NEW DELHI—The Supreme Court has sharply rebuked four Gujarat police officials for publicly flogging five Muslim men in Kheda district, calling their actions “atrocities” and questioning their authority to carry out such brutal actions.
A bench of Justices BR Gavai and Sandeep Mehta heard an appeal filed by the policemen challenging their 14-day imprisonment sentence for contempt of court, imposed by the Gujarat High Court in October 2023. The High Court had found them guilty of violating Supreme Court guidelines on arrest, detention, and interrogation while investigating an alleged stone-throwing incident during a religious event. However, the High Court had stayed their sentence for three months at that time.
While extending the stay on the sentence, the Supreme Court bench strongly condemned the policemen’s actions. “What kind of atrocities are these?” Justice Gavai exclaimed. “Tying people to a pole, beating them in public view, and taking videos. Then you want this court to intervene?”
The case came to light after videos of the flogging went viral, showing the Muslim five men tied to a pole and beaten in full public view in October 2022. The victims were among 13 people detained for allegedly throwing stones during the Navratri Garba event in Undhela village of the district. The victims had subsequently moved the Gujarat High Court alleging violation of Supreme Court guidelines. After a probe, the chief judicial magistrate had named the four policemen as accused.
During the hearing, the defense lawyer, Siddharth Dave argued that the contempt charges were separate from ongoing departmental proceedings and criminal prosecution against the policemen. He contested the High Court’s jurisdiction, claiming no “wilful disobedience” of Supreme Court guidelines occurred.
Justice Gavai, however, emphasized that ignorance of the law, especially the landmark DK Basu guidelines on police conduct, is no excuse. “Every police officer ought to know what is the law laid down in DK Basu. As students of law, we have been hearing and reading about the DK Basu verdict,” Justice Gavai said.
The apex court also inquired about the status of a private complaint filed against the accused officers. The victims’ lawyer I H Syed asserted that the complaint was pending and emphasized the gravity of the policemen’s actions, saying contempt charges were independent of other proceedings.
Ultimately, the apex court accepted the plea of accused cops and ordered a stay on their sentence in contempt of court case. However, Justice Gavai sarcastically concluded, “Go and enjoy the custody. You will be a guest of your own officers. They will provide you special treatment.”
WHAT ARE DK BASU JUDGMENT GUIDELINES:
In 1996, the landmark Supreme Court judgment in the case of DK Basu versus State of West Bengal established comprehensive guidelines for police conduct during arrest, detention, and interrogation. These guidelines aimed to prevent police abuse and custodial violence, upholding the fundamental right to protection from torture and cruel treatment enshrined in the Indian Constitution.
Key features of the guidelines:
• Manner of arrest: Police officers must wear identifiable badges and prepare a documented arrest memo witnessed by someone.
• Detention and interrogation: Detained individuals cannot be held beyond 24 hours without judicial authorization. Interrogations must happen in designated areas accessible to lawyers and relatives, and suspects have the right to medical examinations every 48 hours.
• Prohibition of torture and cruelty: Any form of torture or inhumane, degrading treatment during arrest, detention, or interrogation is strictly prohibited.
• Communication with lawyers and relatives: Detainees have the right to inform a relative or friend about their arrest and consult with a lawyer of their choice at any time.
• Publicity and record-keeping: Police stations must maintain registers recording all arrests with details of involved officers. Information about arrests and detentions must also be made public.
• Human rights during investigation: The inherent power of police to investigate and arrest must be balanced with the fundamental rights of individuals.