Not much time has passed when a father-son duo in the state of Tamil Nadu were arrested for
exceeding the curfew limits during the covid-19 lockdown and as we all know it they were
brutally tortured in the custody and later died at the hands of those who take vows to protect
each and every citizen even with their own lives. We must also not have forgotten the
suspicious encounter of notorious criminal Vikas Dubey. These incidents are a mere
reflection of the age-long process of torture on the suspects which is prevalent till today. This
also shows us how the custodians of public safety can become perpetrators of grave injustice.
Former SC judge V.R. Krishna Iyer said and I quote “custodial torture is worse than terrorism
as the authority behind it is the State.”
In a vast democracy like India where Rule of law lays the very foundation of our legal system
and Right to life & liberty is considered to be the most important of all the available
Fundamental rights and when the constitution very meticulously articulated provisions
against torture, It seems almost paradoxical that this inhumane form of interrogation is still
not just prevailing but also flourishing.
Torture and interrogation: Two sides of the same coin
The UN General Assembly in 1984 for the first time adopted the convention against torture
and defined it as:
For the purposes of this Convention, the term ‘torture’ means 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 third person, a piece of information or a confession, punishing him
for an act, he or a third person has committed or intimidated or coerced 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 acting in the
official capacity does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental
to lawful sanctions. 
This is where the trouble begins; this definition carries a wide scope for its misuse as it
permits for the lawful infliction of torture at the hands of the officials. Interrogation and
torture, as different as these two words may sound but the prevalent and bitter truth is, they
go together. Torture is inflicted when a suspected person is forced to extort information or
pieces of evidence. This force may range in its form and it includes blackmailing or
threatening for confession, to physical or mental assaults and many times it even leads to the
death of the suspect. During interrogation physical and psychological torture techniques
serve the purpose of physical, cognitive and emotional exhaustion in the detainee’s mind
which is considered necessary for the purpose of successful questioning of the potential
source of information. Interrogation follows procedures and regulations but in most countries
like ours, there is a lack of transparency and information. Most people in India are
disgruntled with coercive interrogation; it happens when someone is deprived of their will
and forced to act against themselves. Any interrogation that coerces the detainee and deprives
them of their will potentially enters the realm of custodial torture. Police manual reflects the
belief that interrogation and torture are two entirely different spheres but there lies a very thin
line of difference as interrogation becomes torture as soon as any form of psychological or
physical pain is inflicted upon the detainee.
Provisions against torture in India
Indian constitution provides certain fundamental rights to each and every citizen of the
country irrespective of the fact that they are suspects or convicts. These rights are mainly laid
down in article 19, 20, 21, 22, 32, 226 of the constitution of India. Besides these there are
also a number of rights available to them under other statues such as Indian Penal Code,
Criminal Procedure Code, and the Indian Evidence Act of 1861. It has been held by the SC
in a plethora of judgements that these rights are so fundamental that they cannot be
withdrawn just because the person is in police custody or even under arrest for that matter.
Article 20 of the constitution essentially gives a person a certain set of rights against the
conviction of misdemeanour. These various rights include:
Article 20(1) which prohibits any legislative authority in making rules against ex post facto
criminal laws. The universal declaration of human rights also recognises this concept under
article 11(2) of its charter.
Article 20(2) provides protection against double jeopardy along with this The General clauses
act of 1897 also provides that if an offence is constituted under two different statues, the
offender shall be liable to be punished only under either of them and not both. Furthermore,
Section 300 to Criminal procedure code 1973 also recognises the same right to an accused.
Article 20(3) dispenses the right against self-incrimination; that is no person can be coerced
to become a witness against oneself. This is said to be the foundational principle of criminal
law that a person must be presumed innocent and it is for the prosecution to prove his guilt.
This is further recognised by International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights under
Article 14(3) (g). In addition, Evidence Act 1872 lays that no confession made by the accused
under police custody shall be admissible as a proof in conviction.
