[Editorial Analysis] The importance of being humane

Mains Paper 2: Social Justice

Prelims level: NHRC

Mains level: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.


• Dismemberment was a method of torture practised with vigour in ancient India, crushing-by-elephant-foot another.

• The Arthashastra prescribes mental torture through swear-words with or without physical assaults. Death by a thousand cuts was ancient China’s speciality.

• The Tang Code (652 CE) describes judicial torture in detail. Ancient Japanese methods of torture numb the human imagination.

• Their modern avatar in Japan’s World War II of biological and chemical experimentation on humans prisoners, mainly Chinese in Unit 731 stop the blood-flow to one’s heart.

Cautioned by history

• The practice of custodial power is about men and sometimes, women who are in positions of power, even if for a brief while and over a limited terrain, having custody over a powerless person.

• It is about the use of custodial opportunity to torture the captive’s body and mind.

• And there, in that arena of wantonness, it becomes something of a sport for the human “Gods” that rule mere humans.

• Custodial death, when not ‘natural’, is the extreme end-point of custodial torture. The death penalty, notwithstanding ‘due process’, is a close kin to this lawless and heartless game.

• India has practised and continues to practise the ‘third degree’ with impunity. Let only him deny it who has cause to hide it.

• But if torture is real, human revulsion with torture is also real. And it has shape, definition. It has scope.

The Indian case

• India took 13 years to sign the Convention, but sign it did, on October 14, 1997, during the 11-month-old Prime Ministership of I.K. Gujral.

• He did what Rajiv Gandhi, V.P. Singh, Chandra Shekhar, P.V. Narasimha Rao, H.D. Deve Gowda could not, did not, do. But signing is only the first step.

• Unless a convention is ratified and followed or preceded by domestic legislation that commits the ratifying party to compliance, the original signing carries no meaning. India has not ratified.

• India’s non-ratification of the Convention is both surprising and dismaying.

What is the constraint?

• A state which signs the Convention has to have a domestic law on the subject to outlaw and prevent custodial torture.

• Without such a law, there is no meaning to signing the Convention. And so, late as it was, the UPA II government introduced a Prevention of Torture Bill in the Lok Sabha in 2010 and had it passed in 10 days.

• The bill as passed by the Lok Sabha was referred to a select committee of the Rajya Sabha. The committee gave its report recommending the Bill’s adoption later the same year.

• Citing National Human Rights Commission figures of reported torture cases, the report said the figures showed custodial torture was rising.

• It also pointed out that the number of reported cases being only a fraction of actuals, the situation was serious.


Prelims Questions:

Q.1) Consider the following statements about DigiYatra:

1. It is a Facial Recognition based passenger processing to be used in airports in India.

2. Passengers can get a Digi Yatra ID by sharing minimum details like Name, e-mail ID, Mobile number and details of one approved Identity proof.

3. A passenger who has created the Digi Yatra ID has to undergo a onetime verification at the departure airport during his/her first travel.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Answer: D

Mains Questions:

Q.1) What is the constraint? Why is the Indian state unwilling to say, ‘no custodial torture in India’?

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