Custodial Torture

A threat to legal system

Mohammad Didare Alam Muhsin | Published: 00:00, Oct 27,2020


UNFORTUNATELY, in the recent past, the country had to witness a number of tragic incidents. The latest addition to this was the mysterious death of a young man named Raihan at Bandarbazar in Sylhet. Locals took to street protesting since his death. It has been alleged that the young man died prematurely as a result of brutal beating at the police outpost there. According to newspaper reports, the autopsy found 111 marks of injuries on the body of the slain youth. Two of his fingers were found de-nailed. He is thought to have died of hypovolemic and neurogenic shock as a result of rupture of blood vessels in the body. What was his offence? It is said that he was caught on suspicion of being a snatcher and beaten so brutally. There are also allegations that money was demanded to release him. Did the police have the right to arrest him and torture him in this way, even if it is assumed for the sake of argument that the person killed was a suspected criminal?

Beating to death is not a new phenomenon in this country. About a year ago, a middle-aged woman named Taslima was beaten to death by some unruly mobs in the capital’s North Badda on suspicion of being a child lifter. It is learned that the woman went to a school there to inquire about the admission of her child. Around the same time, several people in different parts of the country were beaten on suspicion of being a child lifter. The death of BUET student Abrar after being brutally beaten by some misguided student leaders is still fresh. As far back as I can remember, in the nineties, a student in a university in the country was beaten to death by some unruly political activists. The incident in Sylhet is of special interest because it happened at the hands of the police. Probably another reason is that in the recent past there have been a number of sensational crimes in the country, in some of which the involvement of the law enforcers has been alleged.

Are these brutal beatings, which in some cases lead to death, intended to kill? When a mob on the street starts beating up someone on suspicion of child-lifting, pick-pocketing or snatching, there is no real purpose. It is just human resentment towards crime, a kind of disrespect and distrust towards the legal system. However, these incidents also show how irrational and cruel people can be at times. If you search, you will find that most of the people who have attacked someone in this way have jumped on the bandwagon without knowing much about what actually happened. As if everybody wanted to prove that he could be crueler than anyone else. In educational institutions, when some so-called powerful student leaders or their loyal goons attack or ruthlessly beat up a student considering him as an opponent or for any other reason, assertion of power serves as one of the objectives. They want to show their performance in this way, to get the attention of the ‘big brothers’, as well as to keep a signal in general — how important it is to be careful in dealing with them. Sometimes, the strategy could be to beat up in such a way that one will remember it for the rest of his/her life, but taking care at the same time to make sure that the person will not die. The victim might not die, but get maimed for life. The problem with dying is that it causes a lot of noise all around. Then the situation take such a turn that it becomes difficult for the miscreants to escape.

The question is, if the allegations against the police, that criminals or suspected criminals are often tortured at the police station, are really true, what mindset works in that. Certainly, intention of killing does not work here, too. Why take up beating, if killing is not the motive? One can assume that death is not planned here, just an accident, which sometimes happens unexpectedly. Even then the question remains whether the allegation of such beating is really true. And how much of the allegation is just rumors? If it is true, does it happen regularly?

What is particularly troubling is that there is no alternative to an efficient, trained and sensitive police force to maintain law and order in a country. The police force is expected to provide security to any public5 or private institution of the country, important persons and the general public and suppress anti-social miscreants. The police force must be given enough authority to suppress and control criminals. In order for them to be able to find the culprits and bring them under the law, they must be given the freedom to apply appropriate, effective tactics as they see fit. But, can brutal beating of a criminal or suspected criminal in police custody be acceptable as a tactic? How acceptable are the allegations of death or false confessions as a consequence of custodial torture, which have made the headlines umpteen times.

Can beating a man, beating him to death, be a deed of a human being? That is why the words like ‘inhuman’, ‘brute’ and ‘human devil’ have been introduced in society. Even the butcher, who slaughters a few cows every day and cuts them into pieces, will hesitate or decline to give a blow to a human being. But, when a man becomes inhuman, his hand does not tremble so much as to lay hands on another, to torture him, and even to push him to the brink of death. It creates no feeling in his heart; rather, in it he finds a perverted, demonic pleasure. This inhuman transformation of human beings does not happen overnight. When someone starts to set foot in the criminal world, his conscience stumbles and rebels. Gradually, however, he becomes accustomed to it, his sense of guilt weakens, and his conscience dies. Then a crime does not seem to be a crime to him anymore.

Experts believe that the majority of the police force in this country is people-friendly. They are silently playing an incomparable role in maintaining peace and order in the country and protecting the lives and property of the people. The way they have saved the dignity of many women by responding to emergency calls in recent times is an example of their people-friendly role. The country’s police force has worked tirelessly to serve the people during the COVID-19 outbreak, and in doing so, many have been affected by and have succumbed to COVID-19. According to a source, the death toll has risen to more than 50. So, why should they take the responsibility for the misdeeds of a few errant policemen as a whole and share the notoriety? The issue, therefore, needs to be addressed immediately. To that end, the introduction of a system for monitoring the activities of the police force can be considered. A unit may be formed consisting of transparent, prudent and vigilant members of the police and other forces and senior government and non-government officials, who will be in charge of round-the-clock surveillance. The activities of the police force at the police station level, including the interrogation of criminals or suspected criminals, can be brought under the purview of CCTV, the records of which will be regularly maintained and submitted to the higher authorities. Body cameras can be introduced so that no one can make unacceptable, false allegations against members of the police. However, what is needed is political will. The situation is bound to change if decisive message is transmitted from the appropriate level of the government.


Dr Mohammad Didare Alam Muhsin is a professor of pharmacy, Jahangirnagar University.

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