It has been 14 years since Suman Kale, a 50-year-old woman from the Pardhi tribe in Ahmednagar, died in police custody, but her family has still waiting for justice.
Following a recent judgment by the Bombay High Court's (HC) Aurangabad bench and the Supreme Court, it is now expected that the trial court will resolve the case within six months.
A native of Ahmednagar's Burudgaon village, Suman was a police informer who provided vital intel about organised dacoities and other crimes committed by the Pardhi group members.
The Pardhi group was known as a 'criminal tribe' by the British under colonial rule.
Even now, after instances of dacoity in rural areas of Maharashtra, it is still a routine procedure for the police to search for people from the Pardhi community. Police also picks up innocent Pardhi's for interrogation, according to Suman's family, reported, The Indian Express.
Made 100 Criminals Surrender
According to Girish Chavan, Suman's brother, she was distressed when the police picked up one of her family members in a dacoity case. After that incident, she became an informer to saving innocent Pardhis from police action. During raids, she would accompany the police party willingly. She reportedly played a part in the surrender of over 100 Pardhi tribe criminals'. She was even commended by top police and government officers for arranging 'surrender rallies'.
Suman's Custodial Death
Suman's son, Saheba Kale, said that Ahmednagar Police had arrested a woman named Astari Chavan in a dacoity case. He alleged that the police pressured Astari to wrongly assert that Suman Kale had possessed the gold looted during the robbery.
On May 12, 2007, police picked up Suman in the dacoity case and then tortured her to death.
The Ahmednagar Police have denied the custodial death allegations and alleged that Suman died by suicide. According to the police, after years of violence by her husband, Suman consumed poison.
According to the police, she and her nephew Kangar Kale came to the Ahmednagar Police Superintendent (SP) office on May 14, 2007, when she told him that she had ingested "lice pesticide."
She was immediately rushed to 'Deepak Hospital,' where she died on May 16, police said.
Police had also filed an offence under IPC Section 309( Attempt to commit suicide) against Suman.
According to the investigation report submitted by Vikas Pansare on January 8 2008, the then sub-divisional magistrate, Ahmednagar, stated that between 13 and 14 May 2007, Suman was "inflicted with several wounds at the hands of the police" in "illegal custody of the police superintendent and his special investigation team.
CID Says Suicide, Family Denies
The State Criminal Investigation Department (CID), the body that probes cases of deaths in police custody in Maharashtra, filed a complaint at Bhingar Police Station in Ahmednagar on August 14, 2009.
According to the complaint, eight people, including seven police officers, were booked under Indian Penal Code sections 306 (abetment of suicide), 330, 331 (causing grievous hurt to extract confession), 342, 342 (wrongful confinement), 201 (giving false information to screen offender), 166, 34 and 120 (b).
The CID complaint, filed by then-Deputy Superintendent NP Tandale, reported that on May 12, 2007, Suman was picked up from her home in Burudgaon by police and allegedly illegally confined and severely tortured to obtain a confession of gold possession.
According to the CID, Suman consumed poison in police custody on May 14, as she could no longer tolerate the torture. Police reportedly admitted her to a private hospital (where she died on May 16) operated by one Dr Deepak instead of admitting her to the government hospital to conceal the incident.
Dr Deepak allegedly made no reference on her treatment sheet to the accident marks on Kale's body and instead treated her for poisoning. The CID eventually filed a charge sheet against the eight accused. In December 2010, they were jailed but later released on bail.
Suman's family was not satisfied with the CID inquiry and moved petitions before the High Court of Bombay, demanding that the probe be handed over to the Central Investigation Bureau (CBI).
Advocate Rajendra Deshmukh, who represented Suman's family, stated, "We submitted before the HC details of the chemical analyser's report dated September 9, 2007, and no poison was detected in a laboratory after chemical analysis of stomach wash, viscera and also in nails and hair of the deceased (Suman). If the poison was not detected, then how can it be a case of suicide''.
On January 13, 2021, the Aurangabad bench of Bombay High Court passed an order partly allowing the petitions filed by Suman's family.
The order stated, "The court had made some observations regarding the evidence, which is available for consideration of framing of charge for the offences punishable under sections 302, 201 read with 120 b of the IPC, and it is open to the trial court to consider that evidence at the time of framing of charge."
The order also stated that "the trial court is expected to decide the case within six months from the date of receipt of this judgment."