#India – The rugged road to justice,when offenders are govt officials


V. VASANTHI DEVI, The Hindu , March 28,2013

UGLY TRUTH: A custodial death is perhaps one of the worst crimes in a
civilised society governed by the rules of law. Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

UGLY TRUTH: A custodial death is perhaps one of the worst crimes in a civilised society governed by the rules of law. Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy
The circumstances surrounding the custodial death of a Dalit woman in Tamil Nadu in 2002 serve as a reminder of the difficulties in securing justice when the offenders are government functionaries

This is a case of justice being awarded after a decade. Last month, the Ramanathapuram Sessions Court sentenced eight policemen to rigorous imprisonment, for up to 10 years, for the 2002 custodial killing of Karuppi, a poor Dalit woman, at the Paramakudi police station in Tamil Nadu. It is a landmark judgment, and significant, as she was from the Arundhatiar caste, reckoned to be the lowest among Dalits.

The victim, Karuppi, 48, a domestic servant, had been accused of the theft of a gold chain from the house of her employer. She was interrogated at the police station and tortured for six days. Her body was found hanging from a transmission tower behind the police station in the early hours of December 1, 2002. The police registered it as a case of suicide and disclaimed its occurrence in the police station.

The Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women (TNSCW), of which I was the chairperson at the time, was petitioned by People’s Watch, a human rights organisation, for intervention alleging custodial death and intimidation of witnesses. I spoke to the Collector of Ramanathapuram district to arrange to meet Karuppi’s family. I inspected the police station and was certain that Karuppi could not have slipped out of the station that night and hanged herself. Later, I met her family who were alleged to be facing intimidation.

All of them narrated the same “official” story — having been caught thieving, Karuppi had killed herself out of shame and guilt, the policemen had no hand in her death and so on. My solemn assurances that they could confide in me were to no avail. They must have sounded feeble, weighed against the proximate threat to life and limb they faced from their habitual tormentors. I lost all hope of finding the truth and was ready to leave.

Turning point

Then the turning point. The last member to depose was Christu Das, the husband of Karuppi’s sister-in-law. Another inquiry that should have ended in a few minutes in utter frustration suddenly went on for two hours. The veil of secrecy that had shrouded the doctored depositions so far suddenly lifted and the pieces of a sordid story fell into place.

Christu Das fell at my feet. I was stunned to hear him say: “Amma, please save me and my children. We are in great danger. I have to tell you the truth, otherwise my ‘heart will not burn on my funeral pyre’.”

Once assured of my support, he felt comfortable enough to narrate the details.

On the night of November 26, 2002, Christu Das, his wife, Arumugam, and daughter were taken to the Paramakudi police station without the police furnishing any reason. They saw Karuppi chained in a room and were told that she had been arrested for the theft of jewels.

Christu Das was made to undress with only his underwear on, handcuffed and had his legs shackled to a table. From the next morning the police subjected him to constant physical assault and abuse. He learnt that he and his wife, and later the daughter and son-in-law of Karuppi were there to force Karuppi to confess.

For three days he was witness to her brutal torture by four policemen. She was beaten with lathis and her knuckles pierced with sharp needles. Her pleas that she was innocent cut no ice. Whenever Christu Das interceded, he too was beaten. After three days, the Christu Das family was let off.

On December 1, Christu Das and his wife learnt from a fish monger that the body of a woman had been found behind the police station and was in the hospital morgue.

At the hospital, their fears came true. It was Karuppi. Christu Das added that up till the time of my inquiry, the family members were being threatened by the police not to spill the beans.

Reports

I returned to Chennai, determined to expose the horrific case of a custodial death.

I got copies of the post-mortem report, First Information Report and inquest report from the Collector, Ramanathapuram. He said that five policemen, including an inspector had been suspended and an inquiry conducted by the sub-collector.

I sent the first and third reports to the head of the forensic department of a government hospital in Chennai.

