SHRC- New ray of light for victims of police brutality?

India has recently seen a spur in peaceful protests being subjected to use of excessive force by the police and misusing their power and authority. It is being seen as violation of human rights and our Human Rights Commissions are meting out just orders against such cases of police brutality and if the trend goes on, it might one day serve as a deterrent against errant police officials.

PoliceImage Courtesy: PTI

Recently, the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission (KSHRC) awarded compensation of Rs. 50,000 to a father and son in Bengaluru who were assaulted by two policemen without provocation. Reportedly, the two policemen had beaten up the father and son for failing to produce documents of a two-wheeler. Although the two policemen were not authorised to check vehicle documents, the Inspector, superior to these policemen, a constable and a sub-inspector refused to take any action against them and closed the case. The father and son who were mercilessly beaten up had to be hospitalised due to the injuries suffered by them. They received justice in the form of the compensation thus awarded by the KSHRC, which it said should be recovered from all three policemen. Such orders from Human Rights Commissions restore our faith in the upholding of human rights in India and serve as an example.

The police are a service that are meant to be in the service of the public and to safeguard and protect them but when the protector becomes the attacker, due to imbalance of power, that’s when the issue arises. Our country has seen peaceful protestors being attacked in our history when we were ruled by colonial powers but the same legacy seems to have imbibed and continued by the law enforcement officials to this day. Peaceful and harmless protestors, in many instances who are college students fighting for their rights, are met with the brutal force of the police and other armed personnel who exercise extreme physical restraint on such gatherings or protests and unleash violence upon such unarmed masses.

Cases of police Excess

It was reported in July 2018 that a 23 year old student in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh who had raised her voice against irregularities in admission procedure of Lucknow University was abducted by the police and was threatened to not post anything on social media against the government. She had gone on a hunger strike in protest at the Lucknow University and there, she along with fellow protestors met with lathi charge from the police.

CJP had approached the NHRC in July 2018 seeking guidelines on police action with respect to peaceful protestors in response to which the NHRC asked the concerned authorities to submit a report within four weeks in cases of police violence in cases such as those of Pooja Shukla, Richa Singh from UP and other protesters in New Delhi and other parts of India.

In June 2018, in June, student leader Richa Singh, the former president of the Allahabad University student union, was protesting the leak of the Hindi examination paper for the Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission (UPPSC) when she and several others were detained by the police, after they met with lathis.

In May 2018, Tamil Nadu Police allegedly fired into a crowd of protesters demonstrating against the Sterlite Copper plant in Tuticorin that was emitting pollutants into the water there; more than ten people were killed.

The stories of unwarranted police brutality are inestimable in India. The brutality does not stop at young protestors, in some instances even mothers of such college students have become a victim to such unlawful brutality. Rohith Vemula, a PhD student of Hyderabad University ended his life after suffering months of bullying, harassment, physical violence and mental torture at the hands of University authorities as well as a student’s union. After his death, in the fight for justice for her son, his mother, Radhika Vemula was subjected to immense psychological torture when she was asked to prove that she was a Dalit as also physical torture when she was dragged away by the police during a peaceful vigil for her son. There are other stories like this like that of Fatima Nafees, mother of Najeeb Ahmed who was also ruthlessly manhandled by the police while she was speaking to the media outside the court, about the habeas corpus petition for her son who went missing from JNU hostel and there was suspected foul play.

Reliefs provided against police excess

In April 2019, Tamil Nadu Human rights Commission (TNHRC) ordered the state government to provide compensation of Rs. 50,000 to a victim of police excess, whereby a police Inspector at Tiruchy had threatened a businessman and violated human rights.

IN June 2019, TNHRC recommended the state government to grant compensation of Rs. 5 lakhs to the father a victim of custodial death which had taken place in 2011 in Madurai and even recommended disciplinary action against the two policemen involved.

In July 2012 it was reported that, after declaring 16 police encounters which took place in Guntur and Kurnool districts of Andhra Pradesh before 2002, as fake and ordered monetary compensation of Rs. 80 lakhs (Rs. 5 lakhs to each family) and asked the money to be recovered from the police officials.

It was, however, reported in January 2017 that 46% cases where NHRC recommended monetary compensation were pending since 2013-14 indicating the scant regard institutions like NHRC have; making the whole exercise pointless.

