Torture in a Civilized World



Watching the atrocities of the police in the movies, I used to think that such things happened only in movies.  The latest issue of The Week [July 12, 2009] features as its cover story the tortures employed by the Indian police on suspected terrorists and extremists.  The account is more heart-wrenching than the movies.

The feature also carries a short interview with Dr K S Subramanian, former director general of police, Tripura.  He admits that “Unfortunately, priority is given to peace and order at the cost of law and justice.”  For the sake of peace and order, about 1.8 million Indians are subjected to brutal torture by the police every year (according to a report by People’s Watch, an NGO).  Many, if not most, of these victims of police torture are innocent.  Dr Subramanian cites an example.  In the early 1980s, when he was director in the Union ministry of home affairs, the large-scale killing of Naxalites in a North Indian state rocked the Parliament.  An enquiry revealed that “no less than 59 people were killed in these incidents (police action) and that none of them was a Naxalite!  Most of those killed were members of a local peasant organisation fighting for social justice.”

The feature says that the police are often keen to attack and even kill people perceived or portrayed as terrorists or extremists.  The reason: it gives opportunities for the police to win promotions or awards or other rewards.

Or could there be a perverse pleasure derived from such cruelty?  Why did the American soldiers inflict so much inhuman pain on the Guantanamo prisoners when the latter had already been under their total control?

Until recently in the history of human civilization torture and killing of the criminals were a public ‘entertainment’.  People revelled in the cruelty inflicted on the criminal.  For example, look at the description of the punishment given to Damiens in 1757.  Damiens was the assassin of the French king. 

Damiens was condemned to make the amende honourable before the main door of the Church of Paris, conveyed in a cart, wearing nothing but a shirt, holding a torch of burning wax weighing two pounds, then to the Place de Greve, where, on a scaffold that would be erected there, the flesh would be torn from his breasts, arms, thighs and calves with red-hot pincers, his right hand, holding the knife with which he committed the crime, burnt with sulphur, and, on those places where the flesh would be torn away, poured molten lead, boiling oil, burning resin, wax and sulphur melted together and then his body drawn and quartered by four horses and his limbs and body consumed by fire, reduced to ashes, and his ashes thrown to the winds.

Maybe, there’s quite a bit of exaggeration in that description.  Yet punishments in the olden days (as recent as 18th century) tended to be bizarre spectacles.  We may recall the guillotine of the French Revolution too. 

Mankind became more civilized eventually.  Even Hitler did not commit the six million murders in public.  (Maybe, he had no time and patience for it!)

At any rate, now the punishments have become private affairs.  They have gone underground, so to say.  But does that make mankind more civilized?  I wonder.


About matheikal

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One Response to Torture in a Civilized World

  1. Aram says:

    Dear Sir,
    Well the only thing in a recent hindi flick “New York” which you see is the torture the prisoners face and rest nothing to see in the movie!!
    In Iran rapists are hung in public but before that they are pelted by stones by the people watching the execution!!
    We are supposed to live in a civilised world….
    I remember one poem i read during my school days about Hitler coming to Napolean’s tomb and there was a line : “You can’t make omlet without breaking eggs”…. This is the explaination everyone gives for any inhuman activity!!
    Loved the blog as usual 🙂

    aram 🙂

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