The use of the "third degree" by police refers to a controversial and illegal
practice of using extreme physical or psychological methods to extract
information or confessions from individuals in custody. These methods often
involve torture, violence, or other forms of coercion, and they are in direct
violation of human rights and legal principles.
The term "third degree" originally referred to the physical brutality used by
police officers during interrogations, but over time, it has come to encompass
various forms of abuse, including psychological pressure, sleep deprivation, and
other forms of mistreatment.
It's important to emphasize that the use of the third degree by police is widely
condemned, illegal in most jurisdictions, and a violation of international human
rights standards. Modern law enforcement agencies are expected to adhere to
ethical and legal standards that prohibit the use of torture or abusive tactics
during interrogations. Instead, they are encouraged to use lawful and humane
methods of investigation, respecting the rights and dignity of individuals in
custody while upholding the rule of law. Any allegations of police misconduct or
the use of the third degree should be thoroughly investigated and addressed
through appropriate legal channels.
Different methods of use of third degree by police
It must be clarified that the use of the "third degree" by police is illegal and
unethical in many countries, and it involves the use of torture or abusive
tactics during interrogations. Due to intervention of the Supreme Court, the
instances of police torture have come down substantially. However, we can come
across incidents of police torture and alleged fake police encounter from time
to time in some states with the relatives of the victims being too terrified to
pursue the cases of violation of human rights legally in police stations and
Some common methods that have been historically associated with the
third degree are noted below, but it's essential to stress that these practices
are widely condemned and illegal and have come down drastically in recent times:
- Physical Abuse: This may include beatings, slapping, punching, kicking, nail removal, or other forms of physical violence against the detainee.
- Electric Shocks: The use of electric shocks, often applied to sensitive areas of the body, is a particularly cruel form of torture.
- Burns and Scalding: Perpetrators may use heated objects, hot water, or chemicals to burn or scald the detainee's skin.
- Suffocation or Strangulation: Techniques involving suffocation, such as putting a plastic bag over the head, or strangulation using hands or objects, have been used to extract information.
- Stress Positions: Detainees are forced into painful or uncomfortable positions for extended periods, leading to physical pain and psychological distress.
- Sleep Deprivation: Keeping a person awake for extended periods can lead to extreme exhaustion and disorientation, making them more susceptible to providing information.
- Psychological Torture: This includes threats, intimidation, and mental abuse designed to break the detainee's will or induce fear.
- Sexual Abuse: Some instances involve sexual assault or abuse as a method of coercion.
- Mock Executions: Detainees may be led to believe that they are about to be executed, creating extreme psychological stress.
- Isolation and Sensory Deprivation: Detainees may be placed in solitary confinement for extended periods, denied sensory input, or kept in complete darkness or silence.
- Forced Confessions: False confessions may be coerced from detainees under duress and used as evidence.
- Deceptive Practices: False promises or lies about potential legal consequences, evidence, or witnesses can be used to manipulate a detainee.
- Denial of Basic Needs: Detainees may be denied access to food, water, medical care, or bathroom facilities to create discomfort and vulnerability.
- Threats and Intimidation: Police may use threats of harm or intimidation to coerce individuals into providing information or confessing.
- Hanging upside Down: Sometimes accused persons are hanged upside down to extract confession from them.
- Extended Detention: Keeping a suspect in custody for an extended period without proper legal procedures, such as access to an advocate or a timely court appearance, can be considered a form of coercion.
- Use of Restraints: The use of physical restraints, such as handcuffs or shackles, may be employed to exert control over a suspect.
- Waterboarding: This involves simulated drowning, where a cloth is placed over the detainee's face and water is poured onto it, making it difficult to breathe.
- Food Deprivation: Detainees may be denied food for extended periods, leading to physical and mental exhaustion.
- Stripping and Humiliation: Police have been accused of subjecting detainees to forced nudity, humiliation, and degrading treatment.
