Custodial death puts Kerala Pinarayi government in the dock

South India

KOCHI : Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had pointed out lack of serious criticism towards the police in the last session of the Legislative Assembly as a definite sign of improvement in the functioning of the law and order machinery.

The claim he made at the delegate meeting of the 30th annual conference of the Kerala Police Officers Association (KPOA) on April 5 was proved wrong within a week when a youth died while in police custody and another committed suicide allegedly due to police harassment.

Sreejith (26), who was picked up from his house at Varapuzha in Ernakulam district on April 6 night in connection with the suicide of his 55-year-old neighbor following a gang attack, died of severe internal injuries three days later.His relativeshave alleged custodial torture behind the death. They are awaiting the detailed report of autopsy for confirmation.

The victim of the police harassment was 27-year-old dalit youth, S Santhosh, an accused in a case related to pelting stones on a state transport corporation bus at Pallatheri in Palakkad district. His relatives alleged that Santhosh resorted to the extreme step on April 7 following repeated harassment by the police to pay the compensation for the damage he caused to the bus.

The two incidents occurred barely within a fortnight of a training programme conducted by the state police to teach the cops good conduct. The mass training was launched on the orders of the chief minister, who holds the home portfolio, following a series of cases of misbheaviour by the police with common man on the street.

The death of Sreejith has triggered a big uproar after it was revealed that the youth was not among the 14-member gang that attacked his neighbor, Vasudevan. Sreejith, who was close to the family of Vasudevan, was picked up along with others after the latter committed suicide.

Vasudevan’s son Vineesh told the media that they had not named Sreejith in the complaint they lodged with the police following the attack. He said that they had complained against another Sreejith, who is son of one Sasi. Human rights activists believe that the arrest of the youth killed in police custody could be a case of mistaken identity.

However, the police have denied the claim. Ernakulam Rural Superintendent of Police A V George claimed that Vineesh had clearly identified Sreejith, who died in the custody, in the statement he gave to the police. He alleged that Vineesh may have lied to the media following Sreejith’s death. He denied any torture on Sreejtih by the Varappuzha police.

The preliminary postmortem stated that Sreejith had died due to septicemia, developed after his intestines had ruptured following intense pressure on his abdomen. The report has also hinted that the cause of death could be cardiac arrest due to stress.

Kerala State Human Rights Commission acting chairperson P Mohandas, who visited Sreejith’s house and the hospital, where Sreejith died, said there were several lapses on the part of the police in the arrest and subsequent detention of Sreejith in custody.

“Police officers have neither recorded the arrest of Sreejith nor issued the arrest memo. They also failed to produce him before a magistrate. There was no reason for the police not to follow the mandatory provision if they had not adopted any third-degree method against him. This shows that the youth could be a victim of custodial torture,” he added.

State police chief Loknath Behra has descried the death very serious and has set up a special investigation team under Crime Branch Inspector General of Police Sreejith. He has asked the team to investigate all the recent cases of police excesses. The police have suspended three civil policemen in connection with Sreejith’s death.

The incidents of the recent police highhandedness have put the Left Democratic Front government in a tight spot as it is gearing for a crucial by-election at Chengannur. Political observers said that the fallout of the incidents will be felt in the election.

The opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front and the Bharatiya Janata Party have termed the incidents due to the failure by the state government to reign in the rogue cops. Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said that cases of brutality has been on the rise ever since the LDF came to power.
BJP spokesman J R Padmakumar said that the top brass of the police had lost control over the force due to politicization of the police by the LDF government. He said that the police were taking orders from Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s private secretary M V Jayarajan, who is a senior CPM leader from Kannur.

“The police are divided on political lines. They have no qualms in even openly displaying their political affiliation. About 50 policemen had attended a meeting of police officers’ association at Kottayam last week in red shirt. Neither the top brass of the police nor the government has questioned this,” he added.
He said that the DGP was allowing this because these men have the patronage of the political bosses. This police-political nexus may plunge the state into the stranglehold of various forms of mafia and criminal gangs, he added.

Latest available data shows that there are over 950 police men continuing in service with criminal cases, including attempt to murder, sexual abuse of women and graft, pending against them. The human activists this as a sign of politicization leading to criminalization of the police.


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