At least 591 people died in police custody in India between 2010 and 2015, the Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Monday.  The tortures included sexual abuse, forms of water-boarding and beatings with a ‘truth-seeking belt.’ The 114-page report examines police disregard for arrest regulations, custodial deaths from torture, and impunity for those responsible.

The report draws on in-depth investigations into 17 deaths in custody that occurred between 2009 and 2015, including more than 70 interviews with victims’ family members, witnesses, justice experts, and police officials. In each of the 17 cases, the police did not follow proper arrest procedures, making the suspect more vulnerable to abuse.

“Our research shows that too often, the police officers investigating deaths in custody are more concerned about shielding their colleagues than bringing those responsible to justice,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director.

The report details gruesome methods of torture by the police.

India Custodial Death

Agnelo Valdaris, 25, from Mumbai and three others were illegally detained, beaten, and sexually abused in custody by police officers who arrested them on suspicion of theft.

After two days in detention, police warned them not to tell doctors about the torture during their mandatory medical examination. Valdaris refused. He died on the morning of April 18, 2014, three days after the police arrested him, and before he was produced before a magistrate.

Police officials at Wadala railway police station in Mumbai said that he was struck by a train after he tried to escape from custody. However, his family and witnesses who were in custody with him allege that he died from police torture.

After Shyamu Singh died in police custody at Kwarsi police station in Uttar Pradesh on April 15, 2012, police said he had committed suicide. But his brother, Ramu Singh, who was arrested with him, said that after being arrested they were both stripped down to their underwear and tortured:

“(The police officers) put us down on the floor. Four people held me down and one man poured water down my nose continuously. I couldn’t breathe. Once they stopped on me, they started on Shyamu. Shyamu fell unconscious. So they started worrying and talking among themselves that he is going to die. One of the men got a little packet and put the contents in Shyamu’s mouth,” Ramu Singh said. He told Human Rights Watch that he faced threats and harassment by the police for pursuing his brother’s case.

While Indian police typically blame deaths in custody on suicide, illness, or natural causes, family members of victims frequently allege that the deaths were the result of torture or other ill-treatment.

Indian law and the Supreme Court have laid down procedures for law enforcement that deal with various aspects of police work, including registering cases, the treatment of arrested persons, and conducting questioning.

However, without proper training, oversight, or resources to gather evidence, police mistreat criminal suspects in police stations to obtain information or confessions. Forms of torture include severe beatings with boots and belts, sometimes suspending people from their wrists. Autopsy reports examined by Human Rights Watch showed injuries and hematomas consistent with blunt force trauma.

Human Rights Watch primarily details cases in which family members assisted by lawyers or rights defenders sought a judicial remedy, and in which police records, medical records, and other relevant documents were thus publicly available.

Many of these cases are still pending in courts. Independent investigations ordered by courts in a number of cases have uncovered serious violations of due process in addition to compelling evidence of physical mistreatment.

One policeman in Mumbai, during an inquiry after a detainee died in custody, said the beatings occurred because the suspect was “a hard core criminal, he refused to give any information.”

According to government data, in 67 of 97 deaths in custody in 2015, the police either failed to produce the suspect before a magistrate within 24 hours or the suspect died within 24 hours of being arrested. A magistrate in Tamil Nadu state told Human Rights Watch, “Police has their own code of police procedure. They don’t follow the Code of Criminal Procedure.”

In 2015, police registered cases against fellow police officers in only 33 of the 97 deaths in police custody. Satyabrata Pal, until 2014 a member of the National Human Rights Commission, told Human Rights Watch, “The entire intention in a police internal investigation is to whitewash.”

The national and state human rights commissions recommend inquiries or compensation, but seldom recommend disciplinary action or prosecution. Families of victims, particularly those economically or socially marginalized, can face intimidation and threats from the police if they pursue justice.

The full report can be found here: