ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Abolishing Torture

Notes from a Law Classroom

The practice of torture, cruel or inhuman treatment is abolished both under international law and national law in many countries. Despite this status, its practice is normalised to an extent that, apart from civil society organisations, it does not capture the imagination of the common populace. However, such normalisation among law students to the extent of justification of torture prompts the need for it to become a subject matter of inquiry. Through this article, experiences as a teacher of human rights are shared and analysed as to why justifications for such practices exist even among legal circles, who presumably are more aware of the total abolition of such practices both internationally and domestically.

In a recently released report by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) on the conditions of prisons in Punjab, a glaring but not surprising revelation comes to light. This is the issue of custodial violence, which is often inclusive of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, which occurs both in police as well as judicial custody. Out of the 660 inmates interviewed by the CHRI team, 357 of them (54%) alleged that they had faced some form of torture in police custody, while 80 of them (12%) alleged the same in judicial custody (CHRI 2023: 131–44). The techniques used ranged from waterboarding, electric shocks, sexual violence, and custodial rape to solitary confinement as a means of disciplining within the prisons (CHRI 2023: 133–37).

Despite the abhorrent nature of the acts which have been reported and continue to be reported, the issue of custodial violence, arguably, does not capture the imagination of society anymore. While the normalisation of such acts within the criminal justice system might be one possible reason behind the same, larger questions on whether the prohibition in law would lead to an attitudinal change of police or armed forces remain circumspect. Through this article, I, hence, intend to question the limits of law when it comes to abolishing acts of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, which, despite its absolute prohibition both internationally and nationally, continues to be accepted institutionally and socially. I attempt to analyse it from the viewpoint of a classroom teacher, who now has taught the aspect of prohibition of torture as a part of a law course for three years, wherein the discussion on the legitimacy of these acts in certain situations continues to find support.

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Updated On : 17th Oct, 2023
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