Immunity and impunity

The section 197 of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) provides immunity to public servants from prosecution for any misappropriate acts done by public servants which includes police personnel. Most cases of police brutality have to be brought to the notice of the judiciary directly by means of writ petitions and in some cases, the courts have awarded compensation to the victims of police excess and brutality. One wonders how is that adequate? There is a fine line between violation of human rights and a police officer acting in disposition of his duty. “I was just doing my duty” is the shield used by police men, unless the excess can be somehow proved and it can take years before any compensation is received, but in most cases, the police officer will complete his years of service and reap the benefits of being a public servant.

Although the Indian Police Act does penalise police for violation of duty or wilful breach or neglect of any rule or omission of duty under section 29, there is no specific section that deals with police brutality.

State Police Complaint Authority (SPCA)

In 2006, the Supreme Court ordered that Police Complaint Authority be set up at all State and district levels in order to entertain complaints against the police and citing lack of accountability. It was recently reported that in Maharashtra, the SPCA recommended punishment against police personnel only in seven cases in the last three years. Since it was set up in January 2017, SPCA has received 1,485 complaints from people across Maharashtra, of which it has disposed of 1,340 cases. The SPCA can only recommend action against errant police officers to the government.

An official said, “In many cases we do not pass any order pertaining to punishment as we try to settle the issue between the complainant and police personnel. Usually once the complainant is satisfied, the matter gets resolved.”

While setting up the Complaints Authority was a remarkable move by the Supreme Court, the Maharashtra SPCA is not exactly setting a good example by taking action in mere 7 cases in the complaints received in the past 3 years. If the SPCA promises better, transparent and accountable functioning, the public might just place some trust in it for bring errant police officers under the scanner.

The Human Rights Standards and Practice for the Police

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in 2004, released a booklet titled “Human Rights Standards and Practice for the Police” the underlying principle of which is that police officials must respect human rights and must not do any action in derogation of such rights. The topics covered include non-discrimination in law enforcement, abiding by human rights in investigations, arrests, proportionate use of force, detention. It also states how there should be accountability for use of force and forearms, permissible circumstances for use of force and firearms, and so on. In case of violation of human rights by police, it says that there should be a proper system in place for receipt of complaints against the police, the investigations of which should be transparent, thorough, impartial, prompt and competent. It also says that obedience to superior orders cannot be a defence for violations. While all these guidelines are ideal, they are also very idealistic and very difficult to be imposed in reality.


The only three practical and viable remedies that one has against police brutality are, to either file a complaint with the SPCA or file a writ petition at the High Court, or Supreme Court, whatever the case may be or approach the State or National Human Rights Commission. All processes can prove to be long drawn as none are bound by a statutory time frame.

However, positive cases where State Human Rights Commissions are awarding compensations to victims’ families are raising hope for human rights in India and if more and more such cases are decided and justice is rightly served to the ones who have been wronged by public servants, the beam of light might just keep glowing.

To conclude

It is true that the dynamics in a police hierarchy is extremely convoluted and while action is being carried out by one person, the orders come from a superior which could be due to political pressure and these orders the police official cannot defy. Yet, there needs to be some deterrent in cases of police brutality or excessive action or excessive use of force which is completely unwarranted, especially the ones that happen out in the public eye, for people to see. The buck has to stop somewhere or we will have to accept and live in a world where violation o of human rights by police officials becomes a way of life.

While the Human Rights Commissions in our country have proved to be a ray of light in such cases, as seen here inabove, the Commission needs to be given more definite powers to deal with cases before it and it ought to follow a strict time line in for disposing cases so that more and more such cases are served with justice and at least this serves as some kind of deterrent for the police.

We carry on as crusaders of human rights in the hope that orders like this one of KSHRC, do not remain a needle in the hay stack and instead serve as a deterrent in order to prevent misuse of power and intimidation of the weaker sections by unruly and errant law enforcement officials.



CJP writes to NHRC over Police brutality against teaching candidates in Lucknow, UP
UP Police abduct, try to intimidate student leader Pooja Shukla
CJP Demands Police Reform
Stop Police Excesses on Peaceful Protesters

How India Unleashes Violence Against Mothers

Mumbai: 1,340 cases disposed, action sought in seven




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