By D. Raja
Father Stan Swamy, 84 years old Jesuit priest, left us all, felled by institutional murder. His death is the direct outcome of the corporate-fascist nexus running amok in the country. Falsely labelled as an anti-national, incarcerated for eight months awaiting trial, Father Stan had dedicated his life and work for the fundamental rights of Adivasi people in the country, particularly in Jharkhand. His was one of the loudest voices opposing the loot of land and resources by the State and corporates. Born in Tiruchi, Tamil Nadu, Father Stan chose Jharkhand as his home. A champion of Adivasi life and dignity, his allyship with the community was marked by honesty and dedication.
The friends and family members of Fr. Stan Swamy have said in a statement, “…this is not a natural death, but the institutional murder of a gentle soul, committed by an inhuman state. Having spent his life amongst the Adivasis in Jharkhand fighting for their right to resources, Fr. Stan did not deserve to die in this manner”. (The Hindu, July 7)
The tragic demise of Fr. Stan has caused huge outrage and anguish across the nation and across the world. This has renewed the debate on State sponsored tortures and custodial deaths.
Fifty nation states came together in 1945 to sign the Charter of the United Nations with hopes of creating a more peaceful, inclusive and equal world. More than seven decades later, remarkable progress has been made in the direction of shaping a democratic world order, still the dream of creating a just world order where individuals can reach their potential without exploitation or discrimination is a distant one and requires much more from us.
The United Nations Charter defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.” This definition extending only to the basics, with scope for improvement and taking into account other forms of torture, serves to illustrate how fundamental our demand to put an end to the State sponsored tortures.
India continues to be at default not ratifying the UN Resolution of December 10,1984 and which was approved by General Assembly on June 26,1987. India is a signatory but not ratified in Domestic Laws- Indian Penal Code so as to put an end to tortures and slapping of sedition charges.
Torture is a scourge on humanity. It degrades us as a society and puts shame on our civilization’s achievements. Yet, this denial of elementary human rights persists all around the globe with some regions being abysses of basic decency and respect for fellow human beings. Our Republic also has much to learn and rectify on that account. News of torture being used as a means to obtain information or gain confessions keep coming. Our policing units are not as sensitive to human rights as they should be. It is necessary to underline the need to respect the fellow humans, to push for greater accountability, to put checks on the arbitrary use of power and try making our legal-judicial system more transparent.
India’s account on this head is not impressive to say the least. According to a 2019 report by National Campaign Against Torture, every day, on an average, five people die in custody in India, with some of them succumbing to torture in police or judicial custody. In 2019 as many as 117 people died in police custody while 1,606 deaths were recorded in judicial custody. And yet, there has not been a single conviction in the deaths of 500 persons allegedly due to torture in police custody between 2005 and 2018. The report mentions that in 2019, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recorded 1,723 cases of death in custody. It noted that “most deaths in police custody occur primarily as a result of torture”.
The methods to torture are vicious and they include slapping, kicking with boots, beating with sticks to barbaric methods like hammering iron nails in the body and rape too. The inequality of the Indian society is visible even in these statistics as most of the victims are from poor backgrounds, backward castes or minorities. Such acts of torture make a mockery of democracy and human rights and make justice a far-fetched possibility.
We are witness to a right-wing fascist authoritarian regime of BJP-RSS combine in the country. The treatment meted to the incarcerated in the Bhima-Koregaon conspiracy case, frequent slapping of the UAPA and sedition laws, denial of essential amenities to the under-trials and the impunity of authorities in these serve as grim reminders of us losing our hard earned democratic freedoms. Negligence and mistreatment of inmates on the part of authorities is nothing short of torture and we should unitedly oppose it.
Methods like torture, sedition, branding have no space in a democracy and all efforts and campaign should aim for the abolition of such draconian practices. Expressing solidarity with the victims of torture, we should also broaden our horizon to include systematic denial as a form of torture like in Jammu and Kashmir, where millions of people are denied their rights as citizens of this country. Similarly, people from marginalised communities, minorities, tribals, and women are subjected to different types of torture in this structured hierarchical society of ours. We should also raise our voices against these less visible forms of torture going beyond the legal definition.
The time has come when the Campaign has to be intensified to bring Police reforms, prison reforms and Judicial reforms. Our Judiciary should have adequate social representation and also freedom for not succumbing to the pressures of those who are in power. (IPA Service)
The writer is General Secretary, Communist Party of India (CPI).