Custodial Death Is Not Just A Murder

custodial death odisha

In a democratic country like India, custodial death, being a regular occurrence, raises question of our system.  Custodial Violence is never acceptable in our civilized society. But it is a matter of regret that our educated and civilised masses are not concerned about it in any way. Further, while the allegations of custodial death are rising in the state day by day, our elected representatives remain indifferent to it. Why such condition?

Fact findings:

In Bargarh District of Odisha, different groups of SC people, human rights activists and social organisations since one month have been protesting the unfortunate custodial death incident of 35-year-old Gobinda Kumbhar which took place on September 22.  Gobinda Kumbhar himself belonged to a Dalit family. The locals here are not able to accept the denial of the police towards such a heinous custodial murder. Sadly, the home minister, chief minister, MLA or any district or leaders of any political party are not concerned about the investigation of Gobinda Kumbhar’s custodial death.

Recently, a few human rights activists had visited Gobinda’s family in Bargarh as well as met with the police officials and other local representatives to know more about the incident and the status of the investigation. They have demanded the state government to register a murder case in this regard and arrest the police personnel directly involved in the incident.

In the past, the human rights activistshave found such type of deaths, after the fact-finding, as custodial killing by the police. Based on surrounding facts they have always come to such conclusions.

Declaration of Compensation:

In Biramitrapur of Sundergarh district of Odisha, a Muslim youth, Tariq Salem was thrashed to death by the police in November 2019. Similarly, on December 5, 2020, in Puri town of Puri district of Odisha, K. Ramesh was also killed by the police.

On February 8, 2018, an ST youth, Abinash Munda was killed while being in police custody at Ainthapali Police Station in Sambalpur district of Odisha which led to outrage by the public who took on to the streets and attacked the police station.

In both Puri and Sambalpur incidents, the fingers were raised on the Superintendent of Police. However, in those incidents of Puri and Sambalpur, both Odisha High Court and Odisha Human Rights Commission respectively, ordered the state government to distribute a compensation of Rs. 5 lakhs and Rs. 3 lakhs respectively to the families of the victims.

In another custodial death incident in Dhenkanal (Manoj Mahapatra), the Odisha High Court had ordered for Rs. 5 lakhs compensation, almost 15 years after the incident.

In all of these verdicts, Article 21 of the Indian Constitution – ‘Right to Life’- has been mentioned. In all of these verdicts, it has also been mentioned that, “the police is responsible for the security of the person arrested. But whether the police is to be held liable for the death of the person is not established.”

Zero Action Taken:

As per the facts given by the state government in the State Assembly, in last 10 years (2010-2019), 43 people have died in police custody.

In April 2013, a tribal youth from Malkangiri of Odisha, Trinatha Samrat was picked up by the police on the charges of stealing a watch. However, he has not returned to his home until now. In the same Malkangiri district, Akul Sarakar and Indra Madhi after police picking them up, went “missing”. Sadly, such missing incidents are not listed in government reports.

Except the custodial death incident of Titlagarh in Bolangir district (of Basanta Pradhan/ July 28, 2014), where a police personnel was arrested, there is no other case where action has been initiated against the accused police officer.

The local organisations like GASS raised voice continuously against the killing of Akula Senapati in Narasinghpur police station, Cuttack. He was picked up in the midnight by the local police on December 13, 2016 and subsequently died. The state government appointed his wife as Home Guard in same police station when much protest happened. After that, the case is not being listed in the court.

When an allegation is raised against a police personnel in any custodial death incidents, the action taken is limited to suspension for a short period or transfer to other area. After few days, they resume duties. Murder charges are not framed in case of custodial deaths against the accused police officers as quickly as in case of death of a student by a teacher or the death of a beneficiary due to negligence of a Block Official are framed.

Since the MLA, Ministers, and even the Chief Minister feel helpless without the support of police, they mostly take a step back from initiating action on any issues raised against police.

Death Punishment for the Smallest Offence:

The various fact-finding reports of Ganatantrik Adikhar Surakhya Sangathan ‘GASS’, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and other democratic organisations reveals in custodial death incidents that, most of the custodial death victims are belong to the poor, SC/ST and Muslim section of the society. Police pick them up with an intention of collecting information, taking revenge or giving them a lesson. They are dragged from their home and are tortured for hours, eventually leading to their deaths.

Even though, D.K. Basu guidelines, section 41(A) in CrPC and different guidelines of Supreme Court and National Human Rights Commission are there to such state crimes but these guidelines are not followed while the police pick up a poor person from their home.

Capacity to enforce Black Law

The elected representatives in both state assembly as well as the Loksabha passed the Black Law largely in name of maintaining ‘law and order’. After that, it becomes the onus of the police to apprehend the common citizens in name of implementing those laws.

Now a days, acts like section 124 (A)of IPC (Sedition), National Security Act (NSA), AFSPA and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) are being used against civilians largely who have differences of opinion with the government.

The government, as an institution, largely depends on the presence of police while implementing their developmental projects. These are like land acquisition, enforcement of covid lockdown guidelines, environment and forest conservation issues, disbursal of allowances.

The presence of police also become essential when a minister attends own party programmes. If the public resist any such programme, the police are used to arrest and fire upon people. This is why the presence of police have been essential for the Ministers, the Secretaries and the Chief Minister.

This dependency has benefited the police to go with impunity for the crime they do.  This is also benefiting the rich and influential section of our society.

Day by day, it is becoming difficult to change the attitude of the police because we are already in era of new liberalisation and corpotisation. Although the Supreme Court and High Court are proposing to change the police system. But it is not getting obvious attention of the government.

Towards the end:

In most of the custodial torture and deaths, the SC/ST, Muslim and political activists are the victims. But our educated and civil society members are not much worried about it. Except the Democratic Rights Bodies and some Communist Groups and few other SC/ST groups, others are not raising their voice against such crimes in regular ways. The Dalit and tribal leaders in different mainstream political parties are keeping silence against the incidents of torture.

The demand for justice to Gobinda Kumbhar is gaining momentum. We think it will bring large section of people of the state to its fold. This is a hope for us.

Prepared by:

Golak Bihari Nath, President

Deba Ranjan, General Secretary

Ganatantrik Adhikar Surakhya Sangathan, Odisha

Email: [email protected]

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