While looking into the case of a prisoner’s murder in police custody in Sangli police station in Maharashtra, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on 9 November issued a notice to Maharashtra Director General of Police (DGP).
The NHRC has directed DGP Satish Mathur to submit a detailed report on the matter within a time span of four weeks. Mathur has also been asked to clarify why he failed to inform about the custodial death; especially when there are standing guidelines to report such incidents within 24 hours of its occurrence.
In its notice, the NHRC has said, “The law enforcing agencies are for the protection of the people. Anyone who is a suspect of a crime, if taken into custody by police, is expected to be protected by his custodian. The gruesome act committed by the police personnel is the worst example of cruelty and lawlessness amounting to a violation of Right to Life of the victim.”
Background to the incident
Aniket Kothale and an accomplice had robbed a person of Rs. 2,000 and his mobile phone at knifepoint. They were arrested by the Sangli police on 6 November.
On the night of 6 November, both of them were reportedly taken from the lockup to the detection branch room where one of them was hung upside down from a ceiling fan, forcing his head in a bucket of water. He was, allegedly, beaten up severely that he died in front of the other accused.
The policemen then took the body of the deceased to the Civil Hospital – the doctors were directed to give a favourable report, but they did not comply.
The policemen were then compelled to take Kothale’s body to Ambaghat area in a private car. On 7 November, the body was set on fire at another spot by the police personnel by pouring kerosene.The corpse reportedly did not burn properly, some petrol was poured on it, and it was burnt again.
When the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Sangli Dr Deepali Kale visited the police station in the early hours of 7 November, the accused were missing. She was told that the accused had fled.
Later, one Sub-Inspector told his seniors that they had caught one of the accused, and are searching for the other. But Kothale’s family started protesting in front of the police station, claiming he was beaten to death by the police in their custody.
After an inquiry by the senior officers, Kothale’s custodial death was confirmed. Five accused policemen, one sub-inspector and four constables, were arrested on the charges of murder and destroying evidence on 8 November.
The state Crime Investigation Department (CID) is to initiate a probe into this matter, in all likeliness.
Maharashtra has a history of high custodial atrocities and death
In response to an RTI filed by Firstpost, it was revealed that a total of 894 deaths in judicial custody and 74 deaths in police custody had been recorded in India in 2017.
The letter, signed by the joint registrar (Law) of the National Human Rights Commission, stated that the number of deaths in judicial custody is the highest in Uttar Pradesh, with 204 deaths recorded in the period between 1 January 2017 and 2 August 2017.
The state was followed by Punjab with 76 deaths and Bihar with 64 deaths.
The RTI response also points out that there have been around 74 deaths in police custody in 2017, Maharashtra tops the list with 16 deaths recorded on 2 August 2017. Out of those 16 cases, only 2 have been recorded, the RTI points out.
The state is followed by Telangana and Karnataka.
The Logical Indian condemns the specific incident of custodial violence in Sangli and the innumerable cases in the country, most of which go unreported. As has been rightly pointed out by the NHRC, the police are supposed to be the gatekeepers of law and order, and breach of law from their side is highly condemnable. It is essential that the powerful do not use their might for the wrongful purposes.