The recent case of custodial torture and death in Tamil Nadu has thrown light upon an ugly hidden reality of our system. The outrage over this death is completely justified, but we must recognise that these are not isolated incidents. Torture by police is not only endemic, but it is also almost a socially sanctioned part of police procedure. From popular culture to movies and fiction, we consistently celebrate acts of police brutality. The ‘hero’ cops shown in all our films routinely engage in cruelty, we applaud depictions of police and military being ‘tough’ on those we perceive as criminals. The custodial torture and deaths we witnessed in Tamil Nadu, as well as the untold cases of custodial torture that happen in police stations across India every day, are enabled by our own expectations of what the police should be.

There is no doubt that the law must change. India must ratify the Convention Against Torture. We must have a law that categorically defines and punishes the offence of torture. We must also inculcate among ourselves the importance of due process, and not look at it as a mere formality. But above all, we must recognise that every human being, regardless of who they are or what they are accused to have done, has a basic human dignity that must never be violated. Torture in any form is a crime against that basic God-given dignity. Torture is inhuman, and a crime against rights bestowed by the Creator.