Four police constable were arrested on Wednesday for allegedly assaulting a 22-year-old youth to death in Mumbai on March 29 for roaming around and flouting lockdown norms.
The police said the constables, then posted at the Juhu police station, had initially tried to pass it off as a case of mob lynching. However, following the Bombay High Court’s intervention, the Mumbai Police had ordered a probe into the death of Raju Velu.
The four – Santosh Desai, Digambar Chauhan, Ankush Palve and Ananda Gaikwad – were arrested on Wednesday by the Special Investigation Team (SIT), said police. They were produced in court on Thursday and remanded in police custody till September 15.
“The four were arrested late Wednesday and have been arrested on charges of murder,” said Assistant Commissioner of Police Milind Khelte.
Velu’s brother Manikam said, “Since losing my brother, I had lost all hopes in the judiciary and the Mumbai Police. But yesterday night, when I was informed that they have been arrested, we were relieved. My family has got justice after five months.”
On March 29, the four constables, who were on patrolling duty, noticed that Velu was roaming around, flouting lockdown norms. In their attempt to enforce the lockdown, they brutally assaulted him, leading to his death, said police.
Following this, they left his ailing body near his house and informed his mother Saira Devendra that Velu, a small-time thief, was lying drunk on a footpath nearby. When she and Manikam rushed over to the spot, barely 200 m away, they found Velu unconscious.
Saira had maintained that they wanted to take him to hospital, but the police discouraged them. When they finally got him home, they discovered the bruises on Velu’s body. As Velu did not regain consciousness even after five hours, he was taken to Cooper Hospital, where he was declared brought dead on arrival.
The four constables, meanwhile, went to the police station and informed that Velu had become a victim of mob lynching. “They had said that Velu had gone to commit a theft, was caught red-handed and then brutally assaulted by the local residents,” said an officer.
The constables had also told Manikam that some people had caught Velu red-handed as he was trying to enter a house and assaulted him, leading to his death.
The police went on to register a case of murder, unlawful assembly and rioting against eight unknown persons and many residents of Nehru Nagar slums were brought in for questioning.
Velu’s family approached an advocate from Santacruz but could not pursue the matter due to the lockdown.
In June, a city-based lawyer, Bahraiz Irani, approached the HC, requesting it to take cognizance of police brutalities happening all over the state during the lockdown period. “But then we were advised to file necessary proceedings as a letter was not enough. This led us to file a PIL wherein we relied upon comprehensive reports from the Commonwealth Human Right Initiative, in which the case of Raju Velu was highlighted,” Irani said.
The HC went on to order the Mumbai Police to carry out a probe and accordingly, an SIT was formed to scrutinise the CCTV footage of the area on March 29. It was found that the four constable had assaulted Velu. During the hearing, government lawyer Purnima Katharia also informed HC that she had seen the CCTV footage and could not find any proof of mob lynching.
Following a departmental inquiry conducted by the Mumbai Police, the constables were suspended in August.
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