His reply: “Patient died of Asphyxia due to acute ante mortem (AM) hanging with multiple contusions….. the age of the contusion is 1 to 3 days. Probably the wounds were caused by persons standing on the left (mostly in the lower limb) and in the right (mostly in the upper limb).

Opinion:

The victim was subjected to blunt force for a period of 1 to 3 days before her death. The contusion on the right forehead is a last injury caused by blunt force prior to her hanging.”

Armed with this, I wrote to the Home Secretary, with a copy addressed to the Chief Secretary, seeking a fair inquiry by the Crime Branch Crime Investigation Department (CB-CID) or the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). This letter and its reminders were met by silence.

In my time, the TNSCW was not a statutory body and did not have the powers to summon witnesses and get them to depose under oath. I contacted the Chairperson of the National Commission for Women, Poornima Advani and a joint public hearing was conducted by the National and Tamil Nadu State Commissions in Madurai on October 28, 2003.

There were a number of witnesses, including the family members of Karuppi, the sub-collector, Paramakudi, and the policemen in charge during the occurrence. We found, inter alia, that: Karuppi had been detained and tortured for six days; the post-mortem report showed extensive ante-mortem injuries on her body, making the police version of suicide unbelievable. We recommended compensation of Rs.2 lakh to the family of Karuppi and Rs.1 lakh each to Arumugam and Christu Das for the torture they had been subjected to. Our report was sent to the Tamil Nadu government. There was no action till March 2005, when my term as chairperson of the Commission ended.

In 2006, Sudha Ramalingam, advocate, Madras High Court, and legal counsel of the Commission in my time, filed a criminal original petition in the Madras High Court, on behalf of Mr. Henri Tiphagne, People’s Watch, to transfer investigation of the case from the file of the inspector, Paramakudi police station, to the CBI.

Two years later, in September, Justice K.N. Basha ordered the CB-CID to investigate the case expeditiously. “It is crystal clear that the victim was subjected to inhuman torture, humiliation and physical violence by the police officials. In view of such overwhelming materials available on record, this court is of the considered view that … a thorough investigation by independent agency is very much essential, more particularly in view of the accused involved in this case are the police officials.”

Fundamental rights

The trial of Karuppi’s case finally ended in the sessions court on February 14, 2013. Judge W. Sathasivam awarded 10 years rigorous imprisonment to five of the eight accused police men. Two other policemen were awarded seven and three years imprisonment respectively. A fine of Rs.1 lakh was imposed on Sahul Hamid, the then inspector. It was observed that “The accused, in a bid to cover up the “lock up death” removed (Karuppi’s) body from the women’s cell and hung it in a VHF tower behind the station to give an impression that she had committed suicide…”

I end with a quote in the judgment of Hon’ble Mr. Justice K.N. Basha citing the Supreme Court in D.K. Basu vs. State Of West Bengal: “Custodial death is perhaps one of the worst crimes in a civilised society governed by the rules of law…If the functionaries of the Government become law breakers, it is bound to breed contempt for [the] law and would encourage lawlessness, …thereby leading to anarchism. Does a citizen lose his fundamental right to life, the moment a policeman arrests him? …These questions touch the spinal cord of human rights jurisprudence.”

(V. Vasanthi Devi is a former chairperson, Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women, and former Vice-Chancellor, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tamil Nadu.)

