‘We’re now bribed to ensure that the person in custody is not beaten in lockup’
‘When we arrest someone for interrogation, the family members are ready to pay 10-20 thousand rupees’
These statements by two policemen posted at different police stations of Ghaziabad district in Uttar Pradesh reveal how money is being made in the name of policing. When asked why there is such terror of the police in the district, a sub-inspector responds, “A number of deaths in custody have cast a spell of terror among people and the police take advantage of it.”
In a judgment passed in 2010, the Supreme Court declared that policemen found guilty of crime deserve more severe punishment than a regular criminal because they are the upholders of law and must preserve its sanctity. The constable accused of castrating a man in custody was sentenced to 5 years in jail. Criticizing the psychology of the police, the Court said that our democracy had no place for illegal methods like third degree.
But there is no stopping custodial violence. Statistics from the National Human Rights Commission reveal that in the past three years 417 deaths have taken place in police custody and 4285 in judicial custody. In 2005, an amendment in CrPC provided for a judicial investigation in case a person dies, goes missing or is raped during custody. But this has not restrained the police.
According to a sub-inspector posted in the area across Hindan River, Ghaziabad is like Dubai for the police department with good opportunities to make the extra buck. The amount received for not torturing men in custody is distributed among shareholders ranging from the highest management to lower level figures of authority.
Ghaziabad has witnessed half a dozen deaths in custody within the past one and a half years, three of which are quite recent cases. In July this year, Lakhan Saxena was arrested from Vijay Nagar in Ghaziabad. He was accused of throwing acid on a married woman. The police arrested him the next day on 28 July and took him to the police station. It was later reported that he had hanged himself in the toilet of the jail. He was rushed to a local hospital where he succumbed to death. Saxena’s brother Ramsharan alleges that he died because of police torture. Five policemen were suspended in the case.
In June, another similar incident took place in Ghaziabad’s Kavi Nagar police station. The police had arrested a truck driver, Shakeel, on theft charges. He later died in police custody. When his family protested, the government hastily compensated them with 5 lakh rupees and 9 policemen were suspended. A case of murder was also registered against them. Shakeel’s father Khaleel says that on 13 June the police came to his house at around 10:30 in the morning and arrested his son instead of their neighbour. He says, “We told them that my son was not the one they were looking for but they assured us that they will let him go after a brief interrogation. The next day we reached the police station and met Shakeel. He was scared and pleaded us to get him out or the police would kill him.” A local resident, Mohammed, alleges that the SHO Sudhir Tyagi demanded Rs 80,000 as bribe for releasing Shakeel. When they told him that they could arrange for only Rs 10,000, the police turned them away. According to the police, Shakeel fell ill on the night of 14 June. He was taken to the nearby Sarvodya Hospital where doctors referred him to Delhi’s GTB hospital because of his serious condition. He succumbed to death on the way.
The DIG, Meerut Range, Satyanarayan says that he was wanted in several cases of vehicle-theft and had confessed to involvement in many cases while in custody. According to him, the police were taking him to Ferozabad to recover stolen vehicles when he fell ill on the way and died. When asked about marks of injury found on his body in the post mortem, he said that he was suffering from TB.
Another double-murder accused also died under mysterious circumstances in police custody in the Indirapuram police station. On 28 April, 28-year-old Vineet Sharma’s body was found hanging in his cell. At first the police claimed that guilt led him to commit suicide. But according to the post-mortem report it turned out to be murder. His father Ramesh Chand Sharma alleges that the police were forcing him to confess to the murders. He says that the police illegally detained Vineet for three days and tortured him severely. He says, “He was given electric shocks and severely beaten up which caused his death. To make it look like suicide they hanged Vineet’s body.”
Ghaziabad’s SP (city) Shiv Shankar Yadav says, “Vineet’s post-mortem report reveals that the cause of his death was strangulation. According to the report, there were injuries on his neck, arms and legs. Doctors could not determine the actual cause of his death.” He says that after the post-mortem, four policemen including the SHO were suspended.
