The Human Rights Forum alleges that there several procedural lapses in the case from the start.

A fact finding team of HRF interacting with family of the victim Image: By arrangement
news Human rights Friday, June 12, 2020 - 20:00

Political parties and human rights organisations are demanding an independent probe into the alleged custodial death of a Dalit man who was arrested on the charges of poaching wild animals in May.

Congress party Telangana Chief Uttam Kumar Reddy, Congress MLA and Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Batti Vikramarka, Manthani MLA (Congress) D Sridhar Babu,  former Dy CM Damodara Raja Narasimha and Congress SC Cell Chairman Preetam have written an open letter to Telangana Governor Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan, demanding that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) examine the death of Sheelam Rangaiah.

Sheelam Rangaiah, a 53-year-old Dalit man arrested for allegedly hunting wild animals along with three others, was found dead on May 26 in the toilet of Manthani police station of Peddapalli.

According to police, Sheelam was hunting animals by setting up electric fences and had two cases against him for similar offences.

Police have claimed Sheelam used a kanduva (a garment tied around the neck) to kill himself. He belonged to Ramaiahpalli in the district.

Based on a Public Interest Litigation filed by an advocate, the High Court directed the Hyderabad City Police Commissioner to probe the issue and submit a report.

Earlier this week, Hyderabad Commissioner Anjani Kumar went to Manthani to conduct a probe. He visited the police station, where Sheelam was found dead, and interacted with family members.

The Congress leaders have raised doubts over the claims of the police. They questioned why Sheelam’s dead body was found in station premises. They also alleged that officers forced the victim's family members to compromise the case. "As Sheelam died, they took him to hospital in the morning and conducted postmortem in a hasty manner. When Dalits die, they (families) will conduct final rites by burying the body. But police burnt it in order to cover up their faults,” they have alleged. 

They said that they will respect the HC's orders but since the police are the accused in the case, they stated that justice would not be served if the police probed the case. While urging the Governor to take matters into cognizance, they sought a CBI probe into the case and a compensation of Rs 50 lakh to the family.

The Human Rights Forum (HRF) also visited the Manthani Police station and interacted with police officials and victims' family members as well. The six-person fact-finding committee said that there were several procedural lapses in the case from the beginning. They said that the accused was held in police custody for two-and-half days though he could have been given a notice and sent home. 

HRF has demanded a probe by an independent agency or a sitting judge to determine the facts of the case.  

Speaking to TNM S Thirupathiah, HRF State Secretary said, "The exact cause of death can be known after a postmortem report. But the autopsy was conducted by the Executive Magistrate, even though cases like this require the Judicial Magistrate. This is a violation of the law."

He further said, "He was kept in wrongful confinement. The co-accused, who were arrested by the police along with Sheelam, are now claiming they were not arrested," adding that even if the family does not accuse the police or hold them accountable for Sheelam's death, it is necessary to place the facts before people.

HRF has also demanded that the concerned police officers who were on duty at the police station be suspended until the probe is completed. They have also sought immediate disbursal of the ex-gratia to the victim's family.