The following is the text of a communication sent by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, to friends and associates everywhere
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from Nervazhy, a local human rights organisation working in Kerala concerning the case of Binish, a deaf person who was taken into custody by Pattanakadu police on 28 February 2008. It is reported that the police officers who took Binish into custody, tortured him in an attempt to force him to speak. It is also reported that the police burned Binish's palms until they realised that Binish is deaf and let him go.
Mr. Binish is aged 19, and is from a poor family from Alappuzha district in Kerala state. Binish is from the Pulaya (Scheduled Caste) community, a Dalit (untouchable) community in India. Binish is deaf since birth. Binish works as an apprentice in a local workshop near his house.
On 28 February 2008, at about 3pm Binish left home to the nearby Kanichukulangara temple. Binish went to the temple on his bicycle. When the parents found that Binish had not returned home even after nightfall, they became concerned about Binish. They started looking for Binish in the nearby places, but could not find him. At about 2:30am on the next day the parents lodged a complaint at the nearby Arthungal Police Station alleging that Binish was missing.
On the same day, at about 3pm Binish returned home in a three-wheeler along with his bicycle. According to Binish's parents, Binish appeared to be in a bad state of health suffering from external and internal injuries. When the parents enquired with Binish what had happened to him, Binish explained that while he was returning home he was taken into custody by police officers from Pattanakadu Police Station. Binish used sign language to communicate.
According to the statement given by Binish, while he was returning home from the temple he lost his direction. While he was searching around for the road to his house, he was stopped by police officers from Pattanakadu Police Station who came in a police vehicle. The police officers who stepped out from the vehicle started asking Binish questions. But Binish, as he was deaf, neither could understand what the officers were asking, nor could explain to them his situation.
When the officers found that Binish was not answering the questions one officer slapped him on his face. Then the police officers started forcing Binish to enter the police vehicle. Binish resisted and even tried to escape, but could not succeed. The officers tied Binish's hands and legs with a rope and threw him into the police vehicle. Soon the vehicle reached Pattanakadu Police Station.
At the police station, the officers removed the rope with which Binish was tied up. The officers started questioning Binish, but Binish could not understand what was being asked and could not communicate to the officers. He tried explaining to the officers through sign language that he is deaf. The officers did not believe him. Then the officers burned his toes with cigarette flames. Later they caned Binish trying to force him to speak. Not satisfied with this, the officers brought camphor pellets and forced Binish to hold it in his palms. Then the officers set the pellets on fire, burning Binish's palms. While Binish was forced to hold the burning camphor pellets in his palms, the officers assaulted him. Finally Binish collapsed not being able to bear anymore pain.
Later Binish was taken to a hospital, of which Binish cannot remember the name, where, he was given some medicine. Later the officers realising that Binish cannot speak or hear concluded that he is innocent and decided to set him free. The officers called for a three-wheeler, asked Binish to get in and put his cycle also into the passenger compartment and ordered the three-wheeler driver to drop Binish off at his house.
On 29 February, Binish was taken to Cherthala Thaluk Hospital at about 6pm by his parents where he was admitted for treatment to his injuries. In the meanwhile Binish's story was reported in local media. There was an immediate public outcry against the police officers involved in the incident. The Kerala State Human Rights Commission has also taken the case into notice and issued orders for the state police to investigate the case. Meanwhile the local police has issued a statement that Binish was not tortured, but was suffering from chronic asthma. However this statement has been refuted by everyone involved in this case who is concerned about the police atrocities in the state.
The police in Kerala state are notorious for its use of custodial torture. Often the police use torture as a means for extracting statements from suspects. Torture is inflicted upon persons arrested and detained in police custody in connection with the crime and also against innocent persons whom the police question in connection with their other regular duties.
