The facts are plain enough, and are perhaps replicated in police stations across the country on a regular basis.
An important message for civil liberties and human rights is contained in the death sentence for two Kerala policemen by a special CBI court for torturing a ragpicker, Udaykumar, to death. It’s a shame though that until the sentence last week, the matter dragged out in the legal system for 13 years.
The facts are plain enough, and are perhaps replicated in police stations across the country on a regular basis. Many official reports, enquiries by human rights organisations and scholarly writings direct us to a disturbing narrative.
Udaykumar’s case underlines an old story: that the vast bulk of those rotting in our prisons, usually without trial, belong to the poorest sections of society — typically dalits, tribals or Muslims, but also other poor people. This section of Indian society is bereft of justice.
Udaykumar, carrying some hard-earned money, was sent out by his poor mother to do some shopping for Onam. The police grabbed him on the false charge of theft. In custody, they reportedly gave him the so-called “roller” treatment, and he died soon afterwards.
In independent India, guilty policemen haven’t usually been punished as severely as in this case. The appeals process is of course open to them. Those opposed to the death sentence may also be uncomfortable with this ruling. Nevertheless, firm action must be taken to deter law-enforcers from acting as law-breakers.
For starters, the Supreme Court could instruct all state governments to catalogue all cases of custodial deaths in their jurisdictions and forward these to the highest judicial forum. Then, time-bound procedures should prevail and the guilty punished according to the law.