Going by the results of a poll conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org (a project managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland), 14 of the 19 nations surveyed were in favour of an unequivocal rule against torture. 4 countries were in favour of torturing terrorists. India led this gang of four, which also comprised Nigeria, Turkey and Thailand.

For all my patriotic fellow-citizens out there, who agree with the respondents and feel we should adopt such practices, my question is: what is the definition of a terrorist? Who decides that someone is a terrorist, and therefore can be tortured?

Is there any such definition? Can there be any such definition? Who validates this definition? Is there a safeguard to ensure that mistakes don’t take place? Does anyone seriously believe that the police and the authorities in India can be trusted with powers like these?

Allow me to explain how this will work in practice across India. The police suspect someone is a terrorist. He could actually be a terrorist, he could be a pick-pocket, he could even be someone who refused to pay a policeman a bribe. But the cops decide he is one. So they pick him up, and since they believe he has information that could save innocent lives, they torture him. All of this to whoops of approval from my patriotic, nationalistic, jingoistic and self-righteous friends.

Except it doesn’t take very long for the whoops to change to “ooooops”. Because the person – whether erroneously or otherwise – picked up could very easily be you. A member of your family. A friend. And please don’t kid yourselves – this scenario replicates itself in thousands of police stations across India. The degree of torture varies – some are slapped, some are beaten more severely, others have worse things done to them. And when that happens, remember – you sanctioned it, based on a cop’s best judgement.

While the Right to Freedom is a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution, it is important to note that the various “freedoms” under this Right have been subject to review, curtailment, dilution and amendment. (Here is an excellent post on how, in India, free speech is not all that free.)

The state is all pervasive; it has too much power and too little accountability. The last thing this country needs is alleged public sanction of additional extra-legal methods.

PS: For the record, I have absolutely no sympathy for terrorism, terrorists or their political wings. I believe in certain fundamental, inalienable rights.

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