Police violence and the value of human life in India

Let us evaluate the selective outlook of Indian society towards tolerating police violence. Let’s take two recent incidents, as examples – the Disha gang rape case encounter and the Thoothukudi incident. 

If you remember last year’s horrific gang rape of Disha and murder in Hyderabad, you would know that the Hyderabad police arrested a few suspects, a few days after the incident. And soon after a few days, they were encountered. The police’s justification was that they had to kill the suspense in self-defence. This encounter killing of the suspects in the Disha gang rape and murder case was celebrated across the country even though the suspects had not been tried in a court and were even yet to be held guilty of the offence by the legal system. 

There are no two ways about the fact that the Disha gang-rape and murder case was a brutal crime, but seeking instant justice and celebrating such questionable encounters would be an intentional infringement of our commitment towards the Rule of Law. So even as the investigation continues, our celebration of the encounter as instant justice shows that the Indian society is willing to selectively overlook possible cases of police violence, and this further shows that the Indian society is willing to let go of its commitment to the principle of Rule of Law and rather appraise mob justice. 

Police Violence

But on the other hand, the Thoothukudi incident has shown that Indian society shows selectively outrage against police violence against victims of these incidents. The commitment of the Indian society towards the principle of Rule of Law is not principled and instead, it is willing to accept and embrace mob justice and even tolerate police violence, in a few selective cases. 

It is essential to put an end to police violence. According to the data that has been issued and provided by the National Human Rights Commission, over the last three years around 5,300 complaints of custodial deaths have been recorded. Even if a small percentage of these complaints are genuine, it goes on to show the gravity of the situation. Also, the data by the National Crime Records Bureau show that between 2000 and 2018, around 1,727 custodial deaths have been formally registered as cases and out of which only 26 police officers have been convicted and held guilty. 

These alarming statistics show how India’s criminal legal system has not just failed to prevent police violence but instead, it has tolerated, nurtured and even at times encouraged the police forces to resort to the torture and violence. If police violence has to be tackled and if custodial deaths have to be prevented and the responsible police officers have to be held accountable and guilty, then the following measures need to be taken:

  • First and foremost, the commitment of the Indian society and India’s legal system towards the principle of Rule of Law. must be principled and not be based differently for different cases.  
  • India’s criminal legal system has to be immediately reformed in order to pluck the loopholes which are being exploited by the police forces. 
  • The government should consider implementing a key recommendation made by the Law Commission of India with regard to custodial deaths.
  • It is high time for India to ratify UN Convention against torture. India happens to be one of the few countries in the word which are yet to ratify the UN Convention against torture. 
  • And finally, the root cause, with which police forces resort to torture and violence is the firm belief and conviction that they would never be held accountable for their actions. That means, police reforms are the need of the hour.


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