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Analysis of Police Custody Deaths in Maharashtra

In 1992 the Amnesty International (AI) published a report titled, “India:Torture, rape and deaths in custody”. This report became highly controversial with the media publishing conflicting views on the subject. We were particularly interested in looking at the causes of deaths in custody. Fortunately for us in 1991, a post-graduate student at a social work institution in Pune had completed a dissertation on the custody deaths in Maharashtra in 1980-89 period and we were kindly allowed to have a look at the data on medical aspects. We also compared these data with the claims made by AI in its report.

  • The AI report cites 13 cases of custody deaths due to torture in the period 1985-89 in Maharashtra. The analysis of data made available to us showed 155 custody deaths in 1980-89 period, and of them, 102 deaths were recorded during the AI reference period of 1985-89. Although almost eight times more deaths are reported in custody during the period 1985-89, it is claimed that all these deaths are not due to torture.
  • On classifying the specific cause of the 155 custody deaths, we found that only 9.7% (15) were admitted to have been caused as a result of police action (which could be torture).One died due to “giddiness”. One died due to “unconsciousness”,and so on.
  • Given the norm that every death in the custody ought to be

investigated and proper autopsy done, such causes are not only incomprehensible but create suspicion about the true cause of death. Since these data were not collected by us and were collected by a student who did not aim to analyse the deaths from a medical angle, they are insufficient for a systematic study. However,a proper independent medical audit of all deaths in police custody needs to be done on regular basis.

Supported by: Anusandhan Trust