- Abuse targeting caste, community, or religion: Police have also been accused of using abusive language targeting the caste, community, or religion of the accused persons, particularly belonging to weaker sections of the society and minorities.
- Abusing women family members: In some cases, police use abusive language targeting the women family members of the prisoner to humiliate him.
- Forced Drug Administration: In some cases, detainees are drugged against their will, leading to disorientation, confusion, and memory loss.
- Fake Encounter Killing:
In some cases, police allegedly kill purported criminals
in fake encounter without resorting to the existing legal practices. In one case
some criminals were allegedly engaged to kill a prisoner during police/judicial
custody to prevent the blame of fake encounter by police. The family of the
victims find themselves too terrified of the state power to even take legal
action against these incidents by going to the police station or to the court.
Even some courts are reportedly finding themselves helpless in ordering action
against such fake encounters.
The disturbing accounts from one previously terrorist affected state shed light
on some of the harrowing and dehumanizing practices that were historically
employed by some police authorities. Such methods included humiliating
individuals by forcibly inserting rods into their rectums, inflicting
excruciating pain by applying hot oil and chili where there were injuries,
forcing people to lie over ice and subjecting them to beatings, as well as
having policemen stand menacingly over victims' bodies.
In one particularly
egregious case, a Sikh individual had ash poured on his head while innocently
drying his hair. The use of cigarette butts for burning and hurling verbal
insults at the female relatives of arrested persons further underscore the
reprehensible nature of these practices, highlighting the urgent need for
reforms and respect for human rights within law enforcement agencies.
Keeping people awake, making them stand or sit in positions that become
uncomfortable, using "rollers" on the body, tying people to chairs and beating
them in places such as under the legs where it is harder to leave marks of
torture, hanging people on the arms to dislocate the shoulders, hanging upside
down and spanking with special leather lashes; these are the usual methods.
Shaving hair from the head or face is a means of humiliating someone.
your clothes is another way. And then there are many others that are far more
terrifying and harmful, and some of which clearly fall under sexual abuse. These
are the methods used in one of our neighbouring countries for extracting
confessions and torturing accused persons.
Court Judgments against Police Torture
In the case of Raghbir Singh v. State of Haryana
(1980), the Supreme Court of
India upheld the appeal of Raghbir Singh and ruled that police torture is a
shameful act that violates the fundamental rights of an individual. The court's
judgment emphasized that the protection of the right to life and personal
liberty, as enshrined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, encompasses the
right to be free from torture and any form of cruel, inhuman, or degrading
treatment. As a crucial aspect of this ruling, the court ordered the state to
provide compensation to Raghbir Singh due to the injuries he endured as a result
of police torture.
Raghbir Singh, who was the petitioner in this case, had been arrested by the
police in Haryana in connection with a theft case. While in police custody, he
was subjected to severe, third-degree torture, which inflicted significant
injuries on his body. The extent of the torture was so grave that Raghbir Singh
had to be hospitalized for an extended period to recover from the harm he had
suffered. The court held that the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed
under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution includes the right to be free from
torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The court further directed
the state to pay compensation to Raghbir Singh for the injuries suffered by him
due to police torture.
He had earlier filed a petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court to seek
compensation for the injuries suffered by him due to police torture, but did not
get any relief from the High Court.
In the DK Basu v. State of West Bengal
case, the Supreme Court made a
significant ruling. They declared that when a person dies in police custody, it
not only violates their fundamental rights but is also against the law. This
type of death is particularly contrary to Articles 14 and 21 of the
To address this issue, the Supreme Court established specific rules and
guidelines for how the police should handle arrests. These guidelines were
designed to make arrest procedures more rigorous and comprehensive, with a
strong emphasis on preventing any form of torture or abuse while in police
Identification of Police Personnel:
Officers who arrest someone and
conduct interrogations must wear clear identification badges with their names
and ranks. The details of all personnel involved in the interrogation must be
recorded in an official register.
