Torture was to silence people and make sure that they did not raise their voice against injustice and remain docile, observed the jury at a public hearing on all forms of custodial injustice in custodial institutions in Tamil Nadu, here on Saturday.

The organisers said that public hearing was part of a democratic exercise with an objective to restore human dignity, as it was important since the government machinery had failed to deliver justice. Henri Tiphagne, executive committee member, World Organisation Against Torture, Geneva, said that torture was not only inflicted on the accused but also on petitioners and complainants. The idea behind the exercise was to bring out the different dimensions of psychological effects associated with torture.

The public hearing saw 32 cases from across Tamil Nadu where victims of custodial torture, kin of encounter victims and custodial deaths depose before a six-member jury which comprised human rights activists, an educationist, an advocate and a journalist.

It could be seen as systematic victimisation as this public hearing proved once again that the equations of power — both legal and sociological – act against the marginalised sections of society. Among the 32 cases that were taken up for hearing, more than 70 per cent of the victims of torture and encounters were Dalits and the rest were Muslims and Most Backward Classes.

The jury recommended that India should fill its legal void against torture by ratifying the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which it signed in 1997. 0It praised the contributions of various civil society organisations but wanted them to move from monitoring and intervening in human rights violation cases to work on rehabilitation of the victims. It recommended that the interventions should be taken up to the respective United Nations Special Rapporteurs for Torture Victims and Violence against Women. The jury said that reprisals against human rights defenders should be stopped.

The jury questioned why High Court Judges and the Legal Services Authority remained silent on various matters where they could use their suo moto powers. The State should ensure that minimum investigation standards should be followed in dealing with torture cases, the jury said and demanded the abolition of death penalty.

The public hearing was organised by Public Hearing Co-ordination Committee of Civil Society Organisations which comprised 13 civil society organisations and a political organisation.

More In: Madurai