K.P.M. Basheer

`Bad treatment in Government offices is torture'

KOCHI: The International Day in Support of Victims of Torture passed off largely unnoticed by governmental agencies as well as NGOs in Kerala, which witnessed a series of tortures in the past year, including the barbaric `uruttal' of a young man in the Fort police station in Thiruvananthapuram.

The U.N.-sponsored day aims to build global resistance to all forms of torture and to create awareness about State-backed violence against humans. The U.N. General Assembly in 1997 designated June 26 as torture victims' day with a view to fighting torture worldwide and to draw attention to the sufferings of victims and their families.

The day, which commemorates the coming into effect of the International Convention against Torture in 1987, also aims to build support for the implementation of the convention. Of the nearly 200 member-countries in the U.N., only 128 have so far ratified this convention. India and the United States are yet to ratify it.

Talking about the relevance of the anti-torture day, S.D. Singh, secretary of Torture Prevention-India (TOP India), pointed out that there is a growing need to recognise and identify forms of non-physical torture in Kerala. "People tend to link torture, almost exclusively, to the police," Dr. Singh, who is also a psychiatrist, said. "True, torture by police and custodial murders are commonplace in Kerala," he noted. "Non-physical torture is pretty rampant in the State, but it is not recognised as torture because of people's preoccupation with police violence."

While police brutalities often get noticed because of the alert media, non-physical ones go unreported and hence are ignored, Dr. Singh said.

Non-physical torture is often non-visible and hence objective evidence is hard to come by, he pointed out. Such torture is mostly psychological in nature. Abuse of power by Government officials is a clear example of non-physical torture as it leads to harassment of people, he said. "The way the Government officials in Kerala behave with the ordinary people is totally unacceptable in a democratic society," he said. "Those who go to Government offices are commonly harassed, inconvenienced and humiliated by the officials."

Dr. Singh said people should recognise harassment and bad treatment by Government officials as torture and demand apology and compensation and force the Government to take steps against such torturers.

He pointed out that people going to Government offices to get their things done are compelled to address even clerks as Sir/Madam. In his view, this `sir-ring' against their will is a form of torture and should be done away with.

"It's a citizen's right to get the service offered by a Government office; it is the duty of the officials to render the service for which he/she is paid for by the Government." It was not a master-servant relationship requiring `sir-ring' and `madam-ing,' he said.

Dr. Singh said that the Torture Victims' Association being set up by TOP-India would address the issue of non-physical and non-visible forms of tortures. The association is likely to be formally launched on the December 10, the World Human Rights Day.

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