PUCL Bulletin, Oct., 1981

Case studies of deaths in police custody

Deodane: Carpenter (Bombay)
Date: January 4, 1981
50 years old
Occupation: Carpenter

Deodane, a carpenter, employed in Premier Automobiles in Bombay died allegedly due to police beating.

The police came to his house in Keshavapada Patti complex in Mulund in the early hours of that day, looking for his two sons, Ashok and Harish, who according to them are pickpockets and had molested a Bengali woman a few days previously.

Since Ashok was away from home, the police decided to take away the father instead. Deodane protes-ted. A policeman put a butt round the man's neck and pulled him to the ground. Then they dragged him away from his home to the roadside, a few hundred yards away, all the while hitting and kicking him with their boots in the presence of several local residents. Nobody dared to stop them, they too received several blows. The police took him and Harish to the police station.

There Deodane complained of chest pain. A policeman asked Harish to massage his father's chest. When the pain refused to let up, the police let Deodane go. But on his way back, he died.

The version of the police is that they did not bring Deodane to the police station. He came of his own free will in the wake of his son. He could easily have died of heart attack on his way back, they said.

There were injuries which his widow and daughter saw when they brought the body home. These appea-red to have been inflicted by blows of a hunter baton. The 'panchanama' recorded the allegation that he died due to police beating.

Deodane's wife and daughter reported the matter at the police station. Their statements were recorded, but copies of these were not furnished to them despite repeated requests. Harish was incidentally released the same evening.

The case came to light when Deodane's widow and children, backed by two legal associations, the Law-yers' Collective and the Maharashtra Lawyers for Civil Liberties, filed a writ petition in the Bombay High Court. They have made it a test case for demanding relief to victims of violation of civil liberties.

Rattan Singh: Peasant (Haryana)
Date: March 8, 1980
Place: Gumana village, Haryana
Name and age: Rattan Singh, 50 years old
Occupation: Peasant

After six years of marriage, the daughter-in-law of Rattan Singh, Kitabo, died after a brief illness on March 2. On March 5, her brother came to the village and demanded the return of the dowry which was refused. A day later, policemen descended on the village and not finding any elders in Rattan's house, took away three young boys including a teenaged son of Rattan. The panchayat decided to deliver Rattan to the police station, 18 kms. away. In the presence of the panchyat members, the police thrashed the old man till he collapsed. Terrified, the villagers returned home leaving Rattan and his brother Balbir behind.

On March 8, Rattan Singh allegedly committed suicide by jumping in front of a Haryana Roadways bus. He was crushed by the rear wheels. In spite of the postmortem report saying that he died of shock and injuries to his vital organs, and had abrasions all over his body, the police maintained he committed suicide. Even the police have two different versions of his death-one that he escaped from the lockup and ran straight in front of a bus, and the other that he was so humiliated by the relatives of his daughter-in-law that he committed suicide.

Inderjit: Scooter Driver (Jammu)
Date: My 26, 1981

Inderjit was allegedly tortured to death in police custody. He had an ongoing feud with a National Conference Municipal Councillor who was a relation of the Station House Officer of the Bakshinagar Police Station. Eye-witness accounts state that the S HO. fired a few rounds in the air when Inderjit was going to a nearby jungle to collect firewood. Subsequently, he was overpowered and beaten with lathis. When he collapsed, he was taken to the police station, where it is reported that further beating resulted in his death. The police maintain that there was a skirmish in the area and Inderjit had suffered serious injuries, resulting in his death.

Local autorickshaw drivers observed a daylong hartal and a magisterial enquiry, the report of which is still pending, was ordered. The only action so far has been that the SHO and two other officials have been transferred to the Police Lines.

Fernandes Rickshaw Puller (Bombay)
Dates April 5 & 6, 1981
Place Bombay
Name Bernard Fernandes
Occupation Rickshaw Driver

At 9.30 p.m. on Sunday April 5, Bernard was reticent to ply his vehicle as his duty was over. Two passengers insisted on hiring him. He relented on the condition that he would drop them outside his house. When he reached there, an argument ensued.

