SOON AFTER the Mumbai Police told Raju Velu’s family that he had been lynched by a mob in a robbery attempt, his brother tried accessing CCTV footage from when the incident happened. However, by then, the police had collected the digital video recorders of CCTV cameras in the Nehru Nagar slum area holding footage of the night of March 29-30.
Velu’s mother Saira Devendra, who raised her four sons working at a food stall, says they already had their suspicions, because of the injury marks all over Velu’s body and what locals had told them.
On August 17, the police informed the Bombay High Court that four constables had been suspended — a month after acknowledging in court that the CCTV footage didn’t show any mob lynching. Whether Velu had succumbed to injuries caused by police beating was a matter of further investigation, it said.
The constables, Santosh Desai, Digambar Chauhan, Ankush Palve and Ananda Gaikwad, are alleged to have misled Velu’s family. In the complaint registered on March 31, the police had blamed eight unknown people for Velu’s death, and later claimed that two had confessed to the crime. They were released after eight days in detention.
The government pleader also told the High Court on August 17 that a preliminary inquiry had been initiated, to be followed by a chargesheet.
The four policemen had arrived at the 120 sq ft house in Nehru Nagar slum where Velu lived with his family around 9 am on March 30. The family was familiar with the local police officials as Velu, a small-time thief, had frequently had a brush with the law. “They told me Velu was lying drunk on a footpath nearby,” says Saira, 51.
When she and Manikam rushed over to the spot, barely 200 m away, they found Velu unconscious. Saira says they wanted to take him to hospital, but the police discouraged them. When they got him home, they discovered the bruises on his body. She says they finally decided to go to hospital after Velu did not recover consciousness even after five hours. Cooper Hospital declared him dead on arrival.
The family says that the four Constables told Manikam some people had caught Velu red-handed as he was trying to enter a house and had brutally assaulted him, leading to his death. “They promised to catch the culprits soon.”
However, a case was only registered the next day, after the family refused to take Velu’s body home.
Even as the family voiced its doubts, suspicious of the police behaviour and circumstances of Velu’s death, the police detained eight persons from Chawl No. 5 in the slum. By a couple of days later, they had claimed that two had confessed.
One of the detainees told The Indian Express on condition of anonymity that on March 29-30 night, Velu had been caught by the four policemen as locals raised an alarm on spotting him trying to break into a house, and was beaten up as he tried to escape.
A lawyer in Santa Cruz helped Velu’s family send letters to the Prime Minister’s Office, Chief Minister’s Office, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and the Mumbai Commissioner of Police.
Saira says that dependent on food and rations distributed by NGOs since the lockdown began, they had almost given up the fight for justice. “We thought we would raise the issue after our finances recovered. Then, in the first week of August, we got a call from an advocate saying he had raised the issue of police brutality in the Bombay High Court.”
Says the advocate, Bahraiz Irani, “Initially we wrote to the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court requesting that he take cognizance of police brutalities happening all over the state, but then we were advised to file necessary proceedings as a letter was not enough. This led us to file a PIL. We relied on reports from the CHRI, wherein the case of Raju Velu was highlighted.”
Denying the family’s allegations, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Santacruz Division, Suhas Raikar said, “They keep changing their statements. Velu was a history-sheeter who had been externed in February. That night he had committed a theft and was nabbed by local residents. The four policemen happened to reach the spot then. The CCTV footage that we have managed to procure shows that the four assaulted Velu, due to which they have been suspended. We are investigating whether the locals assaulted him before that.”
With no arrest five months after Velu’s death, Saira says mere suspension of the policemen was no justice. “What did he do that they beat him so badly as to kill him?” she cries.
In 2016, one of Saira’s other sons had died in a road accident. She raised them alone after her husband’s death in 2002. Manikam, who has two daughters, works as a food delivery agent while Saira’s other remaining son, Shankar, who has one child, is assistant to an electrician. The earnings of both have dwindled since the lockdown.
“Maine badi mehnat se inko paal-pos ke bada kiya. Kyun? Taaki ye police wale usse ek din maar dein (I raised my children with great difficulty. Why? So that the police would kill him one day)?” the 51-year-old says.