 

#Gujarat-Dalit Blood Taints Narendra Modi’s Claims


By Anand Teltumbde

08 December, 2012
Countercurrents.org

During the state sponsored carnage of Muslims in 2002, Dalits in Gujarat were unduly defamed having performed the role of foot soldiers of the Hindutva forces. These were stray incidents in Ahmedabad wherein Dalits were spotted in the crowds that attacked Muslims but there were several other instances that surfaced later all over the state in which Dalits had sheltered Muslim families daring the Hindutva marauders. But media in its characteristic way sensationalized the former and completely ignored the latter. Dalits who are always seen with jaundiced eye, became more despicable because of this canard. Intellectuals and commentators waxed eloquent for years thereafter in their stereotypical analyses of what appeared as sinister development without caring for the facts. These highbrow analyses feigning empathy and concern for Dalits only served to deepen hatred for them. In this negativity lay a positive implication that the upper castes and Dalits might henceforth have amicable relations in Gujarat eliminating the possibility of any caste conflict in the future. Mere glance at the facts would show how removed these commonplace notions and intellectual commentaries were from the ground reality in Gujarat.

The recent incident in Thangadh, a small town in Surendranagar district of Gujarat, in which three Dalit youth lost their lives as fallout of a minor clash between them and an upper caste community called Bharwad is a case in point. The clash occurred as a result of an argument over auctioning of stalls at an annual fair organized by the Thangadh municipality. According to newspapers, a Dalit youth was beaten up by the Bharwads on Friday after which the Dalits filed a complaint against them with the Thangadh police station. The following night, the two groups clashed near the police station. The local Police intervened and fired upon the crowd seriously injuring a seventeen-year old boy Pankaj Sumra, who later died in a hospital in Rajkot. News of the death sparked outrage among Dalits in Thangadh who took to the streets demanding that a complaint be filed against police officials responsible for the death. With tension in the town, police officials called in reinforcements. On Sunday afternoon the police again opened fire on the agitating Dalits injuring three Dalit youths. They were rushed to the Rajkot civil hospital where Mehul Rathod, 17, and Prakash Parmar, 21, died. The condition of the third, Chana Vaniya, 25, was critical.

These are the broad facts of the case. The incident is reminiscent of a similar incident that took place in Paramkudi, a taluka place in Ramnathpuram district in distant Tamilnadu poignantly pointing to the pan Indian reality of caste conflict, and that the situation in Gujarat was no different than the atrocity prone Southern Tamilnadu. In Paramkudi, there was a long history of conflict between Pallar, a second most populous Dalit community and the Thevar, the local upper caste community not very dissimilar to Bharwad in the instant case. Other details of these two cases run strikingly similar [see, Author’s report of the fact finding: Killing Pallars To Propitiate Thevars, available online- http://www.countercurrents.org/teltumbde301011.htm.] As in the Thangadh incident, a 16-year old Dalit boy was hacked to death by a group of Thevars on the previous day, in a nearby village. The next day, large number of Dalits gathered at Paramakudi as planned to pay homage to their leader, Emanuel Sekaran, at his memorial on his birth anniversary. Emanuel Sekaran was brutally murdered 54 years ago in a conflict with Muthuramalinga Thevar, the leader of Thevars, whose memorials and anniversaries are patronized by the state. Although Dalits knew about this murder, they had maintained normalcy required for the solemnity of the occasion. However, the unusually huge police posse positioned there indicated that the state had different plans for the day. The plan unfolded into police suddenly opening fire and unleashing brutal atrocities over the day eventually killing in all six Dalits and injuring scores of them.

The similarities between Than and Paramakudi go beyond these incidents. Bharwad community in Gujarat is not highly positioned to be called an upper caste. Traditionally its vocation was shepherding and still it is predominantly pastoral, only a small section of it being agriculturists and significant numbers being farm labourer. They are so backward that a section of them living on the edge of the Gir forest rather are included into Scheduled Tribe. Likewise, Thevars also are not placed high in caste hierarchy and were almost at the lower end of the shudra band. So much so that in colonial times they were classed as the criminal tribes by the colonial rulers. There is a profound lesson contained in these episodes like numerous others that today the conflict of Dalits is not with the well entrenched upper castes, habitually identified with Brahmins by Dalits but with these backward castes, whom they fondly include as their allies in constructing ‘bahujan’. In both cases a teenage Dalit boy is murdered on the previous day (coincidently Saturday) and the police firing takes place on Sunday resulting into a major toll of Dalit lives. The police bias in both the cases is palpable, and is responsible for the bloodshed. Massive Dalit protests that followed these incidents led by social activists and not by the mainstream leaders also was a common feature across both.

