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Why a separate anti-torture law?

Topics Covered: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Why a separate anti-torture law?


The alleged torture of a father-son duo in Sattankulam town in Tamil Nadu has once again given rise to the demand for a separate law against torture.

  • It is therefore essential to examine whether the existing law is inadequate to deter incidents of custodial torture.

What constitutes torture?

Torture is not defined in the Indian Penal Code, but the definitions of ‘hurt’ and ‘grievous hurt’ are clearly laid down.

  • Though the definition of ‘hurt’ does not include mental torture, Indian courts have included psychic torture, environmental coercion, tiring interrogative prolixity, and overbearing and intimidatory methods, among others, in the ambit of torture.
  • Voluntarily causing hurt and grievous hurt to extort confession are also provided in the Code with enhanced punishment.

How Supreme Court has dealt with custodial torture cases?

  • DK Basu v. State of West Bengal case: The Court has issued guidelines that the police must follow in all cases of arrest and detention.
  • Nilabati Behera v. State of Orissa case: The Court made sure that the state could no longer escape liability in public law and had to be compelled to pay compensation.

Similarly, the Court has held in many cases that policemen found guilty of custodial death should be given the death penalty.

Observations by law commissions:

262nd Law Commission Report recommended that the death penalty be abolished except in cases of ‘terrorism-related offences’.

273rd Report of the Law Commission recommended ratification of the U.N. Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment (CAT).

  • CAT was signed by India, but is yet to be ratified.

Other safeguards:

  1. Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, a judicial magistrate inquires into every custodial death.
  2. The National Human Rights Commission has laid down specific guidelines for conducting autopsy under the eyes of the camera.

What needs to be done?

We first need to implement the law as we have it.

  • Then, the investigations, the prosecutions are not fair; these must be rectified first.
  • The police need to be trained better. The temptation to use third-degree methods must be replaced with scientific skills.

Thus, the need of the hour is to strike at the root cause of the problem and implement recommendations of various commissions to bring in necessary reforms.

Insta Facts:

About UNCAT and key provisions:

The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (commonly known as the United Nations Convention against Torture(UNCAT)) aims to prevent torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment around the world.

  • The Convention requires states to take effective measures to prevent torture in any territoryunder their jurisdiction, and forbids states to transport people to any country where there is reason to believe they will be tortured.
  • The Convention was adopted on 10 December 1984 and came into force on 26 June 1987.

26 June is now recognized as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, in honor of the Convention.

About the Committee against Torture (CAT):

It is a body of human rights experts that monitors implementation of the Convention by State parties.

The Committee is one of eight UN-linked human rights treaty bodies.

  • All state parties are obliged under the Convention to submit regular reports to the CAT on how rights are being implemented.
  • Upon ratifying the Convention, states must submit a report within one year, after which they are obliged to report every four years.


Prelims Link:

  1. Definition of Torture under IPC.
  2. Composition and functions of Committee Against Torture (CAT).
  3. When and why is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture is observed?
  4. UNCAT- formation, members and functions.
  5. Law Commission of India- Formation, composition and functions.

Mains Link:

Why India needs a separate anti- torture law? Discuss in the light of recent incidents.

Sources: the Hindu.