In a fresh twist to the investigations into the Byculla custodial death case in which a woman convict, Manjula Shetye, was assaulted and later died, the inmate on whose complaint the Mumbai Police registered a case of murder against six jail staffers has now told the police that she did not draft the complaint letter. She has said that it was actually given to police by a “self-appointed” lawyer, who visited her after the incident in June. The inmate, Mariam Shaikh, has now said this lawyer allegedly made her sign on a few “blank sheets”.
Shaikh, in her original complaint to the police, had alleged that she saw jail staff inserting lathis into the private part of the deceased. The autopsy report, however, later ruled out sexual assault completely, stating that there were no injuries to the private parts.
“The inmate has alleged that defence lawyer Nitin Satpute visited her in her barrack on June 25 and made her sign on a few blank pages. She claims that she signed those thinking it was a vakalatnama and that the lawyer was going to be her defence counsel in the rioting case in which she had been booked by the Mumbai Police,” said a senior Mumbai Police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“It was Shaikh who had alleged that Shetye was beaten with sticks by the jail staff, and that sticks were also inserted into her private parts. However, during the interrogation, she has denied writing this in her complaint letter. She asserted that she never wrote a complaint letter in the first place and had only signed a few blank papers which Satpute had asked her to sign. She thought he would defend her in the rioting case and was preparing her vakalatnama and, therefore, signed the same,” he said. “We will soon summon the lawyer for his version and verify the claims made by Shaikh and even probe if Satpute indeed fabricated the story,” added the official.
Satpute denied the Mumbai Police’s claims. “I have never visited Shaikh. My junior visited her on July 6 to get her to sign a vakalatnama as we were planning to file a case against the jail staff and also a PIL in the case. The FIR registered by the police is based on the complaint filed by Shaikh. I have not drafted the said letter,” Satpute told The Indian Express. He claimed that the investigating agency was trying to compromise the investigation and “protect their own”. “We will soon write to the courts and the state government to transfer the case to the CBI as the crime branch is trying to protect the jail staff and weaken the case against them,” added Satpute.
In another related development in the case, the preliminary analysis of the CCTV footage has revealed two jail staff pulling Shetye by her hair and dragging her towards the stairway. The stairway is not under CCTV surveillance and, therefore, the investigating agency does not have any footage of the assault that unfolded on the stairway. “This footage is enough to establish that the jail staff assaulted her. Shetye was initially assaulted in her barrack and later on the stairway. The accused chose blind spots in the surveillance system to ensure that they are not captured on the CCTV,” added the official.
The police are yet to recover the lathis allegedly used in the assault. They are also yet to receive the chemical analysis report on the cause of death. The post-mortem states “evidence of multiple contusions” as the cause of death.
Shetye was serving life term for the murder of her sister-in-law in Yerwada jail since 2005. She was recently shifted to Byculla prison. On June 23, she was allegedly assaulted by the jail staff after a brawl over the distribution of eggs and bread in the jail owing to a complaint by other inmates to the jailor.
The next day, the inmates lodged at the Byculla facility protested and caused riot, burning files, breaking CCTV and using kitchenware to attack the staff.
Meanwhile, the police have also recorded the statement of the inmates and a few NGO members who had visited the jail on the day of the incident. “Along with the statements of the inmates and the staff members, we have also recorded the statements of three of the NGO members who had visited the Byculla jail. However, none of them are eyewitnesses to what happened,” added the official.