By Harleen Kaur:
Human rights describe equal rights and freedom for everybody without distinction of any kind on the basis of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions. However, many people have always suffered from the lack of them throughout history. In fact, the lack of human rights has had a lot of effects on people lives.Â Our constitution was founded on the basic idea that all men and women are equal with liberty and justice for all. We must respect and preserve the rights of all, for when the rights of one are threatened the rights of all are diminished. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is an expression of India’s concern for the protection and promotion of human rights. It came into being in October, 1993.
Since its inception, the NHRC has dealt with various complaints and taken initiatives relating to atrocities on SCs and STs, bonded labour, child labour, child marriage, communal violence, dowry death or its attempt, dowry demand, abduction, rape and murder, sexual harassment and indignity to women, exploitation of women and numerous other uncategorized complaints. However the most alarming complaints regarding violation of our human rights are against those very people who have been given the mantel of its protection. The NHRC has in recent years been handling major complaints in respect of police administration such as failure in taking proper action, unlawful detention, false implication, custodial violence, illegal arrest, other police excesses, custodial deaths, encounter deaths, harassment of prisoners, jail conditions, etc.
The NHRC’s initiatives have led to a debate and a number of law suits regarding the rights of the police as well as the prisoners. It has taken a number of steps like drafting guidelines to check misuse of the power of arrest by the police,Â setting up of Human Rights Cells in the State/City Police Headquarters,Â steps to check custodial deaths, rape and torture; accession to the Convention against Torture, Additional Protocols, systematic reforms of police, prisons and other centers of detention, visit to Jails, mental hospitals and similar other institutions, etc.
Despite state prohibitions against torture and custodial misconduct by the police,Â torture is widespread in police custody, which is a major reason behind deaths in custody. The police often torture innocent people until a ‘confession’ is obtained to save influential and wealthy offenders.Â A programme coordinator of the Indian branch of theÂ Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative inÂ New Delhi once commented that the main issue at hand concerning police violence is a lack of accountability of the police. About 800 people die after being tortured to death in Indian prisons each year. In 2006, theÂ Supreme Court of India in a judgment in theÂ Prakash Singh vs. Union of India case ordered central and state governments with seven directives to begin the process of police reform. The main objective of this set of directives was twofold: providing tenure to and streamlining the appointment/transfer processes of policemen, and increasing the accountability of the police.
Though the NHRC has been rallying against the violation of rights all measures continue to be in vain. The main reason for this is the lack of awareness and concern of people who find it easier to condemn people in prisons rather than protest for their rights. Every day when we open a newspaper we find at least one case of unjust use of power by police officials which we are swift to ignore.
The next time you ignore such cases remember this story of Germany: they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up.