• Kerala

    1. Overview.. 1
    2. Human rights violations by the security forces. 1
    3. Violence against women and children. 3
    4. Violations of the prisoners' rights. 4

    1. Overview

    Ruled by Communist Party of India (Marxist), Kerala is one of the States without any armed opposition group but the State police remained infamous for violations of the right to life. In the first three months of assuming office by the Sri. V.S. Achuthanandan-led government on 18 May 2006, about 14 persons reportedly died in police custody across the State. Facing mounting pressure, on 17 August 2006, the Government of Kerala ordered a judicial inquiry into the custodial deaths in the State.[1] The judicial inquiry commission did not make its report public by the end 2006. The State Human Rights Commission registered 25 custodial death cases up to 30 June 2006, 39 in 2005, 49 in 2004 and 41 in 2003.[2]

    Judiciary continued to be plagued by delays. By the end of December 2006, there were 3 posts of judges lying vacant in the Kerala High Court.[3] As on 30 June 2006, there were 29 posts vacant in the District and Subordinate Courts[4] but the vacancy came down to 4 as on 30 September 2006. A total of 12,22,39 cases were pending with the High Court and a total of 9,24,557 cases were pending with the District and Subordinate Courts as on 30 September 2006.[5]

    The State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) had been non-functional. On 28 July 2006, the Kerala High Court stayed the working of the SHRC until appointment of a full-time Chairperson according to the Human Rights Protection Act, 1993.[6] Following the interventions of the High Court, on 16 August 2006, former Jharkhand Chief Justice N. Dhinakar was appointed the Chairman of the Kerala SHRC.[7]

    2. Human rights violations by the security forces

    The Kerala Police were infamous for use of third degree method of torture known as “Uruttu method” which involves rolling an iron rod over the suspect's body with two policemen applying severe pressure on both ends. Sometimes they even sit on the rod.

    There were rampant reports of custodial killings. In the first three months of assuming office by the V.S. Achuthanandan-led government on 18 May 2006, about 14 persons reportedly died in police custody across the State. The victims of custodial killings among others included Sahadevan, son of Shankaran of Ayyapankavu and lower grade employee of Thrissur Municipal Corporation and K. R. Shiju of Ayyapankavu who were tortured at Mannuthy police station in Thrissur district on 5 March 2006;[8] Mr. Sunil, son of Velayudhan of Kodakara in Thrissur district who was tortured at Kodakara police station by Head Constable Lohidakshan and three other police constables on 23 September 2006,[9] and Mr. Wilson, son of William of Mannuthy  who was tortured at Mannuthy police station in Thrissur district on 9 October 2006.[10]

    Police consistently denied torture to be the cause of these deaths. According to Director General of Police, Jacob Punnoose, three persons died of cardiac arrest and four others died because of complications resulting from meningitis, pneumonia, withdrawal symptoms and leukaemia and five had allegedly died after jumping into lakes and ponds after being chased by the police.[11]

    Facing mounting pressure, on 17 August 2006, the State Government decided to order a judicial inquiry by a sitting judge into the custodial deaths in the State.[12] However, the Kerala High Court refused to grant the State's demand to appoint a sitting Judge. The State government thenappointed Justice R Rajendra Babu, a retired judge of the Kerala High Court, to conduct the probe[13] without any consultation with the Opposition parties. On 25 October 2006, Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan stated in the State Assembly that the Opposition was not consulted due lack of time.[14] Earlier on 20 September 2006, Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan stated in the State Assembly that the State Government would consider providing immediate assistance to the next of kin of those who had died in police custody or on account of actions of the police in the past four months.[15] The report was not made public by the end of the year.

    Torture was an integral part of investigation. On 17 July 2006, 50-five-year-old Razak allegedly died of torture during interrogation at the Panniyanakara police station after his arrest in a mobile phone theft case. The doctors at the hospital stated that he was brought dead. The Sub-Inspector MD Sunil Kumar of the police station was suspended following the incident.[16]

    On 9 September 2006, one Mr Saju, a private bus conductor of Pattimattom village under Kunnathunadu police station in Ernakulam district was allegedly tortured to death in the police custody at Kunnathunadu police station for failing to pay a bribe of Rs 3,000 to the police officers identified as Hariharakumar, Assistant Sub Inspector of Police and constables Abraham and Kochaniyan. The deceased was arrested on 8 September 2006 on the charges of stealing three telephone posts.[17]

