Transnational Torture: Law, Violence, and State Power in the United States and India

Transnational Torture: Law, Violence, and State Power in the United States and India

Transnational Torture: Law, Violence, and State Power in the United States and India

Transnational Torture: Law, Violence, and State Power in the United States and India

Excerpt

The 2009 Oscar hit was a British/Indian film titled Slumdog Millionaire about a boy from a Mumbai slum who manages to win twenty million rupees in a game show, thereby enacting a true “rag to riches” story. Less talked about is the framing of this incredibly popular film, which provides an insightful comment on the discourse on torture in contemporary India. In the very first scene of the film, one observes a constable beating up the boy while the senior police official calmly watches, both assuming that the boy has been winning the game show by cheating. Interestingly enough, news reports mention that initially the senior official was seen as torturing the boy, but the Indian government asked the film producers to change the role of the torturer in the film. As New York Times reporter Somini Sengupta explains,

On one occasion, Mr. Colson [the producer of the film] recalled, the
Indian authorities took umbrage at a scene in the script in which a sus
pect is tortured by a police commissioner during interrogation. The Indian
authorities told Mr. Colson to take out the police commissioner. No police
officer above the rank of inspector should be shown administering torture,
they said. The makers of “Slumdog Millionaire” obeyed.

Here, it is striking that instead of asking for scenes of torture to be removed entirely as being improbable, indeed impermissible in a liberal democracy, the Indian government appears to have been more specific in its request that no senior police officer be represented in an act of torture. In this moment, the film simultaneously captures the routineness of torture in the Indian criminal justice system even while complying with the govern-

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