Expressing concern over increasing custodial violence, the Supreme Court on Tuesday warned policemen that such incidents including rape would not be tolerated.

A Bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra said: “Policemen must learn how to behave as public servants in a democratic country, and not as oppressors of the people.”

Quoting the judgment in the D.K. Basu case, the Bench said: “Custodial violence, including torture and death in lock-ups, strikes a blow at rule of law, which demands that the powers of the executive should not only be derived from law but also that the same should be limited by law.”

Justice Katju, writing the judgment, quoted a Urdu poem — Bane hain ahal-e-hawas muddai bhi munsif bhi Kise vakeel karein kisse munsifi chaahen by Faiz Ahmed Faiz — and said: “If ever there was a case which cried out for the death penalty it is this one, but it is deeply regrettable that not only was no such penalty imposed, but not even a charge under Section 302 [murder] of the Indian Penal Code was framed against the accused by the courts below.”

Appellants Mehboob Batcha, Parthasarathy, Jafar Siddique and Karunanidhi, who were policemen, wrongfully confined Nandagopal in police custody in the Annamalai Nagar station (Tamil Nadu) on suspicion of theft from May 30, 1992 to June 2, 1992 and beat him to death with lathis. They also gang-raped his wife Padmini in a barbaric manner. Both the trial court and the Madras High Court held the appellants guilty and sentenced them to 10-year imprisonment.

Dismissing the appeals the Bench said: “The graphic description of the barbaric conduct of the accused shocks our conscience. We see no reason to disbelieve the wife's evidence. Ordinarily, no self-respecting woman would come forward in court to falsely make such a humiliating statement against her honour. Crimes against women are not ordinary crimes committed in a fit of anger or for property. They are social crimes. They disrupt the entire social fabric, and hence they call for harsh punishment. The horrendous manner in which the woman was treated by policemen was shocking and atrocious, and calls for no mercy.”

Rarest of rare cases

The Bench further said: “We are surprised that the accused were not charged under Section 302 IPC and instead the courts below treated the death of Nandagopal as suicide. In fact, they should have been charged under that provision and awarded the death sentence, as murder by policemen in police custody is, in our opinion, in the category of the rarest of rare cases deserving the death sentence, but surprisingly no charge under Section 302 IPC was framed against any of the accused. We are constrained to say that both the trial court and the High Court have failed in their duty in this connection. The entire incident took place on the premises of the Annamalai Nagar police station and the accused deserve no mercy.”

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