    Some cases were taken up with the judiciary. On 5 January 2006, the Kerala High Court directed the State Government to file a report before 16 January 2006 on the status of investigation into the alleged custodial death of Udayakumar at Fort Police Station in Thiruvananthapuram on 27 September 2005.[18] Earlier on 4 January 2006, the Judicial First Class Magistrate-II granted bail to three policemen Jitha Kumar, Soman and Sreekumar who were arrested in connection with the custodial death.[19]

    In September 2006, State Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan announced that the government would amend the Kerala Police Act and Manual to provide for inquiry by a judicial magistrate into custodial deaths, and that policemen responsible for lock-up deaths would be dismissed from service.[20]

    3. Violence against women and children

    Women continued to face discrimination and violence in Kerala. The National Crime Records Bureau of the Government of India recorded 6,762 cases of crime against women in Kerala representing 4.3% of the total crimes against women in India during 2005. Of these, 478 were cases of rape, 129 cases of kidnapping, 21 cases of dowry deaths, and 3,283 cases of cruelty by husband and relatives.[21] According to Kerala Women's Commission, 22.7 per cent of Kerala's women suffer from various types of violence but only 10.3 per cent register their cases.[22]

    Despite having laws banning dowry and gender-specific abortion, these illegal activities thrive on at an alarming rate. On 28 October 2006, member of the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), Prof S. Varghese stated in Kollam that there was alarming rise in atrocities against women and children. Female foeticide was on the rise in spite of the awareness programmes under the label of family planning. He blamed the “apathy” of the government as one of the prime causes for the rise in child abuse. The government did not have proper scheme to rehabilitate the victims of child abuse.[23] 

    Police were responsible for torture of women and children. On 16 December 2006, Sub Inspector Vimala and Head Constable Subaida attached to the Women's Police Station in Kozhikode allegedly beat up a one-year-old girl Jeeshma and her mother, Mini, hailing from Thiruvambadi. Both the accused were suspended. Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan ordered an inquiry following a complaint.[24]

    There were 1.11 lakh child labourers in Kerala in 1971, 92,854 in 1981, 34,800 in 1991 and 26,156 in 2001. A survey by the State Statistics Department in 2004 claimed that there were only 375 child labourers in Kerala. However, the Labour Department termed the finding as “unreliable”. An estimate claimed that there were over 10,000 child labourers in Kerala but 90 per cent of them were migrants from States like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Bihar.[25]

    4. Violations of the prisoners' rights

    The jails in Kerala were overcrowded. As of September 2005, about 6,950 prisoners, excluding those on parole, were housed against the total sanctioned capacity of 5,415 prisoners in the State.[26]

    The Kozhikode district jail at Puthiyara in Kozhikode was reportedly extremely overcrowded. As of 13 January 2006, there were 475 prisoners including 424 under-trials, against the sanctioned capacity of 255 persons. Some of the prisoners had been undergoing trials for over two years. The police allegedly did not cooperate in escorting the under-trials while producing them in courts. The staff strength of the district sub jail was below 50, which included a superintendent, a deputy jailor, three assistant jailors and eight head wardens. The post of the welfare officer had been lying vacant for several months. There were also vacancies of 20 wardens out of a total 34 posts for a long time. A few wardens were recruited on temporary basis but they were not trained to handle with the prisoners. In contrast to this, there were 105 wardens for 400 to 450 inmates in the Viyyur Central Prison in Thrissur district. The district sub jail also lacked modern facilities and alleged interference of politicians in the administration of the jail was a problem. Some of the jail staff were allegedly involved in corruption. Liquor and drugs were easily available to inmates on request. Some of the prisoners were given special treatment such as use of mobile phones inside the prison and getting food supplied from hotels in connivance of the jail authorities.[27]

    During the visit of then State Human Rights Commission Chairman V.P. Mohankumar to the Kozhikode district jail at Puthiyara on 16 February 2006, the prisoners complained of the poor quality of food provided to them. Doctors visited the jail only once in a week. Mr Mohankumar found that many of the under-trial prisoners were not being produced before the court owing to the non-availability of police personnel to escort them. Yet, according to Mr. Mohankumar, Kozhikode district jail was better than those in other parts of the State he had visited earlier.[28]