Later that night, the two men returned with another person and threatened Bernard. But as they were outnumbered, they left. A few hours later the police came and arrested Bernard and a friend of his on the charges that he had stolen a watch and chain from the passengers. Ashok Mistry, another friend, was also subsequently arrested. When he reached the police station, Mistry found Bernard crying.

Both Mistry and Bernard were beaten with sticks by among others Sub-Inspectors Dhutraj, Pal and Athnekar. A police officer subsequently stood on Bernard's chest and started stamping on it. Bernard cried out in pain. Even other detainees station protested but to no avail. When Bernard asked for water he was refused. The beatings continued for two hours. On Monday morning, Mistry and Bernard were taken to court where they were released on bail. That night, Bernard complained of chest pain and within an hour succumbed to his injuries.

On hearing of his death, the police rushed back and took his body to Cooper Hospital. The postmortem did not mention any injuries. An investigation was initiated and Sub-Inspector Dhutraj was transferred from the D.N. Nagar Police Station to Airport Security.

Veer & Gurdip: Peasants (Punjab)
Date : February 13, 1980
Place : Dhotian village, Amritsar, Punjab
Names : Veer Singh and Gurdip Singh
Occupation: Peasants

Veer Singh and Gurdip Singh were arrested on the charges of stealing copper wire. Both were mercilessly beaten by the police at the Tarn Taran Police Station. Veer Singh's .body was buried, in connivance with the Municipal Committee,. as an unclaimed body. As Gurdip Singh had been a witness to the torture 'and the death, he was taken to the Beas River and killed.

Relatives frantic ally searched for the two peasants. On March 10, led by the sarpanch of their village they gheraoed the police station. Next day the police admitted that Veer Singh had died in custody. Later Gurdip's murder was also admitted. Six officials were arrested but no other action was ever taken.

Lalaram : Peasant (M.P.)
Date : June 1980
Place : Naiwas village, Madhya Pradesh
Name and age : Lalaram, 23 years old
Occupation : Peasant

A police party was summoned in a cattle-lifting case to Palanpur village. Headed by Station Officer, R.S. Pancholi, it stopped on the way at Naiwas village. Someone made a casual complaint that Lalaram had forcibly occupied his land. Lalaram was summoned. He was hit in the stomach with a rifle butt and he died on the spot. The postmortem revealed the cause to be liver rupture.

Relatives of Lalaram lodged a complaint at their Lateri Police Station. Strangely enough the case was transferred to the Murwas station from where the police party had come. The station officer and head constable rushed to Latei apparently to hush up the whole incident. Taking a short cut they picked up Himmat Singh, a 25-year old youth of Ferozpur village to guide them. Himmat Singh also died in mysterious circumstances. The police insist it was snakebite. The doctor performing the postmortem was unable to form a definite opinion about the cause of the death.

In ail unusual move, the Collector of the area and the SP rushed to the spot and charged the policemen with murder. Six of them, including Pancholi, were suspended and the widow of Lalaram was allotted five acres of land and a pension of Rs. 30. per month.

Jhanda Ram: Peasant (Haryana)
Dates June 8 & July 7, 1981
Place: Saniana village, Hissar District

Jhanda Ram was arrested on June 8 in connection with a theft and taken to a police post. at Uklana. When his relatives went the next day with food, they were told that he had been sent to another station, Barwala. On going to Barwala, they found that he was never brought there. The villagers, now frantic, went to Hissar and met the Additional Superintendent of police there. Sensing the angry mood of the villagers, he sent a message to the Senior Superintendent S. K. Sethi, who conducted an enquiry himself. Jhanda Ram had died after being tortured and his body was thrown into a canal. Five policemen were consequently arrested.

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