In such incidents, the police come out with their own stories to justify their actions. As in Paramakudi, the Police in Thangadh claimed that both sides clashed with sticks and sharp weapons on Saturday and hence they had to intervene. They claimed to have used tear gas shells before a sub-inspector K P Jadeja opened fire. The activists denied it and claimed that Jadeja fired without any warning whatsoever and only at Dalits. Proof of the pudding bears out their version as there was no injury on Bharwad side. Moreover, after the skirmish between two communities the police had suspended the fair and there was no reason for firing at 11.30 in night on people who were returning home. The activists claimed that Jadeja did it only with casteist prejudice against Dalits. On Sunday afternoon, the police claimed that the angry Dalits clashed with Police and hence they had to open fire in self defence. The CID investigation, ordered by the government in response to the massive agitation Dalits proved that it was a pure lie.

Another stratagem common to all such incidents is Police arresting Dalits and slapping cases on them, with serious charges like attempt to murder. In the infamous incident of police gunning down 10 Dalits in Ramabai Nagar in Mumbai in 1997, while the sub inspector Manohar Kadam, whose guilt was variously proved not only in the courts but also by the Gundewar Commission instituted by the Maharashtra government to probe the matter, never went to jail and was rather rewarded with promotions, the Dalit boys who protested against the police firing were harassed for more than a decade fighting cases against them until the court acquitted them. In Thangadh also the Police arrested Dalit boys and slapped serious charges against them. It is only because of the intensity of protest Dalits displayed that the government has relented and released them. Notwithstanding the fact that it is an election year and Narendra Modi would ill afford to displease Dalits by not conceding their reasonable demand, the credit still goes to Rajesh Solanki of the Council for Social Justice (CSJ) for mobilizing people around it in an unprecedented manner.

The Thangadh episode surely refutes the negative characterization of Dalits of Gujarat that they patched up with the rightist forces. It also exposes the hollow claims of Narendra Modi that his regime takes good care of Dalits, Adivasis and even minorities. The matter of Adivasis, who have been Hinduised over the years is well known to people and what his regime did to the Muslims is still getting exposed through courts. Dalits were the only people whose contradictions with the regime had not come so much in limelight, notwithstanding the ongoing struggle of the veteran activist Valjibhai Patel of the CSJ. If one takes a look at the atrocity statistics, the Modi regime only scores average among the states and union territories ranking tenth highest in the list of 35. As per the Crime in India 2011 report, there have been 1063 registered crimes against Dalits in Gujarat in which there were 12 murders and 45 rapes. Modi’s hyperbole about Dalits in Gujarat turns out as hollow as his developmental claims. He will have to account for the blood of Dalits spilled in Gujarat quite like anyone of his ilk elsewhere.

Dr Anand Teltumbde is writer and civil rights activist with CPDR, Mumbai

 

The other September 11 tragedy


 

Crimes against scheduled castes have actually increased, according to the government’s own figures. But a fact-finding team in Tamil Nadu, where on September 11, 2011 serious police atrocities against dalits were committed, found that the district administration had little awareness about laws and measures for combating crimes against scheduled castes and tribes, writes K S Subramanian

The union home ministry, in its annual report for the year 2010-11 (page 78), has stated that the number of crimes against scheduled castes in the country has increased from 26,127 in 2005 to 33,595 in 2009. State-wise figures are not available, but one has only to read S Viswanathan’s classic study on crimes against dalits in Tamil Nadu (2007) to comprehend the seriousness of the situation there as regards violence against dalits by higher castes and classes.

