Custodial Death: An Abuse of Human Rights

Author-Meenakshi Sharma*


The manifestation of Custodial mortality under the world’s greatest democracy has raised every citizen's eyebrows and shaken the very faith in democracy. The international pressure for human rights observance is mounting.

Figure 1: States with the highest number of Custodial Deaths[1]

Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah, motto and aphorism, depicts the National Human Rights Commission's core and seeks to achieve happiness, health, and dignity for throughout a rights-based system. It seems to be failing in it is an objection. The NCRB data depicts that no police officer has been convicted in the immediate five years, while between 2014 and 2018, 452 deaths were reported. Still, only 192 cases were registered during this period, and 118 policemen were charged, but no one was convicted.

The concept of custodial deaths formulates the routine procedure, confessing from the suspect, and manipulating the truth many times and not considered as something new to Indian society that people are becoming victims of custodial deaths. Since the British arena, prisoners have been exposed to brutal torment in confinement. People have signified divested their fundamental rights[2].

The precipitous and unanticipated deaths during the detention period are usually associated with the maladministration of the police officials, the media agencies' conjecture, hearsay information, and strong community attention. However, it is apprehended that an exhaustive and unprejudiced evaluation and inspection of the Forensic Pathology Department is accurate, intending to provide specific attributes regarding the justification, reasons, and motive of death.

Guardianship and protective care covered the following aspect, and if it is used to denote incarceration, it will not have any sinister symptoms of violence during detention. No civilized law presupposes the cruelty of incarceration. This inhumane characteristic stems from the improper desire to cause suffering without the chance of retaliation; it transcends the overwhelmingness of hypocritical thinking or the supremacy of collectively angry people, advantages material power of the show. It is the most severe crimes in a civilized society governed by law and poses a severe threat to an orderly civilized society. Torture in detention deprives citizens of their fundamental rights and is an affront to dignity.

Every inmate is a citizen and has fundamental social freedoms; moreover, prison torture is a miscarriage of justice. Nevertheless, police play a vital role in safeguarding our lives and freedom, although they must take appropriate action to show respect for the people's human rights, remembering that none is beyond the law and may be held responsible for human rights violations. One can always argue that prisons form an island that cannot be judge freely in a civilization. In this society, the authorities exercise arbitrary power over prisoners' lives where detainees' death is nothing new.

Reasons for Custodial Death

Many incidents have been observed where the accused's arrest took place without any warrant, and police officials have been sentenced to commit custodial death. Such incidents are defamatory for the system because the law has no right to take anyone's life during interrogation. Following the stipulations of Sec.300 of the IPC provides punishment if a civil servant exceeds his right to use force and causes anyone's death. Besides, Sec.330 mentions that if any civil servant harms anyone to extortion of confession, he will be punished by imprisonment of 7 years.

National law does not provide such arbitrary power to officials; still, custodial violence's persistence increases. Such increment reasons are as follows:[3]

  1. There were many instances when no proper search had been done of the detained personage before entering the detention center. The detained person perpetrates death under the detention because of nerve cut, hanged, poisoned, or burned.

  2. No other illegal interrogation methods should be adopted.

  3. No exists former preparation for interrogation.

  4. Police office are not supposed to interrogate get involved in the interrogation, which is of no relevance. They caused more significant harm to the defendant because they did not participate in the written interrogation.

  5. The policemen neither arranges any medical assistance nor instantly inspects the injured defendant, resulting in the detainees’ death.

  6. Police officer lack patience because they want to plead guilty immediately. If the defendant refuses to admit guilt, they directly use force.

  7. Lack of supervision by senior officials while interrogation

  8. This department's predominant habit of using coercion. Facts have proved that power against stubborn criminals and force against people with no previous criminal record has been used, following loss of life.

  9. The imprisoned person commits death in custody because of the police's improper behavior.

  10. Disrespect towards others and excessive desire to succeed through wrong methods of force.

Reduction Method

No accused must remain constrained to any harassment, and custodial death incidents should not happen. The provisions regarding the interrogation procedure are necessary and permitted by our country's law. Still, the policemen conducting the questioning must bear in mind the following points before and during the examination of anyone:[4]

  1. The interrogation must be prepared in advance concerning a peculiar and thorough interrogation. The official concerned must make the following preparations before interrogating to circumvent such incidents.

  2. The official must be familiar with the incident's minor details to ask the person being questioned the essential questions. Otherwise, he will only be at the hearing.

  3. The Police personnel should know the suspect’s criminal background so that he can familiarize the offender of the truth when he conceals any fact.

  4. The Police personnel must prepare an initial questionnaire for interrogation to avoid any conflict, as it is impossible to prepare the questions during interrogation.

  5. Interrogation must be conducted in an isolated place to conduct in-depth and thorough interrogation.

  6. The interrogation must be continuously conducted without any interruption to avoid giving an occasion to suspect to change his mind to encase the facts.

  7. Interrogation must hold separately if more than one suspects prevent them from hearing the other co-defendant's statement. Otherwise, the offender is anticipated to modify his statement.

Landmark Judgements

The evolution of Custodial Jurisprudence was instituted in ‘D.K Basu v. State of West Bengal AIR 1997 S.C. 3017[5]. An NGO filed the case following Article 32 of India's Constitution. India's Chief Justice notices, piece of news published in The Telegraph about custodial mortality in Bengal. In this petition, an in-depth review and the development of custody jurisprudence are required. Following mandatory preventive measures has been outlined.

  1. Following the code's stipulations, police officers must manage the case fairly and correctly after an arrest and then investigate it.

