The Karnataka State Human Rights Commission has decided to file a suo motu case against officers of Bengaluru’s Amarenahalli Police Station after a case of suspected custodial death came to light. On Thursday, officers from the Amrutenahalli Police Station arrested a repeat offender Satish Kumar, alias Sketch Manja, reportedly responsible for 20 burglaries.
Sketch Manja died in police custody, sparking suspicions of custodial violence leading to his death. “On Thursday, a few police officers nabbed Sketch Manja near Hebbal. He was brought in for questioning at around 9.30 am for a series of burglaries. He had burgled a government officer’s home two months ago. The interrogation was going on and at around 12.15 or 12.20 pm, he pushed one of the interrogators and jumped off the second floor of the station. There were four interrogators in that room,” an investigating officer said.
Since he died during interrogation, the CID’s Deputy Superintendent Jagannath has been put in charge of probing the turn of events. The police say that they are trying to contact Sketch Manja’s family, but have not been able to do so yet. They added that Sketch Manja was a native of Tumakuru district's Madhugiri.
Sources with the State Human Rights Commission said that the police version of how events panned out on Thursday has several loopholes, which is why the agency is going to file a suo motu case.
“What were the police doing when he pushed them? Since there was more than one police officer, they could have contained him. Once the autopsy report comes in, a lot of unanswered questions will be answered. Prima facie, it does not look like a suicide,” an official with SHRC said.
However, the police maintain that Ssketch Manja was a dangerous man. “He was involved in more than 20 burglary cases in the city. He was arrested by Tilaknagar, Kodigehalli and Basaveshwarnagar police on the same charges. During investigation he had given false information about his whereabouts,” the police said.
An officer at the Amruthenahalli Police Station says that the Inspector was out for an awareness drive against drugs when the incident occurred. “We are verifying everything the police said,” the SHRC official added.
“If there had been any kind of torture involved in the interrogation of Satish Kumar, we will ensure that those responsible are prosecuted,” said Roopak Kumar Dutta a member of SHRC.
After the CID took over the probe into the alleged custodial killing, a magistrate was called to conduct an inspection of the spot where Satish allegedly jumped to his death. This was videographed for purposes of evidence.
“Until the family is traced, we cannot perform an autopsy. We have to wait and see. There are loopholes to the police story. We will know after interrogation only,” a CID officer said.
An SHRC member, however, said that the police were only trying to delay the process of conducting an autopsy as they have something to cover up. “The police say that Satish Kumar was a habitual offender. How can the police not have details of his family if he has so many cases against him? Who are they trying to fool?” the member added.
Several inspectors from nearby police stations and the ACP visited the station, conducted an initial round of enquiry and reportedly ruled out foul play.