This article is written by APURVA, a student of Fairfield Institute of Management and Technology, GGSIPU


What happens when a suspect dies in custody? It conveys disgrace to our Constitution, that Constitution which is the best in the world. Such unfortunate incidents, simply raise serious allegations and questions, ‘Is it not the violation of the rights of the victims?’, ‘Are the enactment of suitable legislations, not needed?’, ‘Is the state not needed to bite back such offences?’. Although the Constitution of India guarantees various rights to ‘person in custody’ or ‘prisoners’ under Article 20 21, and 21. ‘Right against handcuffing’, ‘Right to fair and speedy trial’, and ‘Right against Inhuman Treatment by the Police’, etc. have been interpreted by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India to be an integral part of the Constitution. But the social evil- Custodial Death is still not getting out of the scenario. This study throws the snowballs on that which aims to explain the possible ways to quell Custodial Death from the society.

Keywords: Constitution of India, Custodial Death, Legislations, Judiciary, Human Rights, Police.


Our promising saviors, oh! Do they really are? 

A very complicated and controversial topic, widely referred to as death that happens to a person under trial or has been convicted of a crime, we talk about Custodial Death in this article. It can be due to natural causes like illness or maybe due to suicide, or the fighting among prisoners, or is the brutality and torture by police happen to be the reason behind the death. It is one of the highest forms of violations of Human Rights. It is a blunt attack on the right of liberty guaranteed by The Indian Constitution

Well, the victims are often tortured before they are taken into custody, which helps police conveniently claim that the incidents happened were not due to the custodial violence, rather they were the injuries that happened before the arrest. And, sometimes before the arrest, the victims are killed by fake encounters.

It seems hard to prove, isn’t it?

The above cluster of events are head spinning facts arising a number of questions and doubts. Hence, we will learn everything about the Custodial Death in this article.

Custodial Death

It is defined as the demise of a person in custody or a prisoner during investigation, interrogation or otherwise. It is broadly classified into three categories:

  1. Death in Judicial Custody
  2. Death in police Custody
  3. Death in Custody of Army or a Paramilitary Force

Custodial Death can be due to illness or other natural causes, or may also happen due to suicide, or infighting among prisoners but in many cases, it is police torture or brutality behind the death.

Custodial Death due to police torture or brutality is one of the highest forms of violation of human rights. In the lust of power, the police make them use their power illegally and arbitrarily with immense torture and violence. This is termed as custodial violence. It is categorized into following types:

  1. Physical Violence: The victims are often beaten violently or made to lie on ice slab or by different other methods to torture to such an extent that they feel the fear of immediate death. Different irritants like table salt and chili powder are applied on delicate parts and open wounds giving immense pain. 
  2. Sexual Violence: Rape, Sodomy, verbal abuse and targeting victim’s dignity are sexual tortures. They also affect psychologically. Rape and Sodomy also affects physically.
  3. Mental Violence: Torturing mentally and depriving them of the basic needs like food, water, sanitation and sleep, breaking the confidence and morale of the victim, and traumatizing mentally are mental violence.

Latest Unfortunate Custodial Death: Tamil Nadu Case

On 19 June 2020, in Sathankulam, Thoothukudi district, P. Jeyaraj of 59 and his son Fennix of 31 were arrested for violating COVID-19 Lockdown rules. According to the FIR, they were arrested on an account to keep their shop open after a specified time to close as per the guidelines. They were violently tortured and sexually assaulted from almost 7 hours several times with intervals.

On 22 June 2020, Fennix, the son died of heavy internal bleeding which was confirmed by the reports of the Government Hospital, Kovilpatti and the same day, the father was admitted.

On 23 June 2020, Jeyaraj, the father died of lung puncture while undergoing treatment.

Later, the CBI charge sheet claimed that the father-son duo did not violate any rule and the forensic report of the blood stains on the walls of the police station confirmed that they were violently tortured.

Two innocent lives of a father-son duo died for no reason, but custodial violence.

Judiciary’s Role in the Entire Picture of the Custodial Death

The interventions drawn by the Judiciary regarding Custodial Death are explained by the following landmark cases:

Joginder Kumar v. State Of U.P and Others 1994 AIR 1349: 1994 SCC (4) 260

For effective social control of those elementary rights, in Article 21 and 22(1), the Hon’ble Court issued the subsequent guidelines:
1. The police officer shall inform the arrested person when he is brought to the police station of this right. 

2. An entry shall be required to be made in the diary as to who was informed of the arrest. 

3. These protections from power must be held to flow from Articles 21 and 22(1) and enforced strictly. 

4. It was further directed that it shall be the duty of the Magistrate, before whom the arrested person is produced, to satisfy himself that these requirements have been complied with.