These rights are considered so fundamental that they cannot be suspended even during
Article – 21 lays that every person has a Right to life and Personal Liberty though this article
does not specifically lays provisions against custodial torture but its ambit on the account of
being so vast is interpreted in a way so as to protect a person against torture or any other form
of assault which may be degrading of basic human rights.
Article – 22 of the constitution dispenses the following rights to a person detained in police
Article – 22(1) talks about the Right to be informed of the Ground of Arrest as soon as such
the incident takes place and the Right of an accused person to Counsel so that he may be
saved against any unlawful perpetration.
Article 22(2) gives the right of speedy trial which makes it compulsory for the police to
produce the detainee in-front of the nearest magistrate within 24 hours of his arrest.
Psychological mishaps due to custodial torture
The physical wounds suffered by a person may be cured with time but the psychological
torment which one has to go through can be fatal as it leads to various mental health and
behavioural complexities. Anxiety attacks, panic attacks, depression are the some very
common occurrences. But what disrupts the flow of life is the post-traumatic stress disorder
where a person starts losing control over himself and in certain cases it has also been
observed the person being tortured gets fascinated with violence and start to exhibiting
appetitively aggressive behaviour.
In Raghubir Singh v. Haryana  , the Supreme Court said, “We are deeply disturbed by the
diabolical recurrence of police torture resulting in terrible scars in the minds of common
citizens that their lives and liberty are under a new peril because the guardians of the law
destroy human rights.”
In the case of Pram Shanker Shukla v. Delhi Administration  , the Supreme Court along with
recognising the due need of securing the detainee from escaping asserted that handcuffs are
prima facie violative, inhumane and degrading of basic human rights and it was also observed
that handcuffing is arbitrary and unfair on the part of the police. The honourable court then
went on to issue some guidelines to be observed while detaining a person, which are:
(a) Handcuffs should only be put when a person is involved in some non-bailable
offence and also was convicted previously for a serious misdemeanour.
(b) The detainee if of despairing character, violent, unruly or causes obstruction.
(c) On being produced before the magistrate an inquiry must be made by him
regarding the use of ferrets on the detainee.
(d) In a case where police find it absolutely necessary to put handcuffs a prior judicial
permission must be obtained.
The Supreme Court in a number of judgements time and again has reiterated the fact that
handcuffs/ferrets and irons manifest of savagery which aversus the universal aim of equality
and supremacy of human dignity and social justice.
As the custodial torture is no hidden phenomenon but we must also not turn a blind eye
towards the challenges faced by Indian police in the course of dispensing their duty. The need
of the hour calls upon us to understand and analyse these challenges and try to find solutions
to them. The complexities faced by Indian police range wide and far, some of the prominent
- The inadequate strength of the required task force and the below-average working
conditions leave no room for the police to stay motivated for duty.
- The basic pay of the police department to extremely low considering the demanding
requirements of their job which in turn paves way for bribe in the system.
- The all mighty and powerful politicians exercises an undue amount of authority on the
police for speedy results which leads to them performing their duties under pressure and
gives unsatisfactory results in turn. Moreover, the masses show very un-cooperative
attitudes with the police which make the whole situation more troublesome.
- The police personnel works up to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, they even work on
national holidays, working under such circumstances it is not unlikely of them to not show
- Our police system lacks the required scientific aids and temperament and the aptitude
training skills required for successful and cooperative interrogation and they turn to third-
- There should be a mandatory human rights course for the task force. Training should be
given at every level to deal with masses.
- The sovereign immunity being enjoyed by the force should be abolished as it will keep
them cautious of the severe consequences of inflicting torture upon the detainee.
- Lastly Indian government should ratify the United Nations Convention against torture and
other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Which the government has
wilfully failed to ratify thinking our domestic laws are enough to protect detainees against
such torture which very evidently is not the case.
 United Nations, Resolutions and Decisions adopted by the General Assembly during, First Part of its Thirty-
ninth Session, pp. 381-82 (1985)
 AIR 1980 SC1087
 AIR 1980 SC 1535
(Author: Avantika Rajawat)