Anahita Mukherji, TNN | Mar 25, 2012,

By giving me electric shocks, by stripping me naked, or by brutally assaulting me and inserting stones in my rectum, will the problem of Naxalism end? When I was being stripped, I felt someone should come and save me and it did not happen. In Mahabharata , Draupadi’s honour was saved when she called upon Krishna. Whom should I have called? I was given to them (police) by the court,” writes Soni Sori, a Dantewada school teacher who is in the custody of the Chhattisgarh police for her alleged support to Maoist rebels in the state.

“Not only did she write to the Supreme Court begging that she not be kept in the custody of those who tortured her, but a medical report from a Kolkata hospital showed the presence of stones in her rectum and vagina. And yet, she was sent back to the men who tortured her,” says Sori’s mentor, Himanshu Kumar, a Chhatisgarh social activist.

Sori’s story is not an aberration; a blip on an otherwise clean state. It’s just another case of custodial torture – a routine in the police station of India, which this week voted in favour of a USbacked resolution against the Sri Lankan government for its war crimes at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva.

For a country that does not believe it is at war, India’s track record on human rights is rather pathetic . The government might find itself in a very uncomfortable situation if the UNHRC turned the spotlight on India — on the mini Camp X-rays that exist in police lock-ups and the secret safe houses, where people are kept in illegal detention.

Custodial killings, police abuse and torture, and failure to implement policies protecting vulnerable communities marred India’s record in 2011, says a global report by Human Rights Watch released earlier this year. “And yet, as a country, we behave like ostriches with our head in the mud, choosing to ignore what is going on around us,” says sociologist Nandini Sardesai.

Custodial violence is a norm in police stations, especially for those who are arrested for alleged anti-state activities. Arun Ferreira, a social activist and alumnus of Mumbai‘s St Xavier’s College, was recently released from Nagpur Central Jail after more than four years in prison for his alleged support to Naxalites. Out of prison, Ferriera has now written a paper on how he was tortured. According to him, the interrogations lasted 16-20 hours a day and included threats to torture and rape his family. He describes instruments of torture such as ‘Bajirao’ , a whipping strip made from conveyor belt material attached with a wooden handle on one side that causes permanent pain without any external injury marks.

Often the police don’t stop at torture. In Mumbai, the police staged the disappearance of Khwaja Yunus , a young man being interrogated for a bombblast in 2004. It later emerged that he had died in police custody. The same year, Mumbai witnessed a series of slum demolitions in which the state acknowledged 24 deaths.

The real tragedy is that no effort is being made by the government to check the increasing cases of human rights violation across the country. Despite a Supreme Court order in 2006 that directed every state to set up a police complaints authority (PCA), only 18 of the 29 states have so far set it up, and it is functional in only 10 states, says a report by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI). “Even where they are functional, they are designed to fail,” says Navaz Kotwal of CHRI.

While India has a poor human rights record, Sardesai points out that no country in the world is free of human rights violations. After all, the US, which moved the UNHRC motion against Sri Lanka , is a well-known perpetrator of war crimes in other countries.

Even small countries like Nepal and Bhutan don’t have clean records. Some 100,000 ethnic Nepalese were forced out of Bhutan in the 1980s and 1990s. Five years after Nepal’s civil war ended , a report by Human Rights Watch and Advocacy International says victims are still waiting for justice while the alleged perpetrators have “been appointed to senior government positions and sent abroad on UN peacekeeping missions…”

Nepal, Bhutan and India may have a deceptively clean image, thanks to the troubled neighbourhood they’re in. But the Sri Lankan case has opened a can of worms that may finally bring attention to its neighbours’ equally bad rights record.