Indian democracy is now seven decades old. In comparison to its immediate neighbours, it has flourished swiftly with the active participation of common man. However, even after seventy years, Indian democracy cannot be termed yet complete and perfect. Lack of education and poverty are the main reasons for common man not enjoying the absolute equality and fairness. Within a democracy safety of the citizens (read subjects) is the paramount duty of its rulers more so when the citizen is in its custody. Even autocratic rulers would consider the safety of their subjects as the essence of their 'Rajdharma'. Many abrasions are bound to occur in an emerging democracy but guarantee to someone's life, honour and property are fundamentals of fairness and the ultimate duty of the state. Many incidents of custodial deaths and harm to inmates in the country over the period of time are well documented and in many cases, the perpetrators were rightly and adequately punished as per the law. The worst Bhagalpur blinding of undertrials in 1980 in the state of Bihar put the then budding Indian democracy to a strenuous test. And at that time the apex court had to intervene and in a landmark judgment order compensation to the victims.
Anyways, my experience with personal loss and torment because of custodial killing! In the early nineties one of my cousins was arrested and lodged in Kotbalwal jail, I visited my uncle to assure him that his son is in safe hands of the state and he should feel guaranteed that he will be back after due process of law. This was my perception and interpretation of Indian democracy which was by that time less than five decades old. But my belief fell apart, not about the democracy itself but the way it was being distortedly applied by certain rogue elements within the system, when the sad news of my cousin's custodial killing in the jail was conveyed to his father on 27th of November 1994. The whole universe came crashing on my uncle's much-cherished principles but he kept his cool and magnanimously conducted the last rites of his dear son! As an optimistic true believer of democracy, I had assured my uncle safety of his son with an analogy of fairness on part of the state. Nonetheless, the incident shattered my belief for a while and could have robbed me of my absolute trust in democracy (the perfect democracy I mean). But even today the only confidence that makes me hope for the optimistic best is the democracy.
The worst conflict, particularly during last more than two decades has brought Kashmir to a perilous situation of death and destruction. And thousands of Kashmiri people are languishing in jails (in other words in the custody of the state) for varying reasons (some absolutely for no fault of theirs). The responsibility of the safety of these inmates exclusively lies on the state. In a turmoil torn situation abrasion regarding rights of political prisoners is common but for past few weeks the news from the prisons is not only disturbing but grave acts of human rights violations. In a civilized society where we claim to be in a democracy and practise democracy as a role model for the whole world, such barbaric acts at the hands of few unruly tools of the state are not only unacceptable but shameful as well. By international agreements and treaties, every government is bound to respect the rights of prisoners and people in its custody. More importantly, for its own citizens, the government has to be more compassionate and extra vigilant. Within the framework of natural justice, the rights of safety and dignified living are ultimate and have been ensured even by the worst rulers in the history. The state is within its right to detain people in accordance with its laws but simultaneously guaranteeing their safety is the obligation of the government.
The recent happenings at country's most secure Tihar jail are worst incidents of utter violation of 'Rajdharma' on part of the state. No doubt, such incidents of shame committed by few arrogant people cannot be directly attributed to the state but the state and the people at the helm of affairs cannot absolve themselves of the crime against humanity committed just under their nose. As I said both by national and international standards and conventions prisoners too have rights—right to have a dignified and safe trial. He or she too is a respectable citizen until proved guilty.