Prevention of Torture Bill 2010: Designed to Fail

This blog has, in an earlier post, discussed the draft Prevention of Torture Bill 2008 [See the Asian Centre for Human Rights Report on this draft Bill]. In the last session of Parliament, the government has finally introduced the Prevention of Torture Bill 2010 in Lok Sabha. Although the Bill has invited some optimistic comments, I have argued in this opinion piece in The Hindu that the Bill is an example of cynical law making at its worst. An analysis of its provisions suggests that it is highly unlikely there will be a successful prosecution under it. Routine conviction of torturers can most certainly be ruled out. As I have argued in the article, the sole motivation of the Bill appears to be to polish India’s international image and get over the embarrassment that its non-ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman And Degrading Treatment and Punishment causes. Indeed, enabling the ratification of the Convention is the primary reason mentioned in the official ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’ appended to the Bill: there is not even an acknowledgment of the scale of the problem of torture in India. Parliament will do well to reject the proposal which does worse than pay lip-service to an important human rights concern.

Update: A reader has just alerted me that the Prevention of Torture Bill 2010 was indeed passed by Lok Sabha after a brief, late-evening debate in which not a single member of the main opposition parties (BJP, RJD, BSP, CPI, NC, Shiv Sena) said anything. Noteworthy are Shashi Tharoor’s introductory and concluding remarks in his speech:

I have often felt that the issues here go to two fundamental problems in our country. The first is, how we treat our own people; and the second is the image of our country in the world at large.
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Indeed, the next time if somebody wants to make an Oscar-winning movie showing an Indian policeman behaving in that way [i.e. torturing a citizen, as in SlumDog Millionnnaire], we can surely hope that they will also show him being punished and sentenced for his actions. That is indeed what India should stand for and be seen as standing for around the world.

The Bill, sadly, caters only to one of these two objectives. It remains for Rajya Sabha to emphasise the importance of the other.

Written by
Tarunabh Khaitan
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  • Hi Tarunabh,

    Thanks for your extremely informative blog post and article on the "Prevention of Torture" bill. I had a few questions after reading the article.

    First, has the bill also been passed by the Rajya Sabha?

    Second, do we know why India is not a signatory to the Torture Convention? As far as I know, some provisions of the Convention are now regarded as customary international law. Is it because India still retains the death penalty which is widely regarded as a cruel and unusual punishment.

    Third, why does the bill not criminalise cruel and unusual punishment? Is it again because of the death penalty?

    I couldn't agree with you more about the idea that the post colonial Indian state has exactly the same mindset as the colonial govt. The mindset is very much us vs. them. The opacity and bureaucracy of the administration only make matters worse.

    I look forward to your responses and follow up on this issue.

    Thanks again!

  • dear namita
    thanks for your queries. as far as i know, the bill has only been passed by the lok sabha, and still pending with the rajya sabha. india has signed the torture convention, but hasn't ratified it so far. officially the reason is that ratification has to wait until an offence of torture is created in domestic law – given that india is a dualist country, i thought this wasnt key. in any case, i suspect the real reason is having to deal with violation claims, given how routine torture is in india generally, let alone troubled regions.
    as to why 'cruel and unusual punishment' has been left out, i really don't know. as i have claimed, i dont think the drafters of this bill want to enforce the convention. if they can get away with the rubbish that this bill contain, they can hold their heads high in international summits.
    please let me know if you have any further questions.

  • I have read in an article,
    According to the Asian Center for Human Rights, a majority of those who die in custody are not dreaded terrorists but people detained for petty offences. A 'high proportion' are poor or belong to the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes.
    Is it true?