Like all boys his age, Babu Thakre was fond of dressing up well, painstakingly combing down his hair and even colouring it at whim, at times. By all accounts, Babu was a helpful boy, never crossing the lines that elder brother Chander had set for him. And like several boys of his age, Babu helped out family in every way he could, working till his back ached at whatever construction site that would hire a 16-year-old.
Days into his latest job of digging sand for an additional floor at a neighbour’s home, Babu was picked up by two constables from Nizampura police station in Bhiwandi for theft of two kg of gold, and was allegedly tortured by them in police custody. He tried to commit suicide by hanging on June 21 when asked to return to the police station for further questioning. He later died at a hospital.
Babu’s detention, however, now appears to be a case of mistaken identity. The two constables had received a tip-off that a man named ‘Babu’ had stolen the gold. However, instead of a criminal on record named Babu who also lives in the same neighbourhood, they went after the teenager.
“There are two Babus in Mithpada — one is dead and the other is a criminal. Babu, who has criminal record, is 26-year-old and lives with his sister…. we do know that he has been arrested several times for petty thefts,” said Gautam Ubale, a friend of the deceased, told The Indian Express.
Ravinder Singhal, ACP (Crime), Thane, confirmed that the Nizampura police knew about the other Babu, “Now whether the informer got it wrong, or the police did, will only come out in the investigation,” he said.
Growing up in tribal family in Mithpada, in Bhiwandi, the 16-year-old had learnt to respect his brother Chander.
Chander, 30, shouldered responsibility of three younger brothers Raju (24), Ranjit (18) and Babu, sister Sonu (12), mother Thakubai (45), his wife and two children. The family’s patriarch, Sunil Thakre, had passed away more than 30 years ago.
Cramped in a shanty measuring 20 x 8 feet, the family could not afford education, prompting Babu to look for work when he turned 15.
“I would look for any kind of light work that he could do and earn around Rs 100 – Rs 150 a day,” said Chander, who works as a daily wage worker unloading sacks at nearby factories and pocketing between Rs 200 and Rs 250 a day.
Around 11 am on June 20, only the third day at his latest job, two constables from the Nizampura police station – Dheeraj Khairmode (26) and Jalindar Bhojne (27) – showed up at the doorstep of Pooja Waghe where Babu was working and asked for him.
Chander, based on inputs from people present there, alleged the policemen struck Babu on continued…