Human Rights

Analysis Of The Government's Response To Reports Of Deaths In Custody In 1993

Extracted from Amnesty International Report, Sep 30, 1995


The Government of India has publicly condemned custodial violence as illustrated in the above statement made in the government's response to Amnesty International's allegations of the widespread use of torture in India. Amnesty International welcomes this as an indication that the Indian authorities are starting to address the issue of custodial violence. Among measures taken by the government to prevent torture and deaths in custody, it issued "Guidelines to curb the use of questionable and coercive methods by police during investigation" to state governments. It has also indicated that it is considering introducing legislative measures to safeguard the rights of detainees and that it is considering ratifying the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or degrading Treatment. In a recent response to a report by Amnesty International India: Deaths in custody in 1993, published June 1994, AI Index: ASA 20/02/94, the government has attempted to demonstrate that it is taking the issue seriously by pointing to action taken to investigate cases of custodial death and prosecute those responsible. While welcoming these measures, Amnesty International remains concerned at the government's continuing denial that torture and deaths in custody are a widespread phenomenon across all parts of the country. Instead, the government has stated "torture is not a daily routine but an aberration... no doubt, some incidents of custodial deaths have taken place, but these are few and far between and are not by any stretch of imagination suggestive of 'daily routine'.


In January 1995 the Government of India wrote to Amnesty International in response to its report, India: Deaths in custody in 1993, which had been published in June 1994. The report had listed 36 cases of deaths in custody reported to Amnesty International during 1993 from all Indian states (excepting Jammu and Kashmir). Part of the 68-page document, Response of the Government of India [GOI] to the Amnesty International's report titled "India: Deaths in custody in 1993" and lists of allegations of custodial deaths in Jammu and Kashmir sent to GOI in December 1994 responded to Amnesty International's report Deaths in custody in 1993 (AI Index: ASA 20/02/94) and included factsheets relating to 28 of the 36 deaths in custody listed in the appendix to the report. These are attached. It also responded to Amnesty International's 10-point program for the prevention of torture which Amnesty International will comment on at a later date.

Acknowledgement Of Custodial Violence

In several international and national fora, it has been recognized that the occurrence of torture and death in custody in India is routine. In his annual report to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, presented in January 1995, the Special Rapporteur on torture commented:

"It is apparent that few incidents, in what is credibly alleged to be a widespread, if not endemic phenomenon, are prosecuted and even fewer lead to conviction of the perpetrators. It is also to be noted that very many cases that come to the attention of the Special Rapporteur are those that result in death, in other words, those where torture may have been applied with the most extreme results. This must be a minority of the cases of torture in the country [India]" - Annual Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture, E/CN.4/1995/34, paragraph 379.

In its Memorandum to the Government of India Memorandum to the government of India arising from an Amnesty International visit to India, 5-15 January 1994, AI Index: ASA 20/20/94, pages 5-6 the organization commented:

"Nearly all those to whom Amnesty International's delegates spoke asserted that beatings of suspects in police stations are routine. Even a senior official used phrases like a "good thrashing"... It appears that the police rely on the use of force to obtain information about crimes and are poorly trained and equipped in the use of more reliable investigative methods... One police official asserted that the police, when making an arrest of a criminal suspect identified by the public, were expected to mete out instant punishment... It was no doubt this contextual expectation which led one senior civil servant to say: "A policeman who does not beat is not a policeman". To the extent that there is a degree of public acceptance for the improper use of force by the police clearly it will be that much more difficult to eradicate such practices. This is one factor contributing to the police being able to torture suspects with virtual impunity".

Sarabjit Singh, Punjab (Case No.27)

Amnesty International has been concerned for many years about the unacknowledged detention of people in Punjab who are later said to have been killed in "encounters" with police. In November 1993, the Supreme Court ordered a suo moto inquiry into the conduct of the Punjab police on the basis of a newspaper report entitled "Killed once, twice" published in The Tribune concerning the death of Sarabjit Singh. The court summoned senior officers to seek their explanation for the incident and commented "if the allegations are correct then it is the most heinous offence against the penal laws of the country and humanity". The court then ordered the CBI to register a case against the Punjab police and to investigate the incident. In July 1994 the CBI filed charges against four police officers for his murder. Strangely, the factsheet provided by the state government fails to mention this. Instead, it denies the arrest of Sarabjit Singh. There were eye-witnesses to his arrest on 15 October 1993, relatives claim that they met him in Bhikiwind police station on 23 October. On 30 October he and one other prisoner were reportedly shot in a fake encounter and taken to hospital for post mortem examination. There, doctors discovered that Sarabjit Singh was still alive. He was then reportedly taken away by police and brought back dead two hours later.

Home | Human Rights | Library | Gallery | Audio | Videos | Downloads | Disclaimer | Contact Us