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Uttarakhand custodial death: ‘I didn’t go to take govt money. Is cost of my son’s life Rs 3,000?’

In February, a 19-year-old was picked up by Uttarakhand Police and ended up dead in custody. Ten months later, all policemen are out on bail, and a fresh probe has just begun

Written by Kavita Upadhyay | Dehradun |
Updated: December 10, 2017 4:38:31 am
 Uttarakhand, Uttarakhand police, Uttarakhand custodial death, Uttarakhand custodial death case, Uttarakhand news, indian express “We had ourselves taken Zia to police,” says Mehsar (right), sobbing. (Express photo by Kavita Upadhyay)

Mehsar Jahan, 50, opens a purse and takes out a passport size photograph of her son Ziyauddin Raza enclosed in a plastic bag, along with a Rs 10 note. She found the money in the pocket of “Zia’s” trousers, the one he was wearing when he was found dead in Katoratal police station in Uttarakhand’s Udham Singh Nagar district on February 28 this year.

“Bas yehi bacha hai (This is all that’s left of my son),” Mehsar says, her frail frame shaking as she breaks down into uncontrollable sobs, while kissing Ziyauddin’s photo.

Ten months later, the policemen charged in the death of the 19-year-old are out on bail, and the CBI has just taken over the case.

At their two-room house in Bailjudi near Kashipur town, Ziyauddin’s father Mohammad Yameen recalls how the teenager would work at a local furniture shop, making sofa sets, to help support the family — Yameen and Mehsar and their five remaining children. Ziyauddin, the third of the siblings, earned Rs 7,000-8,000 a month.

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After Ziyauddin died, Yameen, 59, says, they struggled to even move court. “I earn just about Rs 4,000 a month. It’s difficult to run a family with that little money, how was I to hire a lawyer?” Yameen, who sells vegetables on a cart, says.

In the first week of March, Manisha Bhandari, a lawyer, approached the family and offered to fight the case for free. In the appeal before the Nainital High Court, she asked for a CBI probe. “First the case was handled by the local police, and later by the CB-CID. But to ensure an unbiased inquiry we wanted the CBI,” Bhandari told The Sunday Express.

While the High Court cleared transfer of the case to the CBI back in September, it took over the case only on November 28. Deputy Superintendent of Police I M S Negi, who is leading the investigation for the CBI, told The Sunday Express he was yet to start the probe.

Recalling the February incident, Mehsar points out that they had themselves taken Ziyauddin to the Katoratal police station on February 26, after police said they wanted him in connection with the “disappearance” of a 17-year-old girl from a village adjacent to Bailjudi. The girl’s father had made an oral complaint against Ziyauddin.

“We were sure Zia was innocent, so we took him to the police station,” Mehsar says.

When the 19-year-old was found dead in a room at the police station two days later, the officers at Katoratal insisted it was suicide. An FIR was later filed at the Kashipur police station, at the family’s insistence, naming Katoratal police station in-charge Sub-Inspector Praveen Singh, Constable Balwant Singh, and “unidentified” persons. “We buried Zia on March 1, only after filing the FIR,” Yameen says.

“Since then we die each day,” adds Mehsar.

Apart from Praveen Singh and Balwant Singh, Constable Virendra Dutt was arrested following their complaint, under Sections 302 (punishment for murder), 342 (punishment for wrongful confinement), and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence).

The CB-CID that investigated the case between April and September didn’t make more arrests. Meanwhile, the three policemen who had been arrested were released on bail from Haldwani jail after two and a half months.

Praveen Singh insists they are innocent. “Killing him is out of the question,” he says. “Ziyauddin hanged himself.”

The father of the girl whose complaint led to Ziyauddin’s arrest says he has read about the CBI probe, and that he is ready to face it. His daughter was away working in a nursing home for three months around the time but is now back home, claims the 53-year-old, who drives an autorickshaw and earns around

Rs 9,000 a month to support his family of nine.

The father says they all left their four-room house and moved away following Ziyauddin’s death. “We feared a backlash from his family and took shelter at houses of relatives.”

He asserts that “Ziyauddin planned to elope with my daughter, but I stopped him by complaining to the police and putting him under custody.” Adding that “the case has become a curse for me”, the father says, “People look at us like we are criminals.”

Ziyauddin’s family, meanwhile, is fighting another case: for compensation. Kashipur-based NGO Jan Shakti Vikas Sangathan had approached the government on their behalf.

Yameen says he and his younger brother Mohammad Salim visited Nainital, where the case is being heard, several times. “Each trip to Nainital (93 km from Kashipur) by bus cost us Rs 500. I would lose a day’s work and Salim lost his job as a taxi driver.”

On September 13, Yameen says, they received a letter from the state government offering Rs 3,000 as compensation.

Pradeep Singh Rawat, the then Drawing and Disbursing Officer, Uttarakhand, who issued the letter, says, “The compensation was given from the Chief Minister’s discretionary fund. The case is not covered under its provisions, hence only Rs 3,000 could be allotted.”

Showing the letter, Yameen says, “I didn’t go to take the money. Is the cost of my son’s life Rs 3,000?”

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