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"Authority needed to probe complaints against police"

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Teesta Setalvad. Photo: K. Ganesan
Teesta Setalvad. Photo: K. Ganesan

R. Sairam

Police brutality on rise due to lack of accountability: rights activist

MADURAI: An independent, State - level statutory authority that will look into complaints against the police should be formed to ensure that complaints from vulnerable sections are recorded, Teesta Setalvad, human rights activist and editor of Communalism Combat, said here on Thursday.

"Police brutality is on the rise across the country, which is mainly due to lack of accountability. We still have a colonial police system, as the Police Act of 1861 governs them," she said in an interview.

"Witnesses hounded"

Since the police had become subordinate to the political class, they were bound to obey their diktats. As long as this situation continued, atrocities such as the Gujarat riots would recur.

Those who fought for the victims of the Gujarat riots and appeared as witnesses were being "hounded" in various ways.

"Scary situation"

A "disturbing trend" in the recent years was that the police of various States were coming together to coordinate their activities. "The Gujarat police have close contacts with the Maharashtra police. The Andhra Pradesh police work closely with their counterparts in Karnataka on the Naxal issue. They learn from each other on how to effectively carry out an encounter. It is a scary situation."

Ms. Setalvad said for the common man to benefit from the legal process, a human rights officer must be posted in every police station and district court. "The Criminal Procedure Code gives a person the right to lodge a complaint with the judge himself. But, in some cases, judges refuse to take it up. If a human rights officer were present, he could record it."

The first draft of the Constitution, drawn up on February 1947, had a provision for a "non-discrimination officer" in every government institution. However, it was dropped in subsequent drafts on the belief that such a situation would set itself right, she said. "Only a statutory mechanism that will function independently and can look into complaints of the people can bring about this change."

"Trivial issues"

Saying that the media was obsessed with "trivial issues," she said it had to be proactive. "The media does not want to hold a mirror on society, exceptions notwithstanding."

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