Custodial Deaths & Police Brutality

This Research Paper is written by Renu Jayant Kulkarni, a Third Year B.A LL.B (Hons.) Student at N.B.T Law College, Nashik.


This article is about custodial deaths which are a part of custodial violence. In the last few years, custodial deaths have become a topic of discussion due to an increasing number of cases. The aim of this article is to inform people about this issue, present a clear picture of the custodial violence and role of the police department, and behavior of police officers in this matter. It also provides information about the types of torture by police in custody and cases related to the topic. This article highlights some remedies which can help to improve the situation and can stop this cruelty with victims.


Every citizen in the country thinks that the Police are those who protect them, but when they read about custodial deaths, they raise questions about the work process of police. Custodial death is a crime against humanity and it is the violation of human rights. Custodial death is an inhumane game that is influenced by power and authority. In this, the perpetrators are the officers who are running the power and authority. Custodial deaths are the ominous case of misuse of authority. Before studying custodial deaths we have to know, what is custodial violence? Custodial violence primarily refers to violence in police and judicial custody. It includes physiological violence, physical violence, and sexual violence.

Custodial Deaths

Custodial death is the death of a person in the custody of the police, other authorities, or in prison. In the 21st century, death in custody remains a controversial subject. A non-fatal shooting or severe and extensive injury is not sufficient; there must be a death in cases of custodial deaths. However, a death in a road traffic incident, even if the person who dies is under arrest and heading towards a police station in a police car, is not a death in custody. There are two types of custody 1. Police custody and 2. Judicial custody.

  • A person dies as a result of grossly negligent medical treatment by a police doctor whilst in custody, which is still death in custody. Suicide can also be a death in custody. Custodial death attacks on the fundamental right to life (Article 21 of the constitution of India). It is a cruel crime committed on the land of Lord Mahavira, Buddha, and Mahatma Gandhi who praise the non-violence and peace. It is a disgrace on the democratic rule.

Role of Police in Custodial Deaths  

The department of police is the only field that has been given a legal right to use force while making the arrest of any culprit involved in crime and to disperse the unlawful assembly only. In no other field use of force is allowed by any agency deployed in law enforcement.

Powers are granted to the police to enable them to enforce the law and protect people effectively. However, it is sometimes the desire to solve a case in less time and sometimes greed of promotion makes them use it illegally.

It is known to everyone that police use force while conducting an interrogation of any suspect or accused of any crime and sometimes death occurs during interrogation which not only gives a bad name to the department, then the concerned police officers are sent to jail after registration of a case of causing death in police custody. Death in police custody is a black spot on all members of force as the police have no right to take the life of any person during interrogation. In respect to this topic, some cruel tortures are done with accused by police and agencies. They are as follows:-

  1. Beating on the spine.
  2. Beating the accused with Bamboo sticks on the bare soles of the feet.
  3. Use of rifle butts for beating.
  4. Burns the skin of the accused with a lighted cigarette and candles.
  5. Denial for medical treatment to accused.
  6. Forceful extraction of teeth.
  7. Forcefully lie victim on ice slabs.
  8. Hauling the victim on airplane position.
  9. Stuck victim in tires and then beating.
  10. Inserting live electric wires into body crevices.
  11. Public flogging.
  12. Submersion in water.
  13. Suffocation with the use of plastic bags.
  14. The victim is crushed under a heavy roller.
  15. The victim is stabbed with sharp instruments.

Causes of Custodial Violence

  1. Sadism in the police.
  2. Unrealistic public expectations about crime control.
  3. Failure of the criminal justice system.
  4. Inadequacy of strength and resources in the police.
  5. Inadequacy of laws.
  6. Lack of scientific temper and non-availability of facilities.

Causes of Custodial Deaths 

  1.  No proper search of the arrested person is being taken before his entry in the lock-up of the police station and the arrested person has committed suicide in the lock-up. 
  2. No other method of interrogation is being adopted except using force.
  3. No preparation is being made before interrogation.
  4. Involvement of such police officers who are not involved in interrogation in writing, they can harm the accused person.
  5. Slackness of police officers in giving medical aid or in the examination of an injured accused person immediately after interrogation.
  6. Lack of patience in police personnel because they want immediate confession of the accused.
  7. Lack of supervision during interrogation by the senior officers.
  8. The traditional habit of using force by the police is prevailing in the department.
  9. The misbehavior of police personal with the arrested person may cause the suicide of that person.
  10. No respect for the law and human rights of a person.

Cases Related to Custodial Deaths in India

  • K.Rajan VS Union of India on 26 July 2016.
  • Nilabati Behera Alias Lalita Behera VS State of Orissa and Ors on 24 March, 1993.
  • Murukeshan VS State of Kerala on 25 May, 2010.
  • Altaf Khan Zafar Khan Pathan VS State of Maharashtra on 20 December 2017.
  • Govindbhai Shivabhai Jadav VS State of Gujarat on 4 April 2007.