Use of unwarranted force by local police is so common that it is now a practice by the local police to slap persons whom they talk to. It is a common scene in Kerala for police officers to slap a person as they approach a stranger before even uttering a word. This practice has gained approval of senior police officers as a 'shortcut' to psychologically overpower the person to whom the officer is speaking to. It is also a common practice for police officers across the state to take into custody persons whom they suspect of being found at places 'where they cannot explain the reason for their presence'. As strange and loosely worded this expression is, so is the reason for the local police to prohibit persons from spending time outside their house, particularly during evening hours, at open play grounds and village grounds in rural areas of the state.
The common practice is for the local police to roam around in police vehicles in the villages and order persons, especially the youth, to go home, if they are found hanging around in public places. To prevent the people from returning, the police would approach anyone who is found in public places, ask the person why he is hanging around in the locality while slapping him hard on his face and pushing the person off holding him by his neck and ordering him to return home. This is widely practiced in Kerala that parents now advice their children not to go out of the house in the evening. Such practices are mostly focused against young males in the guise of preventing and controlling theft in rural villages.
No law in India or in the state allows police to impose such restrictions. It is true that theft is common in India and Kerala is not an exception. In the recent years incidents of theft have in fact increased. Though this is a reflection of the state of policing in any given area, measures like illegal restrictions upon individual freedom in the name of law and order has not reduced theft, but has in fact further isolated the people from their police. Most probably Binish was also taken into custody by the police on the suspicion that he was scouting around for a place to break in.
According to Section 331 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, anyone who causes grievous hurt for the purpose of extorting from the sufferer, or any person interested in the sufferer, any confession or any information which may lead to the detection of an offense or misconduct can be punished for imprisonment for a period not more than 10 years and also fine. A corresponding provision of the Code relevant to this Section is Section 348 of the Code which deals with wrongful confinement. According to this Section, anyone who wrongfully confines any person for the purpose of extorting from the person confined or any person interested in the person confined any confession or any information must be punished for a period that may extend to three years and also be liable for fine. These two provisions of the Code are incorporated in the penal law in India to prevent custodial torture; though the definition of torture as it is conceived in India is far below the universal standards.
The fact that Binish was brutally tortured shows both the inexperience and the lack of professionalism of the state police and also the widespread acceptance within the force for the use of torture as a means for investigation and to maintain law and order. Further, the use of such force is also a reflection upon the impunity the local police enjoy in the name of law enforcement.
The United Nations Guidelines for the Prevention of Crime -- vide Economic and Social Council resolution 2002/13, calls for the member states to address crime prevention through a humane and cost-effective method; involving government leadership; considering the socio-economic developments; and with the cooperation and partnership of other civil society players. This obviously involves developing a trust of the local populace as one of the essential elements for effective crime control. However the state police in Kerala have not considered a public trust building exercise as an essential ingredient for crime prevention. Instead the Kerala State Police, like any other police force in India continue to use centuries old practices of imparting fear upon the society as a means to prevent crime, of which Binish's case is a tragic example.
Soon after the police officers involved in Binish's case was placed on suspension pending investigation in this case, it is reported that the officers have now started pressurising Binish's family to withdraw the complaint they have filed at the police station. It is also reported that some senior police officers are also helping the accused officers in this process. In the absence of an independent mechanism in India to investigate complaints against the police the possibilities are that in this case the police will try to cover-up the guilt of the accused police officers, by fabricating evidence or avoiding crucial evidence concerning the incident during the investigation in this case.
The AHRC in the past had experienced such corrupt practices followed by the local police, not only from Kerala, but from other states in India. In the past, when the AHRC wrote to the Kerala State Government calling for immediate attention concerning cases of police torture, the government has only cared to acknowledge the receipt of such complaints and has thus far failed to inform the AHRC or for that matter even the victims in those cases what had happened to the complaints filed by the AHRC with the government. Assuming from the lack of any further action from the state government, the AHRC has to conclude that the state government has taken no action against any police officers, or even cared to investigate the cases brought to the government's notice.
