadu High Court in southern India.
The Supreme Court asked governments to strictly comply with its order to ensure that arrested people's rights are not violated.
The court also said citizens have the right to seek footage of alleged violations from the investigating agency and can move the court against any violations.
Federal and state governments are also asked to file an action plan with a schedule to comply with the order within six weeks.
“The court permitting victims of violations to obtain the footage and move to the appropriate forum for redress is really empowering citizens," Father Raj told UCA News on Dec. 3.
In 1996, the court issued 11-point guidelines for investigating agencies to follow to ensure rights are not violated during an arrest.
The key points included providing access to relatives or friends of the arrested, access to lawyers and informing the family of the arrest.
"The current order is a further extension of it to ensure that an accused also has rights, and they should be protected constitutionally," Father Raj added.
Allen Brooks, the spokesperson of Assam Christian Forum, welcomed the order as a "laudable judgment."
"The court wants to ensure the fundamental rights of all citizens, but how far the agencies will translate in intention to reality is a major concern," Brooks told UCA News on Dec. 2.
Brooks said that even in police stations where CCTV cameras were installed, violations have happened without a trace of proof.
"Most often, when such violations take place, the CCTV camera works but has no electrical power … for some reason the camera would not work," said Brooks, a former chairman of the Assam State Minority Commission.
Brooks also cited the custodial death case of a father and son in Tamil Nadu in June. The police station to which the Christians were taken and tortured had CCTV cameras. "But no footage of their torture was captured on camera. Under such a situation, what should one do?” Brook asked.
India reported 1,731 custodial deaths in 2019, almost five deaths daily, said a report by the National Campaign Against Torture in June. Of these, 1,606 deaths happened in judicial custody and 125 in police custody.
Many victims were tortured, with iron nails hammered into their bodies, rollers applied to legs to stretch them apart, and blows to private parts, the report said.
Other methods were reported such as electric shocks, pouring petrol or applying chili to private parts, beating while handcuffed, pricking bodies with needles, branding with a hot iron rod, beating after stripping, urinating in a person’s mouth, inserting a blunt object into the anus, beating after hanging upside down with hands and legs tied, forced to perform oral sex, and plucking fingernails with pliers, the report said.
The report said 60 percent of those who died in police custody belonged to socially poor Dalit and tribal communities and were mostly picked up for petty crimes.