Statistics related to Custodial Death in India

According to ‘India: Annual Report on Torture 2019 ‘, this is a report released by a rights group, said that a total of 1,731 people died in custody in India during 2019. 1,606 of the deaths happened in judicial custody and 125 in police custody. “Out of the 125 deaths in Police Custody, Uttar Pradesh topped with 14 deaths, followed by Tamilnadu and Punjab with 14 deaths each and Bihar with 10 deaths “, said the report published by National Campaign against Torture (NGAT).

“The NCAT’s analysis also revealed 75 (60%) of these 125 belong to the poor and marginalized communities.

The following graph represents the statistics of the year 2018:-

Remedies for avoiding Custodial Deaths

  • Basic remedies for the department of police:-
    1. Tightening recruitment standards.
    2. Improving training standards.
    3. Improving the machinery for enquiring into complaints.
    4. Improving supervisory and leadership standards.
    5. Review and implementation of reports submitted by commissions/committees.
    6. Review of laws.
    7. Payment of compensation.
    8. Use of custody memo to monitor, check, and prevent custodial violence.
  • Basic precautions should be taken by police to avoid custodial death during interrogation:-
  1. Preparation for interrogation must be made beforehand so that proper and thorough interrogation may be done.
  2. The interrogation must be conducted at such a place where no one else is present except the members of interrogation and the accused so that deep and thorough interrogation may be conducted.
  3. The interrogation must be conducted continuously so that the person under interrogation may not get a chance to change his mind to conceal the truth.
  4. The 1st and 2nd interrogation must be reduced into writing with the help of a constable and if any difference is found then it should be asked to explain the difference to the accused person to find out the reality.
  5. Every accused person should be interrogated separately so that they should not hear the statement of the other co-accused person otherwise the accused persons may change their mind if they know that their companion has refused to participate in the crime. This leads to the use of force by police officers.
  6. No such police person should be included in the interrogation team who was not in the arrest party because such policemen may cause fatal injuries to the suspect or accused and the responsibility will come to those officers who have arrested that person.
  7. The interrogation officer should keep patience during interrogation.
  8. The interrogation must be done according to the age, sex, and nature of the accused person.
  9. A Proper search of an arrested person should be taken by the police before his entry in the lock-up of a police station.
  10. Close watch over the activities of criminals while they are in the lock-up of a  police station. Because in some cases where an arrested took poison in the lock-up and died.
  11. Examination and treatment of injured arrested persons should be conducted immediately.
  12. No misbehavior should be done with any person who is under interrogation because there is some example that the suspect person has committed suicide in the lock-up of police station due to misbehavior by police.
  13. No use of force during interrogation.

A Provision enacted in the Constitution of India to curb the tendency of policemen to resort to torture to extract a confession

  1. Section 330, 331, and 348 of the Indian penal code.
  2. Section 25 and 26 of the Indian evidence act.
  3. Section 76 of the Code of criminal procedure.
  4. Section 29 of the Police Act, 1861.

Prevention of Torture Bill, 2018

The Ministry of Home Affairs ( MHA) said that the 273rd report of the law commission and the draft of ‘ The prevention of torture Bill, 2017 ‘ has been considered by the government, along with comments from state government and that the’ government is seized of the matter’.

The objective of this law is to’ provide punishment for torture inflicted by public servants or any person inflicting torture with the consent or acquiescence of any public servant….. ‘.

The bill defines torture as an act by a public servant or by a person with the acquiescence of a public servant who causes grievous hurt or danger to life, limb, or health (whether mental or physical).

Further, the bill proposes punishment of minimum 3 years which may be extended to 10 years, and a fine for torture inflicted for purpose of extorting confession, or for punishing or on the ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground.

But this bill was lapsed due to the dissolution of the 16th Loksabha in 2018[1]


On the basis of all this study, the conclusion is that the custodial Deaths is an inhuman activity and challenges the law and human rights of that victim. Custodial deaths are the reflection of the cruelty of police officers and other agencies. Sometimes ego of power is the reason behind this evil act. In a few studies, the poor are more victims than other people. The police and other agencies are for the security of common people then why these types of Crimes happen in society. If the mentioned remedies are used and precautions followed by the officers t[2]hen we can control these crimes and make our law and democracy more powerful. We all have to work for removing these cruelties.


Reference :-

[2]  Prevention of Torture Bill, 2018

Section 330, 331, and 348 of the Indian penal code.

Section 25 and 26 of the Indian evidence act.

Section 76 of the code of criminal procedure.

Section 29 of the Police Act, 1861.