Human Rights Watch (HRW) has published a report that takes a deep dive into incidents of deaths in Indian Police custody. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative was among the organisations consulted by HRW, and both the Right to Information and Police Reform teams contributed to the 114-page study.
Citing the National Crime Records Bureau, the HRW report says that between 2010 and 2015, 591 people died in police custody. Police blame most of the deaths on suicide, illness, or natural causes.
Further, HRW points out that of the 97 custody deaths reported by Indian authorities in 2015, police records list only six as due to physical assault by police; 34 are listed as suicides, 11 as deaths due to illness, nine as natural deaths and 12 as deaths during hospitalisation or treatment. However, in many such cases, family members allege that the deaths were the result of torture.
The report, “‘Bound by Brotherhood’: India’s Failure to End Killings in Police Custody,” examines police disregard for arrest regulations, custodial deaths from torture, and impunity for those responsible. It draws on in-depth investigations into 17 deaths in custody that occurred between 2009 and 2015, including more than 70 interviews with victims’ family members, witnesses, justice experts, and police officials. In each of the 17 cases, the police did not follow proper arrest procedures, making the suspect more vulnerable to abuse.
Venkatesh Nayak, Coordinator of the Access to Information program at the Delhi-based Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, helped develop the model for the Right to information letters filed for pending cases documented in the report. These letters were filed under the proviso in the RTI Act, which states that information concerning the life, or liberty of a person must be provided within 48 hours of the request. This is a significant tool provided by the RTI Act to locate and protect people in custody who may be in grave danger or whose whereabouts are unknown. Samples of the right to information letters that Venkatesh helped formulate are included in the appendix. A complete table of the applications filed and responses received at time of writing is also available in the appendix.
The HRW report includes a video:
A quiz as an awareness-raising tool.
A full report in a PDF format with appendices.