It has been seven years since Senthil Kumar (33) from Dindigul died in police custody, but his family still hasn't got justice. Senthil Kumar was arrested for being drunk. His family would never see him alive after that.
On Monday, a report released by Human Rights Watch, a global nonprofit NGO, suggests that the police usually do not get prosecuted for custodial death cases in India.
The organisation investigated 17 cases of custodial death which occurred between 2009 and 2015 in India and released the report.
Speaking at the press conference, Jayshree Bajoria, who was part of the team, said, "One of the common threads that we had found in all the cases were that the arrest procedures were violated by the police - like issuing a memo, informing the family members,conducting medical check-up of the accused or producing him in front of the judicial magistrate. Because of the violation, the accused were more vulnerable to abuse and the police thought they could get away with doing this."
Moreover, Jayshree said that the police did cover-up jobs to avoid accountability. "In most of these cases the family members went to court to seek justice because of which at least some of these documents were available," she said.
Talking about the Senthil Kumar case, Jayshree said that his mother went to court and that the CB-CID had recently submitted the chargesheet against the police. The autopsy report showed that there were grievous injuries on Senthil Kumar's body. The police had said that he died of a heart attack. Moreover, it was proven that the signature on the judicial remand report was not that of Senthil Kumar's and that the police had given the wrong time of arrest on the memo.
Jayshree added that the family members also had to go through threats and intimidation.This remains a huge challenge as mostly, the victims of custodial deaths are people from marginalised sections who are helpless when confronted by such aggression.
Senthil Kumar was arrested on April 4, 2010. Sashi Kumar, Senthil Kumar's brother said, "According to the FIR, my brother was arrested on April 5 at 3:30 am but we witnessed his arrest at 11 pm on April 4, 2010. He was arrested for being drunk and fighting with people. My mother went to the station and we could hear his screams from outside but they told her that it was someone else and asked her to go home. Next day, a person told them that he was taken to the government hospital and that he died."
However, Sashi Kumar said that that no immediate action was taken against the police officials. The Revenue Divisional Officer had conducted an investigation in which he said that the police should not have remanded Senthil Kumar to judicial custody and that they should have taken him to the hospital as he was drunk.
Sashi Kumar added that the Vadamadurai police station had threatened him and had even broken his hand for protesting against the death of his brother. The police also filed a case against him at the court for vandalising buses and the police station.
After this, the family with the help of People's Watch, a Tamil Nadu based organisation, filed a petition for CB-CID inquiry and a chargesheet was filed recently.
However, a former police official, who did not wish to be named, said that procedures are strictly followed if it is a custodial death. "The District Superintendent of police and the collector send reports to the Human Rights Commission. The post-mortem needs to videographed, there are specific sections, no manipulations can happen," he said.
He added that there is too much pressure on the police to solve cases and that moreover, there are societal pressures in some controversial cases. "Nowadays, a lot of awareness is being created and the police are given training on how to handle the accused," he said.
It is wrong to say that the police do not get prosecuted in such cases, he noted. "There is strict departmental action against them. They are produced before the law in many cases. However, we cannot work alone, we need help from NGOs and human rights organisations in custodial death cases," he acknowledged.
Mr. Henri Tiphagne, Executive Director, People's Watch, believes that the judiciary is also responsible for custodial death cases."It is also the responsibility of the magistrate to set the law in motion and they are all part of the implementation process. The magistrates are carrying out the inquiry and keeping the reports with themselves, then how will the truth come out?," he asked.
The report states that according to the DK Basu guidelines, judicial magistrates in India are supposed to inspect arrest memos and all other documents forwarded by the police to ensure that they are in proper order.