J. Prabhavathiamma v/s The State of Kerala & Others WP(C).  NO. 24258 OF 2007 (K) AND CRL. R.P.2902 OF 2007

The two serving police personnel were awarded the death sentence by a CBI court, after hearing the case for over a decade, in Thiruvananthapuram, over the death of a scrap metal shop worker, who the court believes was murdered in custody.
While sentencing the two, choose J Nazar had said:
“This is a brutal and dastardly murder by accused (number) one and two… The acts of the accused persons would definitely adversely affect the very institution of the police department… If the faith of the people in the institution is lost, that will affect the public order and law and order, and it is a dangerous situation.”

Munshi Singh Gautam v State of Madhya Pradesh, Appeal (Crl.) 919 of 1999

Summarizes their grief concern regarding this downside of torture in Indian prisons by police. 

The supreme court explicit that: 

“The dehumanizing torture, assault and death in custody which have assumed alarming proportions raise serious questions about the credibility of the rule of law and administration of the criminal justice system… the concern which was shown in Raghbir Singh case more than two decades back seems to have fallen on deaf ears and the situation does not seem to be showing any noticeable change. The anguish expressed in the cases of Bhagwan Singh v State of Punjab, Pratul Kumar Sinha v State of Bihar, Kewal Pati v State of UP, Inder Singh v. State of Punjab, State of MP v Shyamsunder Trivedi and the by now celebrated decision in the landmark case of D K Basu vs. State of West Bengal seems ‘not even to have caused any softening of attitude in the inhuman approach in dealing with persons in custody’.”

Yashwant And Others v. State of Maharashtra (2018) 4MLJ (Crl)10(SC)

The Supreme Court on 4 September upheld the conviction of 9 Maharashtra cops in reference to a 1993 guardian death case and extended their jail terms from 3 to 7 years. Reportedly, a bench of Justices NV Ramana and MM Shantanagoudar upheld the order and aforesaid that incidents that involve the police tend to erode people’s confidence within the criminal justice system. whereas enhancing the sentence of the cops, the apex court aforesaid,
“With great power comes greater responsibility,”.
The police personnel were found guilty under Section 330 of the Indian Penal code that involves voluntarily inflicting hurt to extort confession or to compel restoration of property. 

D.K. Basu Versus State of West Bengal (1997 (1) SCC 416)

The Court issued a list of 11 guidelines in addition to the Constitutional and Statutory Safeguards to be followed in all cases of arrest and detention. The guidelines are as follows: –

1. The police personnel carrying out the arrest and handling the interrogation of the arrestee should bear accurate, visible, and clear identification and name tags with their designation.

2. The police officer carrying out the arrest of a person must prepare a memo of arrest and it must be attested by at least one witness.

3. A friend or relative or another person, known to the arrestee or has an interest in his/her welfare shall be informed as early as possible about the arrest.

4. If the next friend or relative of the arrestee lives outside the district or town, they must be informed by the police through ‘legal aid organization’ telegraphically, within 8 to 12 hours during the arrest.

5. The arrestee must be instructed about the right to have someone informed about his/her arrest or detention as soon as he/she is put under arrest or is detained.

6. An entry must be made in the diary regarding the arrest of the person.

7. On request of the arrestee, he/she should be examined at the time of the arrest.

8. The arrestee should be subjected to medical examination within 48 hours during his detention.

9. All documents including the memo of arrest should be sent to the concerned magistrate. 

10. The arrestee may be permitted to meet his lawyer during interrogation.

11. A police officer causing the arrest shall provide ‘information regarding the arrest’ and ‘place of custody’ of arrestee within 12 hours of affecting the arrest to the police control room. 


To eradicate ‘a social evil- protective Death’ from society, it is necessary that folks should raise their voice together against such atrocities.
Many reforms ought to be introduced, like:
Enacting AN “anti-torture law”: There is no ‘anti-torture law’ in our country. Though the offence of protective death is charged as a criminal offence under IPC, however there is not even a definition of torture in any sculpture in our country. Thus, it’s polar to border an adequate anti-torture law in our country, that shall incorporate a correct definition of torture, punishments for the bad person and a correct redressal mechanism.
India ought to validate the world organization Convention Against Torture: It will mandate a scientific review of colonial rules, methods, practices and arrangements for the custody and treatment of persons subjected to any type of arrest, detention, or imprisonment.
Ground-level implementation: There are various laws and procedures that are already established to condense the likelihood of infringement of human rights, whereas the suspect is in custody. However, all the episodes keep turning up since there is no ground-level implementation of the procedures recognized.

But, not the reforms, a modification within the mind-set of the society is all required. Every person of the state ought to be treated equally by the others regardless of faith, caste, color. There ought to be no distinction between wealthy and poor. 

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