  2. They must prepare a memorandum and follow all procedures. The defendant has the right to inform his known.

  3. Police should assign arrest's notice to family members or friends within 8 to 12 hours after the arrest.

  4. Officials should keep diaries mentioning the arrest's details other necessary information regarding the detained person’s family.

  5. He should further be examined about any severe or minor injury. The detainee and the policeman who influenced the arrest must sign an "inspection memorandum" and represent this on the detainee.

  6. Copies of every prescribed document (including arrest warrants) must be conveyed to the court[6].

The court aimed that the initial requirements came from Article 21 and Article 22(1) of the Indian Constitution and strictly observed. In Nilabati Behera v. the State of Orissa (1993) 2 SC 746, arrested and imprisoned, it has not denied their fundamental rights provided under Art. 21, and only the restrictions authorized by an authority can be imposed.

The court observed in Prem Shankar v. Delhi Administration (1980) 3 SCC 302, highlighted Art.5 of the UDHR and held that if not any other reasonable methods are available to prevent prisoners from escaping, the prisoners should be handcuffed. Otherwise, handcuffing in the standard scenario while the detainee himself surrender is unconstitutional. He reiterated Art. 21 of India's Constitution that the sanctuary of human values now stipulates fair procedures, prohibiting brutality, punitiveness, and procedurally[7].

In ADM Jabalpur v. Shiv Kant Shukla (1976), Judge H.R Khanna denoted that a person will never be deprived of his F.R. to life and personal freedom. The word life has another meaning, nonconfined to existence[8].

In R.P Kapur v. Punjab (1960), an official rendering investigation should perform his duties without any cruel and heinous methods. The entire function must adopt a reasonable plus systematic approac.

Overview of the Tamil Nadu Case

Meanwhile, in June, a 60-year-old individual, P Jayaraj, and his son Emmanuel Bennix (31 years old) were detained after being abused and battered by police from the Sathankulam Police Station in Thaotukudi District, Tamil Nadu for two days. According to reports, police and other personnel tortured them. On June 19, they were arrested on the allegation that Jayaraj's mobile store was open for slightly longer than the lockdown time. Emmanuel later defended and protected his father from police abuse. The crime marked a shocking level of police brutality against the detainees.

Initially, the officials denied any wrongdoing, only suspended their operations intermittently and delayed FIR registration. Since June 23, the tenacious intervention of the Judge of the Madras High Court has overturned the seemingly unrestricted dispensation into answerability. By July 2, the police had been charged for murder, illegal detention, and tampering with evidence. Notably, five police officers have been detained, and the investigation has begun[9].

Tamil Nadu's police station's incident is the most severe crime caused by the culture of exemption. It denominates into question the accountability of the policemen's administration. The High Court set a solid precedent for valiant execution and surveillance. The necessary follow-up means must endure superior administrators responsible for the torture under their supervision. At present, only court-supervised investigations can sustain the prerogative for the police.

Judiciary’s Role

The Madras HC attained the Suo Moto Cognizance and determined to observe the progress of the investigation by the statutory Magistrate. The department has been instructed to present a situation record and videographed the autopsy. Chief Minister Edapadi K. Palaniswami announced Rs 20 lakh compensation, while two deputy inspectors were suspended, and one inspector was on mandatory wait. The police officers' mere suspension is a full acknowledgment to law enforcement agencies' extremely erroneous power abuse.


The police are notorious for their mastery and tertiary torture methods, and the superior administrators have called it a normative practice for decades.

The mere suspension depicts the arbitrary power of the law administration agency. The question of custodial death or not persists, while the case has been transferred to CBI on the appeal, but prima facie, it was an act of brutal revenge for the remarks delivered through the deceased against officials.

Although every class in society is concerned about custodial deaths, the cases increase despite the increasing literacy rates. Hence, the need of the hour to ascertain the causes that dominate the institution and lead to detainees' abuse.


Custodial death is being conceptualized among the most serious crimes that a democratic and educated nation can see. Here, the prevailing question is, "when the police arrest someone, does it mean that the citizen has lost his/her basic right to life"? The prolific answer to this question is always in a negation. Crime should be controlled, but a realistic approach must be adopted for its application. An appropriate method should be conceptualized to balance the basic fundamental right granted to humankind affecting their social interest by positively responding to the crime present in the community, denying no one’s rights.


1.Data: Between 2014 & 2018, No Police Personnel were convicted for Custodial Deaths, Factly available at (Last accessed on 9th Sep 2020)

2.Custodial Death and Judicial Response in India, Shodganga, available (Last Accessed on 10th Sep 2020).

3.Reasons for Death in Police Custody, Hakim Rai available at (Last Accessed on 10th Sep 2020).

4.Reasons of Death in Police Custody, Hakim Rai, available (Last Accessed on 10th Sep 2020).

5.D.K Basu v. State of West Bengal, 1996 available at (Last Accessed on 10th Sep 2020)


7. Prem Shankar Shukla v. Delhi Administration 1980 AIR 1535, available at (Last Accessed on 10th Sep 2020)

8.ADM Jabalpur v. Shiv Kant Shukla, 1976AIE 1207 available at (Last Accessed on 10th Sep 2020)

9. Thoothukudi Custodial Deaths: All you need to know, The Times of India, available at (Last Accessed on 10th Sep 2020)

* The Author Meenakshi Sharma is a 4th year BALLB student at the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun, Uttarakhand

Disclaimer-This article is the original submission of the Author. VAIDHA doesn't hold any liability arising out of this article.

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