When a police officer arrests someone, they must
create a document called an "arrest memorandum" right at the time of the arrest.
This document should be witnessed by at least one person, who could be a family
member of the arrested person or a respected person from the same area where the
arrest happened. The arrested person should also sign this document, and it must
include the exact time and date of the arrest.
Notification of Arrest:
If someone is arrested or detained and held in a
police station, interrogation centre, or similar place, they have the right to
have a friend, relative, or someone else they trust informed about their arrest
as soon as possible. However, this rule doesn't apply if the person witnessing
the arrest is already a friend or relative of the arrested person.
Informing Next of Kin:
The police must inform the arrested person's
family or a trusted person outside the district or city about the time, place of
detention, and where they are being held. This information should be
communicated through the District's Legal Aid Organization and the local police
station. The police in the area where the arrest took place should be informed
by telegraph within 8 to 12 hours of the arrest.
Informing the Arrested Person:
The person being arrested must be told
about their right to inform someone about their arrest or detention as soon as
they are taken into custody.
Register Entry: An entry must be made in a record book at the place of detention
regarding the arrest of the person. This entry should also include the name of
the person informed about the arrest and the names and details of the police
officers responsible for the arrest and interrogation of the arrestee.
Upon request, the person under arrest must be
examined at the time of arrest, and any major or minor injuries on their body
must be documented. Both the detainee and the arresting police officer should
sign an "Inspection Memo," and a copy should be provided to the detainee.
While in custody, the arrested person must undergo a
medical examination by a trained doctor every 48 hours. These doctors should be
part of a panel of approved physicians appointed by the Director of Health
Services in the relevant state or territory.
Document Submission to Magistrate:
All documents related to the arrest,
including the arrest memorandum, must be sent to the judicial magistrate for
Meeting with an Advocate:
The arrested person may be allowed to meet with
their lawyer during questioning, although not throughout the entire
Police Control Room:
All central district and state police offices, must
have a control room where the arresting officer must provide information about
the arrest and the location of the arrested person's custody within 12 hours of
the arrest. This information should also be displayed on a visible notice board
in the Police Control Room.
When the arresting authority fails or refuses to adhere to these requirements,
there are specific consequences that ensue:
The authorities responsible for making the arrest
may face disciplinary or departmental action. This action can range from
reprimands to more serious penalties within their organization.
Contempt of Court:
Non-compliance with these requirements can lead to a
charge of contempt of court. In such cases, legal proceedings for contempt will
be initiated in the High Court that has territorial jurisdiction over the
matter. This means that the court will take action against those who have
disregarded its orders or guidelines.
In the case of 2014 SCC ONLINE GUJ 11365 [WRIT PETITION (PIL) 200 OF 2012], the
petitioner filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to bring to the Court's
attention multiple instances of custodial torture. In response to this pressing
issue, the Court proposed a solution to address these concerns.
To mitigate the occurrence of torture in police custody, the Court suggested
that CCTV cameras be installed in police stations. It asked the state government
to assess the feasibility of this proposal. The State Government supported the
idea and recommended the installation of CCTV cameras in police stations across
The Court further ordered that the tender process for the installation of these
cameras should be expedited, and the state government should take all necessary
steps to ensure the prompt installation of the cameras. However, CCTV cameras
are yet to be installed at all police stations of the country.
It is important to reiterate that torture in police custody is not only inhumane
but also illegal in most jurisdictions. They violate international human rights
standards, and individuals subjected to such treatment are entitled to
protection and legal remedies. In many countries, law enforcement agencies are
subject to strict regulations, oversight, and accountability mechanisms to
prevent the use of the third degree and ensure humane treatment of detainees.
Any allegation of police misconduct or torture should be thoroughly investigated
and addressed through legal channels. While there are many legal protections
against police torture and the incidents of police torture have reduced
substantially, the cases of police torture and fake police encounter are still
prevalent in some corners of the country.