The report details “measures to be taken in combating crimes against scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs)” such as implementation of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989; improvement in convictions for crimes against SCs and STs; proactive role of the police in detection and investigation of such crimes; sensitisation of the law enforcement machinery; application of law without dilution; awareness-building; mechanisms for safety and security of SCs and STs; association of NGOs in such tasks; prompt registration of FIRs, proper supervision, review and follow-up; preventive measures and policing of atrocity-prone areas; representation of SCs and STs in the police, in sensitive areas; measures towards economic and social rehabilitation of victims of violence; sample surveys and studies; exemplary punishment for extreme violations of human dignity, etc.

Though the recommended measures are indeed impressive, none of them was found to have been implemented on the ground, as discovered during a fact-finding team visit to Paramakudi in Ramanathapuram district, Chintamani in Madurai district, and Ilayangudi in the Tuticorin district of south Tamil Nadu where, on September 11, 2011, serious police atrocities against dalits, including murder, were committed. The district administration showed little awareness or was indifferent to any of the above-mentioned laws and measures. The district magistrate, superintendent of police, and inspector general in Ramanathapuram took a rigidly law-and-order approach to a legitimate dalit public protest and agitation, and ignored the proclaimed police code of conduct and charter of duties. The inspector general, a tough cop, went to the extent of branding John Pandian, a prominent dalit leader in the region, a mere criminal, and underlined the need for strict action against such ‘criminals’. He was totally ignorant of special provisions in the law and procedure that govern police conduct in relation to crimes against dalits.

Six people were killed in police firing at Paramakudi, and hundreds were reportedly injured and/or suffered police torture at all locations in the three districts where violence occurred due to police mishandling.

Journalist S Viswanathan, in his classic book Dalits in Dravidian Land (Navayana, 2007), has documented in painful detail 52 cases of atrocities against dalits in Tamil Nadu committed by more powerful and better-off sections of backward castes, especially the Thevars in the southern districts. The negative role of the police and the indifference of the rest of the state machinery, are among the important features documented in the book. In fact, state indifference and police complicity and indifference to provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 are major factors behind continuing atrocities against dalits in Tamil Nadu.

The struggle for social justice and civil rights on the part of the depressed Mallars (which is opposed by the backward Thevar caste) lies at the heart of relations between the two communities in southern Tamil Nadu. A high point in the struggle was reached in 1957 when rights activist Immanuel Sekaran was murdered by suspected members of the Thevar community. Muthuramalinga Thevar, a leading member of the Thevar community, was arrested for his complicity in the case, but was let off.

The relentless struggle for social equality by the Mallars, resisted by the Thevars, was seen again recently in the Mallars’ demand that their leader’s death anniversary, falling on September 11, be celebrated as a state function just as the death anniversary of Muthuramalinga Thevar is celebrated annually. And that their leader should be christened deivathirumagan (‘god’s own creation’) just as Muthuramalinga Thevar has been christened. Negotiations between the two communities took place with the mediation of the police who supported the Thevars against the Mallars, leading to a rejection of their demands. This caused an eruption of police violence against the Mallars on September 11, 2011, in Paramakudi, Ramanathapuram district.

The observance of Immanuel Sekaran’s death anniversary on September 11 every year has been going on peacefully, as acknowledged even by the police and revenue authorities. Preparations this year went ahead, involving the allotment of time slots for leaders from political parties and others to pay homage to the slain hero. Even the murder of Palanikumar, a 16-year-old dalit student in Pacheri village, on the night of September 9, which caused great concern, did not affect the preparations. Notwithstanding the relatively peaceful atmosphere, the district administration prevented John Pandian, regional leader of the new dalit party, the Tamil Manila Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK), from visiting Paramakudi to pay his respects to Immanuel Sekaran, after his visit to Pacheri to convey his condolences to the bereaved Palanikumar family. Undemocratic and insensitive though this was, the dalits kept their cool and John Pandian decided not to come to Paramakudi. There were no formal orders of externment against Pandian until the evening of September 10, 2011. Such an order was, however, communicated to the district authorities, from ‘higher formations’, at around 10.30 am on September 11, 2011.

