Dr. SHASHI THAROOR (THIRUVANANTHAPURAM):
Hon. Chairman, Sir, I rise to support the Prevention of Torture Bill 2010. This is my maiden opportunity to participate in such a debate as a Member of Parliament and I am grateful to you for this opportunity. However, since the hour is late and the issue is clear, I shall be brief. As an Indian official at the United Nations, Mr. Chairman, I was proud when in 1997, the Government of India signed the United Nations Convention on the Prevention of Torture and other cruel inhuman and degrading practices. This was wonderful. But at the same time our failure to ratify our own signature for as long as 13 years has been a cause of some dismay.(s5/2120/rcp/nsh)As the hon. Minister has just explained, the ratification requires enabling legislation from this Parliament to bring national laws in conformity with the international standards.
I am pleased that now we have a Bill which actually defines torture for the first time far more clearly than our previous laws have done, and that also makes it a criminal offence punishable with the full force of the law. We have a Bill that accomplishes both these objectives and, I believe, it deserves our support. It is interesting that the hon. Member of the Opposition just spoke about the mindset of people, and that is indeed a major concern. I have often felt that the issues here go to two fundamental problems in our country. The first is, how we treat our own people; and the second is the image of our country in the world at large. The mindset of our people is reflected in both of these. My hon. colleague from Kerala Shri Mohammed Basheer just referred to a novel; let me refer to a film. We were also excited around the world about the huge success of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ but, yet, none of us seem to make anything of the fuss. There was no public uproar about the fact that this film opens with a scene of astonishing police brutality where the Indian policeman is busy showing torturing the hero including with electric shocks to get him to confess the cheating in a quiz show.
What was startling with that, it seems to me, was that the mindset of our public has become such that we are immune to it. We took these scenes for granted. No one said how outrageous it is that our country should be shown in this way because, in fact, the assumption appears to be, well, this happens all the time. The fact is that, Mr. Chairman, it should not be allowed to happen all the time. No civilised democracy conducts or condones torture. The practice of police brutality and torture is, as we all know, a colonial legacy in our country. The police once intended to be instruments of repression; they are no longer that; they should no longer be that. But, yet, we all know that stories of police brutality abound in our society. Even in my own constituency of Thiruvananthapuram, the Capital of the enlightened State of Kerala, there have been reports of allegations atany rate of police torture. And, yet, how many of the custodians of the law in our country have been prosecuted for such behaviour? Let alone, how many have been ever punished for such behaviour? It seems to me that the strength of this Bill is those of us who campaign against this sort of behaviour; those of us in favour of the broader issue of police reforms would now have one more element to go to, to rest upon and that if a policeman in our country behaves as the policeman in that movie behaved, now he would face up to10 years of rigorous imprisonment as well as a severe fine.
That is an achievement of this Bill. At the same time, Mr. Chairman, I do want to say that there is great deal that is amiss. I had the experience of reading a confidential report from a very leading international human rights organisation a few months ago, and I was deeply shocked and grieved by the accounts I saw there of the prevalence of torture in our society. Frankly, the stories, the verbatim accounts of the sufferers were deeply saddening. I know that some of us would argue that law and order is a State subject and this is not a proper concern for the Central Government, but I do want to state that ‘torture’ is not a State subject. Torture is a moral upfront to the conscience of every Indian, and we must use this occasion to affirm that very strongly. What, after all, is a law? A law simply reflects the values and aspirations of our society. Concepts of justice, of the legitimacy of governance, of the dignity of the individual, of humane treatment by the State, and indeed a protection of people from oppressive and arbitrary rule or conduct by the authorities of the State, all of these are fundamental to who we are as a nation.
It seems to me, Mr. Chairman, that this is also at the core of our national movement. Our national movement was based on such principles. Indeed Mahatma Gandhi’s conduct in leading our national movement, the values of non-violence, won us great admiration as a country around the world. Many of us were there this morning to do a push parchan of the portrait of Pandit Motilal Nehru, a great nationalist and lawyer, who fought for the human rights of Indians against the British. When we speak of people like Gandhi Ji and Pandit Motilal Nehru, we are talking about people who fought for our freedom. But we did not fight to win our freedom in order to be able to torture our own people with impunity. I am quoting from my memory, Mr. Chairman, what Gandhi Ji once said.(t5/2125/lh-rjs)He said that it was a mystery, how any human being could find any honour in the humiliation of his fellow human beings. This was a powerful observation by the Mahatma, and it seems, Mr. Chairman, that we should honour the Mahatma and what he s
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