Inordinate force has become routine in India: Plea in Supreme court seeks guidelines to fill legal lacuna in dealing with Custodial Death/Torture/Rape

Jeyaraj and his son Bennix died while in the custody of the Sathankulam Police following their arrest on June 19 citing a violation of the COVID-19 curfew

The plea before the Supreme Court notes that “Custodial Torture/Deaths/Rapes are a chilling reminder of how the excessive use of force has become a routine in India” leading to deaths.

Following the custodial torture and death of P Jayaraj and J Bennix, a plea in the Supreme Court urges it to issue directions or lay guidelines to fill the legal lacunae surrounding custodial deaths, tortures and rapes.

The plea filed by an NGO, People’s Charioteer Organization through Advocate Devesh Saxena and drawn by Advocate Shashwat Anand calls for guidelines from Court concerning custodial deaths, rapes and tortures to be passed by invoking the inherent jurisdiction of the Court under Article 142.

The petition additionally prays for a direction to the Centre so that an independent committee may be formed and monitored by the Supreme Court, tasked with reviewing the existing legal framework around custodial deaths, tortures and rapes.

The father-son duo, P Jayaraj and J Bennix had been detained by the Sathankulam police on June 19 for keeping their mobile phone shop open beyond the permissible hours during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The two men were tortured in custody. Some reports indicated that they were sexually abused, which led to profuse bleeding. While the Tamil Nadu government initially tried to say that the deaths had occurred due to natural causes, public outrage and the High Court’s attention led to an eventual transfer of the case to the CBI.

The plea in Supreme Court notes that “Custodial Torture/Deaths/Rapes are a chilling reminder of how the excessive use of force has become a routine in India” leading to deaths.

“It sends an unfortunate chilling message about how broken the system is and the failure of police and political leaders to establish accountability measures for those who are found guilty of custodial crimes.”

On the specific legislative gap in this area, the plea states that Anti-Torture Bills, such as Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010, subsequently amended further by The Prevention of Torture Bill, 2017 were subjected to deliberations in the past. However, neither bill came to be passed.

Furthermore the petition takes note of the statement by the Executive Committee of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) on the deaths of Jayaraj and Bennix, where it has been stated that the deaths were an “acute demonstration of a broken criminal justice system.” With this statement, the Government of India had also been urged to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture, 1985 to which India is already a signatory since 1997.

Published by Sneha Vishwakarma

Advocate, Bombay High court.

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