Pandian had earlier been given a specific time slot (3 pm to 5 pm) on September 11, 2011, to pay his respects at the memorial of Immanuel Sekaran, establishing the fact that, till then, the police had no apprehensions of a possible breakdown in law and order in the event of his visit. In a provocative police move, Pandian was arrested in Valanadu, Tuticorin district, under Section 151 of the CrPC, at about 11 am on September 11, 2011. This was just a few hours before his intended departure for a state-approved visit to Paramakudi. The place of detention, a guesthouse at the police firing range, was inexplicable and led to concerns about his safety. The arrest was completely unwarranted.

As the news spread, people assembled at the five-roads junction in Paramakudi, a little distance away from the memorial. A section of the crowd (some 50-odd men out of around 1,000 people) squatted on the road. Traffic on that day mainly consisted of people coming to pay homage to Immanuel Sekaran. From many accounts and practical wisdom, the sequence of events that followed soon after raised more questions than answers. Police officers at the spot failed to contain the small though slightly restive crowd by the usual peaceful means. Instead, they inexplicably resorted to a lathi-charge and began firing even as the crowd was dispersing into various alleys leading out of the main junction. Sivakumar, the Paramakudi revenue official on whose orders force was resorted to, failed to meet members of the fact-finding team. The revenue divisional officer confirmed that she was far from the scene of the incident, and that Sivakumar had ordered the police firing on his own assessment of the situation.

This called for a statutory inquiry into the incident, in accordance with the law.

The fact-finding team was of the view that the situation could have been handled easily and without the use of force. The police version — that the crowd had resorted to arson — appeared wholly unfounded. None of the establishments in the area bore any evidence of having been set on fire. As for the police vehicle — an armoured carrier — that was set on fire, it defies belief that a crowd that was already on the run as a result of the lathi-charge, and far away from the five-roads junction, would have attempted to commit arson, especially in the presence of a posse of heavily armed policemen in riot gear. There is no evidence that the people manning the vehicle resisted attack. Further, a fire-tender stationed a few yards away could have extinguished the fire but the station officer, fire and rescue services, who was in control of the fire-tender, was unable to explain why it took him so long to move a few yards to where the police vehicle had been set on fire. A fire-tender belonging to another fire station, which was brought all the way, had stopped about 500 metres from the junction. Inexplicably, this fire-tender too was set on fire, allegedly by the crowd that was on the run trying to escape the lathi-charge and firing that had begun at around 12.45 pm. This led to the impression that the acts of arson were not the result of any action by the assembled crowd but were, in fact, carried out by the police in order to legitimise the unjustifiable violence. These aspects must be properly probed.

There are pointers to the presence of agent provocateurs in the few hundred-strong crowd at the five-roads junction. A lady in a red sari was conspicuous by her presence and a video recording from atop a building at the spot showed her actively orchestrating the protest against John Pandian’s arrest and the squat-on-the-road agitation. She was also seen continuously talking on her cellphone. Apart from the video, a senior police officer confirmed that the lady was heard speaking over the phone and discussing the detention of John Pandian. The officer added that she had not been seen in the district in the past, and that she could have been an outsider. It is strange that the policemen at the spot, including those from the intelligence, did not consider her presence as something that warranted a probe. Apart from identifying suspected agent provocateurs, officers who failed to follow the basic drill in such situations must be questioned.

In this context, there is urgent need to look into the norms and standards of international human rights law and Indian constitutional and legal provisions that govern the police handling of such situations. The yearly commemoration of Immanuel Sekaran clearly falls under the category of peaceful and lawful assembly.

Article 20 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.” The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states in Article 21: “The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognised” and that “no restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” India is party to the covenant and has a binding obligation to observe it fully.