On 13 June 2012, Vinayak Pal also died in police custody at the Vijay Nagar police station. A magisterial inquiry was ordered into it and two constables were suspended. Premi Yugal had also died under mysterious circumstances in police custody at Muradnagar. In both cases, the cause of death was consumption of Sulphas. In the latter, no complaint was registered and hence no inquiry took place.
A few examples suffice to show the kind of justice that is actually being meted out and where the complaints get registered. After the case of Shakeel’s murder was filed, SHO Sudhir Tyagi and the other accused went missing. They have been absconding still and have not been produced in the court yet. The court issued a warrant of attachment for them but the police pasted it at the house of another constable of Kavi Nagar police station. In the matter of Vineet’s death, suspended SHO Gorakhnath Yadav used influential contacts to be promoted to the city police station instead.
But there are several other cases which do not even get reported. According to data of NHRC, the Uttar Pradesh police have turned out to be the most notorious. Statistics of 2012-13 reveal that out of a total of 22908 cases, 13656 were reported from UP alone.
In most cases of deaths in custody, the victim dies from a sudden illness while the family members allege police torture. A Ghaziabad advocate Vikrant Sharma says, “In most of the cases, a look at the dead body shows clear signs of physical assault. It is possible that deaths are caused by a sudden illness but even then the police is accountable. Sometimes death may occur naturally but people blindly blame it on police torture.” He further says that there are several provisions against police torture but the families of the victims are so terrified of the police that they don’t dare to raise a voice. Shakeel’s father says, “Instead of arresting the perpetrators, the police are in turn harassing us.”
However, there are other victims of torture who are only grateful that they are alive. On 17 May 2013, the police arrested Haider, Majid and Rajendra in Vijay Nagar. They were accused of stealing a mobile phone and Rs 50,00. Rajindra was let off after interrogation but the police detained Haider and Majid. Late at night Haider’s condition became critical after which he was taken to the district hospital and then to a private hospital in Delhi. Somehow, he could be saved. Haider’s family alleged that the police had asked for a bribe of 1 lakh rupees in return for releasing Haider and Majid.
With much difficulty, TEHELKA managed to meet Haider and Majid. But both of them are scared of the police now, and cried while narrating their story. Both of them are neighbours. Majid says, “On the morning of 17 May, the police picked us up from our homes. When the police came to our house, my father told them that I was suffering from typhoid and was on medication. But they didn’t pay any heed and brought me to the police station where they tortured me. They gave me electric shocks on my ears, fingers and private parts as well.”
Haider’s sister Zeenat still trembles thinking of the awful state in which she found her brother when she reached the police station. Zeenat says, “At first I could not believe that it was my own brother. The police had beaten him up mercilessly. When they saw that his condition was getting worse, they let him go.” Zeenat rushed him to the hospital just in time and saved his life. After this incident, they are so scared that they are leading a virtually anonymous life. Both Majid and Haider feared for their lives and did not dare to register any complaint against the police. A report of an NGO working for human rights, Asian Centre for Human Rights, asks, “Why are the victims forced to take such a big step and commit suicide by hanging themselves using jeans, shoelaces, sheets etc? How are they able to easily access poison, medicines or electric wires while in custody?” The report later states, “They are physically tortured, or in other words, they are murdered. The police conspire with the doctors to make such deaths appear natural.”
However, doctors deny any such conspiracy. The entire investigation of deaths in police custody rests on post-mortem reports. In most cases, the police claim that the victim fell ill suddenly and while being taken for treatment to the hospital, died on the way. A doctor of a government hospital reveals on condition of anonymity that a panel of doctors is set up by the DM to carry out the post mortem of any death in custody. He says that in most cases the doctors are under pressure of senior officers to prepare a report that suits the police. Another doctor says, “This is why the cause of mysterious custodial deaths is never clearly specified. In order to keep the matter under cover they tamper with the viscera report. Why else would obvious marks of physical assault on the dead body go unnoticed by an entire panel of doctors?”