Prabhavathi Amma, mother of Udayakumar who was killed in police custody, in tears after hearing the verdict, in Thiruvananthapuram on July 25, 2018. Photo: S. Mahinsha /The Hindu

The Special CBI Court has sentenced two police officers K. Jeethakumar and S.V. Sreekumar to be hanged till death for their crime of torturing and murdering Udayakumar. Others who were proven to be involved in the crime, P.T. Ajit Kumar (DYSP), EK Sabu (SP) and TK Haridas were given the punishment of 3 years imprisonment, for destroying the evidences, conspiracy for creating fabricated cases and destruction of evidences. Capital punishment to police officers who are in service has taken place for the first time in recent Indian history.

Udayakumar who died of police torture came from an extremely poor family. He used to do rag picking and odd coolie jobs for survival. His mother worked as a maid servant. Due to poverty, he could not be educated. The journalists who wanted to get his photograph could not even get one single photograph of the victim. He survived as a faceless, poor citizen in this country.

The allegation against Udayakumar was on theft. `The cash that he had at the time of arrest was not stolen from anybody. It was money that he earned by rag picking and what I earned by hard work. I had sent him to buy clothes for him and me for Onam,’ said Prabhavathiyamma, the mother of Udayakumar as per a report by K. Sajeev in Mathrubhumi daily. This poor mother has been fighting a legal battle to receive justice for her innocent son for 14 months, supported by the brother of Udayakumar.

Torture in Police custody

Udayakumar died of police torture without celebrating Onam. The main torture which was used was the infamous roller treatment’ which was used during the days of Emergency. Kakkayam police camp was very known for such methods of torture in those days. The engineering student Rajan died of such torture during Emergency. Well known writer and intellectual CK Abdul Azeez was also in the same torture camp along with known poet and writer Civic Chandran. Researcher Abraham Benhur and CK Abdul Azeez were also tortured through roller treatment.The policemen used to come at night with huge stick normally used to crush grains. The victim would be tied to the bench. They would press the roller with two people on both sides of the body of the victim and role it throughout the body. Your muscles and vains would become pulp. It is difficult to stand up after that,’ he had articulated when I interviewed in for my documentary film `Fabricated’. The veins of Udayakumar were crushed by the torture.

Fabricating Cases and Custodial Deaths

Fabricating cases on innocents and police torture have been subjects of debate by the human rights activists in India and abroad. Well known Muslim spiritual leader Abdul Nasar Maudany is already imprisoned for altogether 17 years with fabricated charges. Dalit leader Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan has been in prison with fabricated charges from June 2017 onwards. The list of innocents in prison are definitely quite big, but majority of them are Minorities, Dalits, Adivasis and poor people. Over 1,500 people died in police custody in recent years during the Modi regime in India. Custodial deaths and fabricating cases have become a `normal’ routine, with authorities not taking action against the culprits in uniform. It is in this context that the judgement on the murder of Udayakumar must be heard.

The Judgement

The content of the judgement has been a positive relief to the human rights activists. The judgement condemned the torture and murder of Udayakumar and stated that it is a shame that those who are responsible for protecting the lives and wealth of the society are becoming responsible breaking the law, creating a situation where the society has started losing confidence in the entire police machinery. I remember hearing the same words in my younger days during the public talks of Advocate Gobind Mukhoty, the national leader of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), in the late seventies after the Emergency was lifted in India. He used to say that `the police machinery is the biggest gang of organized criminals in this country’.

Says the well known writer CP Surendran on the judgement : `If the judgement for capital punishment for the brutal torture and murder of Udayakumar on the two police officers in Kerala becomes a national reality, there would be no policemen in many police stations in north India. There would be a huge queue in front of the noose.’

Though the existing scenario of implementation of law is certainly grave, there are a few more facts which need to be taken into account. Even in these periods of dark times, many policemen have stood up to defend the rights of the suffering people. Some have also used their uniform and power to protect the rights of the suffering. This fact cannot be denied. Secondly, the deterioration and the misuse of power has been increasing in every sector of national existence. Though the human rights activists have constantly raising concern over these issues, they are not sufficiently heard. The human rights discourse enters the mainstream only when some sensitive people take up such issues and facilitate a mainstream reach. There is definitely a greater need for the civil society to participate in such discourses and act for the protection of human rights in general.

Apart from these observations, though I welcome the spirit of the judgement on Udayakumar issue, I am not for capital punishment. I believe that every human being has a right to life, even if that life belongs to a policeman responsible for crime. The concept of `eye for an eye’ need not bring justice. Several countries do not execute capital punishment today. Withdrawal of capital punishment has not increase the crime in any of these countries. The human rights groups and activists in India have been arguing for the withdrawal of capital punishment for decades. The challenge for us today in these crucial times of burning pyres around us, is to indulge in actions and promote actions which are more humanitarian in nature.

K.P. Sasi is a film maker, writer and cartoonist

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  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    After a long struggle, courts are beginning to voice against police brutalities. The punishment imposed may not be agreeable but this may reduce the atrocities committed on ordinary citizens. Also, those responsible for encounters must be brought to book. The fact that ‘ encounters are police murders ‘ has been proved time and again by fact – finding committees