The Paramakudi event has been recognised as ‘cultural expression’, allowing people to assemble peacefully. The aspect of recognition of the right to peaceful assembly has been observed. Even with certain other factors which may have influenced the gathering, the assembly was peaceful until the lathi-charge and police firing began. In fact, statements were made that negotiations were on between the police and the people assembled, in particular those sitting at five-roads junction. Besides the assembled people, there was a substantial police presence at the venue with all the necessary equipment and vehicles. The sudden rush of police, armed with lathis, brutally assaulting people who were sitting, and the subsequent use of firearms raises a host of disturbing questions about violation of human rights standards declared under international and national human rights law.

A code of conduct for law enforcement officials was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 17, 1979, and the Basic Principles on the use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, 1990 (referred to as basic principles) also exist. Corresponding provisions exist in the domestic law, especially concerning the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials including the police. According to Article 1 of the code, law enforcement officials/police shall at all times fulfil the duties imposed upon them by law, by serving the community and by protecting all persons against illegal acts, consistent with the high degree of restraint required “by their profession”.

The behaviour of the police in Paramakudi falls far short of this code, especially when “no illegal acts” by the public were noticeable. Article 3 of the code states specifically that “police officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty”. The sudden lathi-charge by the police on people sitting on the ground, with no semblance of violent expression, and the subsequent use of firearms deserves rigorous scrutiny. Moreover, visual images have shown that the use of force was not in accordance with the principles of necessity and proportion. Closely related to the above, and as observed in the testimonies provided by victims with multiple injuries, issues arise relating to Article 5 of the code, which states that “no law enforcement official/police may inflict, instigate or tolerate any act of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. The visible injuries observed on victims show that they indeed suffered such violence, along with abusive language related to their caste identity. The right to physical integrity was severely violated, with some victims losing their ability to carry on their profession. For example, a vehicle driver’s inability to use his arms and legs. Rights relating to life, limb and property were seriously violated. In some cases, people were cruelly beaten and killed. Another tragic case was that of a disabled person (polio paralysis to the left leg) being beaten on his legs, which were twisted. Here, one must take into consideration the Convention of the Rights of Disabled Persons (CRPD) which India has ratified. Article 15 of the convention prohibits any form of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment…

Article 6 states: “The law enforcement officials/police shall ensure the full protection of the health of persons in their custody and in particular shall take immediate action to ensure medical attention whenever required.” This provision was repeatedly violated for most victims in the Paramakudi case. In some instances, the victims were left to find their own medical help; no effort was made to call an ambulance or ask for assistance. Besides, with the imposition of Section 144 of the CrPC, efforts to get an ambulance through the number 108 proved impossible even for the hospital authorities. On the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials/police within the human rights framework, the basic principles refer to the code, especially Article 3 on the use of force, which, with its general provisions, among others, stipulates that government “should consider the development of non-lethal, incapacitating weapons for use in appropriate situations with a view to increasingly restraining the applicable means capable of causing death or injury to persons”. In Paramakudi, there was a wilful negligence in observing the above provisions, with the police indulging in a brutal assault on unarmed people, with all kinds of force including a lathi-charge and stone-throwing. Some people too threw stones, injuring a few police personnel, but the police had protective gear on. Other means of crowd dispersal were never attempted. The district magistrate of Ramanathapuram defended the stone-throwing by policemen as less harmful than police firing! Moreover, visual images showed that people were beaten up repeatedly, with the police stamping on their bodies. Warnings were not given through the appropriate audio means, but the police came well-equipped with riot-control vehicles (VAJRA), fire-tenders, ambulances, etc. Police vehicles appear to have been set on fire deliberately, to aggravate the situation.

