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A custody death probe scars us for life: cops

On September 10,Altaf Sheikh,22,suspect in a house break-in,died in the custody of the Ghatkopar police. The police claimed a drug overdose,but a medical examination revealed external injuries.

Written by Aiswarya A | Mumbai |
November 3, 2009 11:48:40 pm

On September 10,Altaf Sheikh,22,suspect in a house break-in,died in the custody of the Ghatkopar police. The police claimed a drug overdose,but a medical examination revealed external injuries.

On October 31,Ashutosh Tiwari,25,a suspect in a murder,slashed his throat and died at Nala Sopara police’s lockup.

The High Court has ordered a CBI probe into Sheikh’s death and suspended three policemen till the investigation is over; the CID is probing Tiwari’s death and has begun questioning a police officer.

Newsline tracked police officers whose names have been connected to custody deaths in the past few years and they spoke of the complexities involved in such cases,the trauma of a post-custody death inquiry,and procedural flaws in the system. In many cases,such officers have shunned field work for “safer” desk jobs.

On May 9,2007,a group of policemen from Mahim had tried to avert a communal clash at Kapad Bazar and arrested a drunken 60-year-old man,a Muslim,on charges of assaulting a woman vendor,a Hindu. Mohamed Sheikh died in custody; the post-mortem revealed a head injury. The policemen were left facing a rigorous inquiry in addition to protests by religious and political groups.

“He was a habitual drinker and a drug addict and the same people who accused us of killing him used to complain about his drunken behaviour inside the mosque. But after he died,he became the martyr and we became murderers,” said a police sub-inspector.

“We all escaped suspension because the court accepted the recorded statement of a member of the mosque that before his arrest,Sheikh had been beaten up for misbehaviour and thrown out of the mosque. However the promotion and increments of the investigating officer were stopped for three years and the action is still on. He is depressed,does not want to deal with crime and has restricted himself to paperwork,” said the sub-inspector,who is now with the Special Branch and also prefers a desk job.

In 2007,Vinod Shankar Chandwadkar,60,accused of wife-beating ,hanged himself at Wadala police station. The inspector on night duty said others in lockup confirmed suicide but the inquiry took months.

“Every round of inquiry is like being stripped of your dignity and at times it almost drove us to resign. That incident helped us realise the loopholes in routine policing,especially while handling accused. For example,24-hour surveillance at lockup is a must,especially if the toilet is so far in that it cannot be seen unless one goes inside. Chandwadkar hanged himself in the toilet,out of sight of the constable outside,” said the inspector,now retired.

“An immediate medical checkup after arrest is mandatory as the before-arrest injuries report is prepared,” said an assistant inspector who was investigated for a death at Sahar police station in October 2008. Jafer Nadam,60,accused of passport forgery,had died of pneumonia.

Former police commissioner Julio Riberio insisted that policemen today need to be cautious while interrogating accused. “Whoever the criminal and however heinous the crime,human rights violations by policemen can never be justified. Often,even once the accused is arrested,complainants pester the police to recover their property; the pressure sometimes leads to the cops exerting more pressure on the accused,which may have disastrous consequences. Therefore,even as we speak about the sensitivity of the police,members of the public need to be equally sensitive,” he said.

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