9 Months After Custodial Death of Muslim Hawker in Gujarat, 6 Absconding Cops Finally Surrender

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Photoused for illustrative purposes only.

Following a theft complaint by a resident of Vadodara, Nisar, who hailed from Kamareddy district in Telangana and sold clothes on his bicycle in the city, was picked up by the police as a suspect and brought to the police station on December 10 last but he went missing since then.

Mahesh Trivedi | Clarion India

VADODARA — Six police personnel, who had been on the run after allegedly torturing an elderly Muslim hawker to death in a police station in Vadodara in Gujarat some nine months ago, and destroying evidence, have finally thrown in the towel.

The Gujarat High Court’s August 6 order to hand over the case of the mysterious custodial death of 65-year-old Babu Sheikh Nisar to the State Crime Investigation Department (CID) bore fruit when the absconding hexad surrendered to the authorities on Monday.

The then police inspector of Fatehgunj police station D B Gohil, police sub-inspector D M Rabari and four Lok Rakshak Dal jawans Pankaj Mavjibhai, Yogendra Jilansinh, Rajiv Savjibhai and Hitesh Shambubhai–submitted to the State CID and were immediately sent for covid-19 test as per protocol before being formally arrested.

Following a theft complaint by a resident of Vadodara, Nisar, who hailed from Kamareddy district in Telangana and sold clothes on his bicycle in the city, was picked up by the police as a suspect and brought to the police station on December 10 last but he went missing since then.

According to the FIR, which was filed on July 7 only after the victim’s relatives lodged a missing-person complaint on January 31, he was tied to a chair and tortured. A pen was pressed between his fingers until he started bleeding. The victim cried for mercy and said that he was innocent, until his voice finally waned. A constable of the Fatehganj police station had told the investigators that he saw Nisar tied to a chair while the accused tortured him to extract a confession of the theft.

The six men were booked on July 7 under under IPC sections 304 (Punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 201 (Causing disappearance of evidence of offence), 203 (Giving false information respecting an offence committed), 204 (Destruction of 1 [document or electronic record] to prevent its production as evidence) and 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) even as search was on to find Nisar’s body not only in Gujarat but also in Maharashtra, Telangana and Rajasthan.

On June 20, Nisar’s family had filed a Habeas Corpus petition in the Gujarat High Court on whose order, the six accused policemen were booked for murder on July 21. The police department had allegedly been shielding the missing policemen who had so far been booked only for “culpable homicide not amounting to murder”.

With many shocking details emerging and no clue on the whereabouts of the missing policemen, the Gujarat High Court on August 6 transferred the investigation into Nisar’s custodial death to the state CID.

Gujarat High Court advocate Iqbal Masud Khan told Clarion India that torture in police custody was not a new norm as it had been happening for quite a long time, adding that the main reason was the weak justice system along with police apathy in such cases.

“As they have to investigate cases against their own clan, the prosecution goes slow in collecting evidence. Even if the sessions court finds the accused guilty relying on circumstantial evidence, the high court acquits them for lack of evidence, this boosts the police to commit torture without fear,” explained the senior legal eagle.

Says advocate Ajay Navlakha, torture in police custody is “routine” in India, and is mostly used to coerce suspects to give up information and build evidence during an investigation. It is also used by jail officials to settle scores with suspects they consider “troublesome”.

Mulji Khuman, editor of Disha, a popular fortnightly for the marginalised communities, blamed it on the absence of laws against custodial torture, lack of reforms in police governance and accountability, underdeveloped interrogation and forensic techniques, and limited options for the prosecution of erring officials.

According to the latest data from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), at least 17,146 people were reported to have died in judicial and police custody — nearly five a day, on an average — in cases registered in the decade till March 2020.

This year alone, in the seven months to July 2020, the NHRC reported 914 deaths in custody, 53 of these in police custody.

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