A number of UN basic principles on the use of firearms were violated during the firing at Paramakudi on September 11, 2011. The basic principles include provisions for policing assemblies of different categories. Above all, as seen by the performance of the police in this incident, special measures need to be taken to sensitise the police and concerned state officials on anti-discriminatory approaches to policing and human rights protections as recommended by the Union home ministry itself. The basic principles also call for clear reporting and reviewing procedures; Article 23 states that persons affected by the use of force and firearms, or their legal representatives, shall have access to an independent process, including a judicial process. In the event of the death of such persons, this provision shall apply to their dependents. In all these circumstances, the issue of command responsibility should be examined.

After hearing witnesses, interacting with officers and taking into account the facts and circumstances of the case, the fact-finding team reached the following prima facie conclusions:
The arrest and detention of John Pandian, and preventing him from paying homage to Immanuel Sekaran, was unwarranted and led to the Paramakudi anti-dalit police violence.
It was clear that the dalits were proceeding to the memorial in a peaceful manner and were unarmed. There was no justification therefore for the use of force.
The use of force, including use of firearms, for an extended period of over four hours (from 12.45 hours to 16.45 hours) was unjustified.
The lack of a system to render medical assistance to the injured, and the brutal means by which the men in uniform dealt with the victims, was shocking and warrants action against those found guilty of such brutal acts.
There was no justification for using firearms; excessive firing caused death and injury to a large number of innocent people who were unarmed and were in a peaceful assembly/procession to the memorial. The firing/lathi-charge amounted to offences under the IPC and SC/ST (POA) Act, 1989.
It is learnt that there has been no executive magisterial inquiry into the use of firearms in this case, as required under the CrPC, apparently in light of the setting up of the Justice Sampath Commission of Inquiry. This is a patent dereliction of duty on the part of the district authorities.
There is a public perception that there will be no proper inquiry of any kind by the local administration, which is biased against dalits. An independent inquiry or investigation is therefore imperative. The investigation must be entrusted to the Central Bureau of Investigation.
A number of complaints from those who suffered serious injuries in the brutal police action state that no complaint or FIR has been registered. Each of the individual atrocities should be the subject matter of a separate inquiry. A special court should be set up at Paramakudi to receive complaints and process and investigate them.
Victims have not been properly rehabilitated both in terms of compensation and in terms of requisite medical treatment. Long-term measures of rehabilitation must be addressed, such as distribution of land to every SC family in the affected villages, development of their land, admission of their children to good residential schools, and provision of independent approach roads to their villages without them having to pass through areas of tension. Proactive, holistic measures must be adopted on the basis of equality, justice and dignity as mandated by the Constitution of India. Periodic fire-fighting is not the answer. A committee consisting of eminent citizens must be set up to continuously engage in measures to build the confidence of the people.

The fact-finding team recommended the following measures, in this context:
Transfer the investigation of all cases related to the Paramakudi, Chintamani and Ilayangudi firings to the CBI.
The Legal Aid Services Authority must provide free legal aid to the victims by appointing advocates to: i) assist them in preparing and filing complaints/follow-up, register the same either by filing petitions or private complaints in the magistrate courts, and secure convictions for perpetrators of the crime; ii) secure compensation for victims; iii) sensitise government officials at all levels to treat everyone equally and inspire confidence in the minds of the victims to make them feel that they will be heard and can secure justice from the state; iv) mobilise police personnel from castes other than those in the region to regulate public gatherings; v) create a special force, with special training, from among the armed reserve to regulate and manage any public gatherings; vi) provide the police constabulary posted to manage public gathering with reasonable facilities, not pile them up in schools or other institutions which have no infrastructure to even cover basic necessities; vii) post more doctors and other paramedical staff, on sensitive occasions, in hospitals in and around areas where such congregations happen.

(K S Subramanian, a Senior Fellow at the Council for Social Development, New Delhi, was a member of the fact-finding mission led by Justice Hosbet Suresh and set up by People’s Watch, a Tamil Nadu NGO, to go into the police firing on dalits at Paramakudi, in Tamil Nadu)

Infochange News & Features, January 2012

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