Brutality in Uniform

The recent revelations about water-boarding and other torture techniques used by the CIA against jihadists, which were published in a Senate intelligence report, may have shocked and shaken up the United States. But back home in Tamil Nadu, police torture is an accepted norm, a trusted method of interrogation and a tool to make the accused sing. Custodial deaths occasionally highlight police brutality, but fade soon from public memory. Based on the inputs received from ex-convicts, police harassment victims, lawyers, human rights activists, doctors and police officers, J Santhosh describes six third-degree techniques that are freely used by the police in the State, but there’s nothing official about it

Published: 22nd December 2014 06:03 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd December 2014 06:03 AM   |  A+A-


1. When the sole can’t rest in peace

They’re clearly treated as cattle, not human beings. That alone can explain why police name this technique ‘laadam’ —  named after the horseshoe hammered onto a cow’s hoof. Explaining his horrific experience, Murugan (name changed) says a day after he was picked up for an alleged theft, he was taken to a  secluded place and his limbs were bound before he was placed on a dais.

“They used a lathi and a long pipe to beat my soles. Every time the cop raised the stick to deliver the next blow, my soul would nearly escape my body out of fear. Except shouting out loud, I couldn’t move a bit,” he recalls. A few victims claim sometimes constables stand on their thighs for a more comfortable position to deliver the blows.

“This technique is much safer as this rarely causes death, but the pain will make them speak,” explains a constable in a casual conversation. The phrase ‘laadam katturadhu’ is colloquially popular among police personnel, often used to intimidate convicts. “The foot is the meeting point of all the nerves and is sensitive even to mild stimuli. Beating a person on that spot is unbearably painful,” says a government doctor.

Judicial officers say this is the most common form of harassment meted out to the victims. “In a majority of the cases, when the accused is produced before a court with a request for judicial remand, you may notice his discomfort while standing. The escorting policemen hold him tight, since the accused will otherwise fall. Obviously he was beaten mercilessly on his feet,” says a judicial officer, also lamenting that most magistrates  are not keen on noticing these things when the accused is produced before them.

2. Topsy turvy Flight of pain

Almost everyone, right from childhood, is fascinated about aeroplanes. But this fascination crash-landed for Kumar (name changed) when he was turned into an “aeroplane” by police. In this technique, police tie the victim upside down and beat him to squeeze out information or a confession.

“They first tied my legs and then my hands. Next, a constable tied a rope to my legs. The rope was connected to a long chain that passed through a hook in the roof. The constable then gently pulled the iron chain. He did it with such patience that I momentarily mistook it for concern. But once I was upside down in the air, they started thrashing me, with two constables taking turns,” he says, adding the cops targeted only his buttocks and stomach.

“This was because another policeman warned them that targeting any other body part in this position would lead to death,” he adds.

A few convicts who had undergone this treatment explain how the blood flowing towards the head would break their willpower and make them accept whatever the police say. “I confessed to a burglary that I carried out. But they wanted me to confess to two more robberies in which people were injured. I refused as I would never hurt people while stealing things. But the pain was such that I finally confessed to that too and served three more years in prison,” claims another convict.

3. Shocking the ‘Equipment’

The police lifted this from the medical world. But they turned it into a heinous weapon by passing electricity into the genitals of the victims. Policemen say they use this technique only for the “highly adamant” types.

“There is a section of criminals that can bear all the beatings. But this will make even such hard nuts sing,” says a head constable who has served in special crime teams for several years. What is amusing is that police do not use high voltages — cycle dynamos are the most popular source of electricity for this method. “It doesn’t kill the person. Many of the victims I have spoken to have described such treatment. Many of their sexual lives were affected due to this for several years,” says a Chennai-based human rights activist.

“It is not just electricity. It is said that they sometimes use metal pins on the genitals. I came to know this when we examined the body of a custodial death victim in a police station in Cuddalore in 2010. Besides injuries all over the body, the genitalia was dotted with minute injuries. A doctor said the genitals were poked using pins  before he died,” says a Cuddalore-based activist.

4. no shuteye 

Not allowing a person to sleep for days may not sound so cruel. But this is something that jeopardises the thinking process of a human being and make himself doubt if he is mentally sound.

This is one of the most common forms of harassment used by the police.

“The policemen did several things to keep me awake. They took turns to keep talking and they kept asking me questions. Even when I dozed off, they poured water on my face and insisted that I answer. Sometimes they beat me with bare hands or lathis so that I stayed  awake,” recalls an ex-convict. Many police personnel believe that after two days of not allowing a person to sleep, his willpower to withhold information weakens.

“People tend be go into a trance-like state and will spill the beans even without their knowledge,” says a constable, adding that it will otherwise be very difficult to find out where those accused in theft cases had stashed the loot. For many police officers, this is a trusted method as it leaves no evidence of harassment, unlike  other forms of physical abuse. It is said that in hilly areas like Udhagamandalam, the job of the police is even simpler. All they have to do is to remove the person’s clothes and leave him bare in the cold. The biting cold will do the rest, keeping the person awake. The CIA too uses the sleep deprivation technique, so here is one meeting point for the TN police.

5. it’s Tough to bare

One cannot help but stop and wonder about cops’ understanding of the human mind. In what may not appear so tough, the police break down the self-esteem of a person and make him submissive by simply taking off his clothes.

This is also one of the oldest methods. Ask any policeman, and invariably the first thing he would do to an accused is to strip him. Typically, the accused will be asked to remove his shirt, if he were to be just kept in the lock up and there is time for interrogation. During questioning, in many cases the person was asked to remove even his underwear.

“The clothes a person wears becomes a part of his personality and we can say it is almost the outer layer of the mind. When that is removed in front of others and without his consent, the person immediately loses his confidence and self-esteem. He tends to become submissive,” explains a psychiatrist. Ex-convicts say they were forced to go nude for days and asked to wear clothes only when taken outside to courts or other places. “After a few days, I lost shame and started feeling that being without clothes is normal. The only worry was insects getting into my anus while I fell into sleep,” says an ex-convict, whose grief has dried up.

However, policemen have a different spin. “Clothes are removed only to prevent the person from committing suicide in the lockup. Many people use parts of clothing to kill themselves,” says a police inspector.

6. In the Papers for all the wrong reasons

It is widely believed that the press is an effective tool to check police atrocities. But a shocking fact contradicting this emerged while talking to a victim of police torture.

Policemen often use the threat of flashing the victims’ names and photos in the media. The man said it is a widely used technique for blackmail.

“I was wrongly picked up with a few other persons in a wedding hall on suspicion and was asked to confess for a couple of thefts in marriage halls. When I tried to explain that I had never done such things and was from a decent family, they beat me up. But as I did not relent, they threatened that they were going to flash my photo and brand me a serial thief,” says a Coimbatore-based goldsmith, who eventually attempted suicide and was let off later.

Courts have often questioned the practice of police voluntarily releasing photos of the accused to media. Advocates say that media often blindly publishes the version of the police unmindful of the damage it will cause to the person and their family.

“I was let off by the courts as there was no evidence against me and I had to pay just a fine in a petty case, which was also cooked up. But the photos that appeared in papers were very damaging and I still fear that people may recognise me as a criminal when I am moving in public places,” says the ex-convict.

Interestingly, in many cases where an influential person is accused, police go to great lengths to keep the cameras away from the accused. For instance, when the suspended IPS officer Varun Kumar was recently taken to a court in a dowry harassment case, the police officers surrounded him to avoid him being captured on camera. “He is under court custody and hence you cannot take photo,” reasoned a police officer, who during other instances has released photos of accused persons.

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