    On 6 October 2006, a Division Bench of the Kerala High Court comprising Justice J. B. Koshy and Justice K. Padmanabhan Nair directed the Director of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau to constitute a team headed by an officer not below the rank of Inspector General of Police, Vigilance, to conduct an inquiry into the allegations of corruption and favoritism levelled against officers of central prisons and take appropriate action in accordance with the law. The order came while disposing of a suo motu case relating to grant of parole to life convicts and allegations of favouritism shown to certain convicts by the jail officials. It was alleged that ganja was allowed inside the Central Prison in Thiruvananthapuram with the connivance of jail officials. The Division Bench also directed the State Government to reconstitute the Jail Advisory Boards as prescribed under Rule 544 of the Kerala Prison Rules to consider and recommend the cases for remission of sentences of prisoners. The Jail Advisory Boards were directed to consider cases of all prisoners, whether serving short-term or long-term imprisonment, in accordance with the rules and guidelines and furnish their report to the Government.[29]

    [1]. http://www.kerala.gov.in/news06/17aug06.htm

    [2]. Freeze on SHRC hits filing of rights cases, The Hindu, 7 August 2006, ttp://www.hindu.com/2006/08/07/stories/2006080705270400.htm

    [3]. Court News, October-December 2006, The Supreme Court of India

    [4]. Court News, July-September 2006, The Supreme Court of India

    [5]. Court News, October-December 2006, The Supreme Court of India

    [6]. Freeze on SHRC hits filing of rights cases, The Hindu, 7 August 2006, http://www.hindu.com/2006/08/07/stories/2006080705270400.htm

    [7]. http://www.kerala.gov.in/news06/17aug06.htm

    [8]. http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2006/1569/ 

    [9]. UA-340-2006: INDIA: Man looses his hearing due to police torture in Kerala, Asian Human Rights Commission, 13 October 2006, http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2006/2028/ 

    [10]. UA-349-2006: INDIA: Alleged torture of an innocent person by the Kerala state police, Asian Human Rights Commission, 25 October 2006, http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2006/2043/

    [11]. 14 Custody deaths in 3 months, The Asian Age, 17 August 2006 

    [12]. http://www.kerala.gov.in/news06/17aug06.htm

    [13]. Compensation for custodial death, The Hindu, 26 October 2006, http://www.hindu.com/2006/10/26/stories/2006102612800400.htm

    [14]. Compensation for custodial death, The Hindu, 26 October 2006, http://www.hindu.com/2006/10/26/stories/2006102612800400.htm

    [15]. Custodial deaths: early aid promised, The Hindu, 21 September 2006, http://www.hindu.com/2006/09/21/stories/2006092111780400.htm

    [16]. Man collapses in police station, dies, The Pioneer, 18 July 2006

    [17]. UA-329-2006: INDIA: A person tortured to death by police for failing to pay bribe in Kerala state, Asian Human Rights Commission, 4 October 2006, http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2006/2009/ 

    [18]. Custodial death: report sought, The Hindu, 6 January 2006

    [19]. Custodial death: policemen granted bail, The Hindu, 5 January 2006 

    [20]. Custodial deaths: early aid promised, The Hindu, 21 September 2006, http://www.hindu.com/2006/09/21/stories/2006092111780400.htm

    [21]. 2005 Annual Report of National Crime Records Bureau

    [22]. Stranded with a Stigma by Leela Menon, KERALA CALLING! December 2006, http://www.kerala.gov.in/kercaldecmbr06/pg14-15.pdf

    [23]. `Atrocities against women, children on the rise', The Hindu, 29 October 2006, http://www.hindu.com/2006/10/29/stories/2006102907760300.htm

    [24]. Torture of child, mother deplored, The Hindu, 19 December 2006, http://www.hindu.com/2006/12/19/stories/2006121906710300.htm

    [25]. "The Kerala difference" by S. MAHINSHA, Frontline, Volume 23, Issue 22, Nov. 04-17, 2006 http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl2322/stories/20061117003503000.htm

    [26]. Increase in strength of custodial staff sought, The Hindu, 8 November 2005 

    [27]. Trouble brewing in district sub-jail, The Hindu, 14 January 2006, http://www.hindu.com/2006/01/14/stories/2006011409950300.htm

    [28]. Panel moots Human Rights Court, The Hindu, 17 February 2006, http://www.hinduonnet.com/2006/02/17/stories/2006021714130300.htm

    [29]. Court orders probe into graft charges against jail staff, The Hindu, 7 October 2006, http://www.hindu.com/2006/10/07/stories/2006100713930400.htm

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