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 the head and asked why he had committed a theft. Scared and confused, Babu ran, but was chased down and thrashed by the constables.
Within minutes, Chander received a phone call from Waghe. “We first went to Nizampura police station. Officers there denied that Babu had been brought there,” he said. Exhausted, Chander returned home at 6 pm.
Soon though, Waghe received a call from the Nizampura police station. Babu was on the line. “He was crying. He wanted us to come take him away,” she said.
At the police station, Chander found Babu seated on a wooden table in one of the inside rooms. He was allowed to go, but asked to return for further questioning at 11 am the next day.
“They had beaten him on his chest and legs for hours… And they administered electric shocks to him. They said that they would kill him if he did not confess,” alleged a red-eyed Chander.
Babu slept fitfully that night, complaining of pain in his chest and stomach. Chander woke him up the next morning at 10 am. “Babu refused to visit police station. He said that the policemen would kill him if he returned. After some explaining, Babu agreed. I headed to a public bathroom and told Babu to meet me there… he said he would,” said Chander.
Babu then asked Ranjit and Sonu to go out of the room, saying he wanted to change clothes. Instead, he locked the door from inside, picked up a long piece of cloth, climbed onto a chair, tossed (the cloth) over a beam on the ceiling and kicked away the chair. “The door had be break open by neighbours. Babu was then rushed to Sainath Hospital,” said Chander.
He was quickly attached to a ventilator.
CT scans the next day showed extensive bleeding in the chest, and legs. Four days after admission, Babu began to stabilise, but could not speak. “The doctor told me that his head had been damaged, affecting his ability to speak,” said Chander.
With no improvement in his breathing, doctors made a suture in Babu’s neck to enable him breathe easier. The surgery, completed at 5 pm on July 12, however failed and Babu died 15 minutes later.
Later, an FIR was registered against the constables and they were arrested in two days. Both Khairmode and Bhojne have been booked for abetting suicide and suspended from service. The Thane Police Crime Branch is probing the death.
“We have enhanced the sections in the FIR. The accused were produced before court and given bail. We have witnesses at Nizampura police station. We don’t have dying declaration, but we are examining the medical reports… the injuries will be clear in the reports,” said Singhal.