The perennial malady of custodial violence
The recent deaths in custody of two men in Tamil Nadu has once again spotlighted the perennial malady of police violence.
The recent deaths in custody of two men in Tamil Nadu has once again spotlighted the perennial malady of police violence. While hardly unique to TN—or India for that matter—police violence disproportionately affects the marginalised and for those reasons (and others) often goes unpunished. A case in point is the death of a 22-year-old man belonging to an SC community. The postmortem report, released on Wednesday, said he had sustained 13 injuries.
The man had died while in police custody due to seizures, the cops had claimed. In the other case, a middle-aged man belonging to a tribal community took ill and died while in judicial custody. In both cases, family members have accused the police of not sharing pertinent information and of assaulting their kin. While the chief minister has said there will be proper probes and action, it is pertinent to note that these are hardly the only instances of alleged custodial violence or deaths this year.
The worst of police violence dominated headlines in 2020 when local cops were accused of torturing a father-son duo to death over a lockdown violation in Thoothukudi. Subsequently, some senior cops attempted to work with their juniors on improving police-public relations. When the DMK government came to power, it reconstituted the Police Commission, which is also mandated to devise ways in which to improve policing and community relations. But what is required is a complete overhaul of policing and the power dynamics underpinning it. This must include creation of a more humane work environment for the police too, in which regular duty hours and paid time off that personnel can avail is guaranteed. This cannot happen without serious political will.
In the meantime, ensuring real accountability for errant cops is the bare minimum TN should guarantee. Statistics paint a grim picture: analysis of crime data shows that from 2001–2018, TN saw over 100 custodial deaths but no convictions. The DMK government, now completing a year, has a history of engaging in police reforms. In the present instance, it could display its commitment to its ideological moorings of social justice by ensuring the current investigations reach their logical conclusions in a timely manner.