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India’s Abu Gharibs

The custodial torture and death in Wadala Police Station is the latest to draw attention to the endemic practice of police torture.

| by Mansi Sharma

(June 18, 2014, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) For the underprivileged in our country, police stations have become torture chambers. It would not be an exaggeration to compare them with Abu Ghraib.

The pictures emerging from the cells of Abu Gharib – of wanton and indescribable physical and sexual abuse of detainees, shocked the world. Something not very dissimilar is happening in Indian police stations.

On May 16, 2014, when the Supreme Court of India acquitted five of six men accused in Akashardham attack case, it drew attention towards coercive methods adopted by investigating agencies to extract confessional statements. The Andhra Pradesh Minotities Commission-appointed Ravi Chander enquiry dwelt at length on the torture inflcited upon scores of Muslim youth following the Mecca Masjid blast on 2006. I remember, at a convention in Delhi some years ago, one of those tortured recalling the smell of burnt flesh in police custody, and then realising it were his own lips smouldering from the electric shocks adminstered by the police. Torture_India

However, torture is not confined to terror investigations at all; indeed, it has become endemic and often seen as a quick route to ‘solving cases’. But even in this widespread culture of abuse and torure, the case of gross abuse of four young men at the hands of police at the Wadala police station manages to shake us.

On the night of April 15, police picked four boys, Agnelo(Richie), Arbaz, Irfan and Sufiyan from their homes near Reay Road Police Station for the theft of gold chain and brought them to Wadala Police Station.

They were not presented before the Magistrate, in violation of the law, till two days later. Though Arbaz was minor, he was kept with the other accused. Two days later, Agnelo died in police custody.

Their affidavits submitted to the court describe the horror, abuse and indignity these boys were subjected to. In his written complaint, Irfan has said “my hands and legs were tied with a big rope and a big heavy iron rod was put between my folded legs on which I was hanged upside down. I was naked during this time. Mane and Kamble were assaulting me turn by turn with belt and the danda one by one. Then One Ganya officer holding the stick tried to insert the said stick into my anus but as the stick was thick it didn’t penetrate into my anus and so Mane and Kamble said that we have to spray petrol into his anus using a spray pump”.

“Due to the pain and fear I felt like urinating very badly and I told them that I want to go to the toilet. But Mane told me to pass urine in my own mouth (since I was hanging upside down). Unable to further control myself, I urinated, and the urine fell on my face and mouth. After that Kamble, Mane and Ganya asked Richie whether they will have sex with my mother. They also asked Arbaaz and Sufiyan will they have sex with my mother to which the boys replied yes under duress.”

“The officers snatched the holy religious thread which I was wearing around my neck, I told them that not to snatch this thread as it is our religious thread and I had got it from Ajmer. Even then the officer paid no heed to it and threw my religious thread and Kamble stamped his feet on my religious thread and he said that we don’t believe in such things.”

There is more: In his statement Sufiyan said, “Pathan officer hit me from my shoulders to my feet with a danda and Kamble turned me upside down and banged me on my head. One older looking police officer (who I can recognize) kept his feet on my head and Pathan beat me on my feet and buttocks with a danda.”

Arbaaz in his complaint says, “all of us were asked to remove our clothes and Irfan was forced by the police officers to take Richie and my penis in his mouth”

On April 18 all the three accused were presented before magistrate except Richie. Leonardo, father of Richie, who was waiting in the court, at 12 p.m called Wadala police station to enquire about his son then he was told to reach Sion Hospital. When he reached there he was taken to Mortuary and was informed that his son tried to escape from police custody and jumped on the railway tracks.”

All the other three accused in their separate statements have denied police version and have stated that Richie was not in a position to even walk. “It is impossible that he could have run from Police custody.”

In their statements they said that Richie was taken out from the lockup and brought to the room. “His hands and legs were tied and he was made to hang upside down on the same rod but as he was physically strong the officers were unable to hang him over the rod and so he was made to lie on the ground and the rest of his body was hanging in the air and then Mane and Kamble were beating him with a belt and stick (danda) with all their energy and force. The time was around 11:30 am. Richie was beaten from 11:30 am to almost about 1.30 pm. He was crying in pain (“Jesus save me, Jesus save me”) and during the assault Raj and Kamble kicked Richie on his chest saying that I had never seen an adamant person like you (dheet).”

“At around that time Richie started complaining about chest pain and he was screaming with pain and begging for medicine (“Sir, Sir, please give me some medicine, please give me a medicine”) upon which the lady officer with 3 star came near the room and told that “We are not your slaves and we will not give you any medicine.” Tadap tadap ke mar.”

That time, the statement reads, “foam started coming out of Richie’s mouth. We got scared and requested the police to help Richie. Pathan gave Richie onions and threw water at him. More foam started coming out of his mouth.”

“Ganya said let Richie die. Ganya was also saying that what acting he is doing, from where did he get his acting classes and he is a very good actor”.

According to the boys after one hour Richie again complained about chest pain and begged the officers to take him to a doctor. They also begged police to take him to doctor. “But the officer [Raj alias Pathan and the three star lady officer] abused us and told that let him die and sit quietly otherwise again you will be beaten. At that time Richie was having severe pain and he was thrashing around like a fish which is taken out from the water. He was hitting the cupboard and the table in the room and was rolling on the ground.”

The lawyer of the accused, Mr Yug Chaudhry explains his dilemma while dealing with such cases. “There is no penal provision covering sexual abuse of an adult male in police custody. Similarly, there is no law dealing with torture.” He says though Maharashtra has had the highest number of custodial deaths in 12 of the last 13 years, there have been no convictions, and this inhuman practice continues unabated.

According to the lawyer the utter futility of any police investigation into this crime can be gauged from the fact that the letter intimating the victims of such an investigation was delivered to them by none other than the very same police officer who perpetrated these acts on them.

All the three accused were granted bail on April 22, 2014. They are now constantly threatened by these Police officers to withdraw their complaints.

The government machinery is doing its job in the manner it likes to do. It has ordered a departmental enquiry against 12 policemen whose names have constantly appeared in the complaints. And the state CID is investigating into custodial death. Will we be surprised if the investigation and the departmental inquiry exonerates all the 12 policemen and indicts four boys including the one who allegedly died in the police custody.

The High Court of Bombay, granting interim relief to the victims, observed: “The allegations made in the complaints have shocked the conscience of the Court and disclose the sordid and sorry state of affairs at the Wadala Railway Station.”

“What actually shocks the conscience of the Court is that Police officers who are supposed to protect the life of citizens and ensure that their constitutional rights are not violated have themselves tried to protect the police officers against whom serious allegations have been made by the petitioners to withdraw their complaints”.

Unless we come out to name and shame the perpetrators of such crimes, they would continue to enjoy immunity under the cover of departmental inquiries and investigations.

Why did this brutal custodial torture not disturb the conscience of the nation? Why didn’t the affidavits recounting the horrible cruelty, or the significant observations and directions of the High Court rouse any debate or discussion in the mainstream media? This silence also tells us something about ourselves as a society. Does nothing move us anymore? Have we abandoned those at the margins, allowing them to be devoured by the little Abu Gharibs.