The AHRC is also informed that during the past few months the state government has asked the local police to monitor human rights groups who are communicating cases of human rights abuses, particularly concerning custodial violence to international organisations like the UN, with an intention to intimidate these organisations and groups and to force them to keep silent.
The Government of Kerala has recently launched a state-wide programme to promote and rebuild police-citizen relationship in the state. The programme titled 'Janakiya Police' (people's police) was launched on 26 March 2008. However, to gain any respect and confidence of the people, the state government must first control the abuse of authority by the police and fasten accountability in the police force. Without attempting to this no other efforts will generate public confidence upon the local police, not only in Kerala, but in the entire country.
Please write to the authorities named below expressing your concern in this case. The facts of the case have to be investigated and the findings made public. If the investigation reveals that the police officers have in fact committed the offense, the police officers must be punished. The AHRC has also written to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Question of Torture calling for an intervention in this case.
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Subject: Please punish the police officers in Alappuzha district who tortured Binish
Details of victim: Mr. Binish, aged 19 years, son of Mr. Gopalakrishnan, Padanilathu Chira house, Mayithara post, Cherthala South, Alappuzha district, Kerala state
Alleged perpetrators: Police officers stationed at Pattanakadu Police Station, Alappuzha district, Kerala (the officers could be identified by Binish)Date and place of the incident: 28 & 29 February 2008 at Pattanakadu Police Station
I am writing to express my concern regarding the case of 19-year-old Binish who was allegedly tortured by the police officers stationed at Pattanakadu Police Station on 28th and 29th February 2008.
I am informed that Binish, a deaf person by birth was taken into custody by the police patrol party on 28th February while he was returning home after attending a local temple festival. I am also informed that the officers further tortured Binish to an extent that they caned him, assaulted and inflicted burn injuries upon him in an attempt to make Binish speak. I am also informed that the next day when the police officers came to know that they were mistaken, they took Binish to a hospital and later send him home in a three-wheeler.
I am concerned about the use of force by the police upon an innocent person merely because of suspicion and the manner in which the state government has approached this case. I am informed that even though the police officers responsible for the incident have been placed on suspension, the family of the victim is under pressure from the police officers to withdraw the complaint. I am aware that the victim is not provided any protection in this case, while at the same time some of the senior police officers have come out openly supporting their colleagues, even alleging that the entire case is false.
I am also informed that the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has written to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture calling for an intervention in this case. I am also informed that the AHRC has been informed that the state government has instructed the local police to keep a watch upon the local human rights organisations who are also reporting cases of human rights abuses to international organisations like the UN in an attempt to intimidate these organisations and groups and to force them to keep silent.I therefore urge you to immediately order an impartial investigation in this case. In case an investigation is already underway, to ensure that such investigation is carried out independently and that the findings of the investigation are made public. I also urge you to ensure that the victim in this case and his family members are not threatened by the police or any other persons associated with the police officers accused in this case.
I further request you to ensure that the victim receives an interim compensation pending the investigation and that further to the investigation, if the officers are found guilty of the offense alleged against them, they are charged under Sections 331 and 348 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and brought to trial for the offense they have committed.
I firmly believe that you will take appropriate and speedy action in this regard.
PLEASE SEND THE LETTER TO:
1. Director General of Police,
Government of KeralaPolice Head Quarters,
Thiruvanandapuram, Kerala state
Fax: +91 471 2729434
2. Mr. V. S. Achuthanandan
Government of Kerala
North Block, Secretariat
Fax: +91 471 2333489
3. Mr. Kodiyeri Balakrishnan
Minister of Home Affairs
Government of Kerala
Third Floor North Sandwich Block
Thiruvananthapuram 1, Kerala
4. Mr. Oomen Chandy
Fax: +91 11 471 2315625
5. Mr. A. K. Anthony
Minister of Defense (Elected representative to the Upper House of the Indian Parliament from the State)
104, South Block,
New Delhi, INDIA
Fax: + 91 11 23015403
6. District Collector
Urgent Appeals Programme, Asian Human Rights Commission (email@example.com)