An international rights group has blamed police in India for the deaths in custody of hundreds of prisoners over a period of five years.
In a report released on Monday, Human Right Watch said that police in India not only regularly bypassed arrest regulations but also often used torture techniques on those in custody — sometimes to lethal effect.
The 114-page report, titled “‘Bound by Brotherhood’: India’s Failure to End Killings in Police Custody,” cited official data showing that at least 591 people had died while in police custody between 2010 and 2015.
The report included in-depth investigations of deaths of prisoners and more than 70 interviews with victims’ family members, witnesses, justice experts, and police officials.
HRW investigations showed that Indian police mistreated suspects in police stations to obtain information or confessions.
Forms of torture routinely used against suspects included severe beatings with boots and belts, and sometimes suspending suspects from their wrists, according to the HRW.
Autopsy reports of victims examined by HRW experts showed injuries and hematomas consistent with blunt force trauma.
Meenakshi Ganguly, the HRW’s South Asia director, said on the rights group’s website that Indian police regularly beat suspects to obtain confessions, and if the suspects die under those circumstances, authorities cover up the incident by citing suicide or illnesses as the cause of the deaths.
“Our research shows that too often, the police officers investigating deaths in custody are more concerned about shielding their colleagues than bringing those responsible to justice,” she said.
The rights group urged Indian authorities to hold to account those police officers responsible for the death of the suspects and make necessary reforms in the law enforcement agency to build a more rights-respecting force.
“Police in India will learn that beating suspects to confess is unacceptable only after officers are prosecuted for torture,” said Ganguly.
Regulations currently require suspects to be medically examined after arrest, with the doctor listing any illness or pre-arrest injuries. If a suspect sustains new injuries during detention, it will point to police abuse and the mistreatment of the prisoner.
Every suspect taken into police custody must appear before a court judge within 24 hours of custody, according to Indian law.