CHENNAI: The recent custodial deaths in Ambur and Salem have turned the spotlight on the repeated occurrence of such incidents which has taken Tamil Nadu to the second position on the infamous list of States having the most number of custodial deaths.
Activists charge that in most instances, the cases remain unsolved and the offending officials go scot free while in some the deaths trigger larger social problems, like in the Ambur case where the death of a detenue sparked off communal tension in the locality. “The first and foremost reason is that in all such incidents, the offending officials go scot-free. The police department itself safeguards the erring officials, apparently to protect the morale of its personnel,” explained activist A Marx.
“The second reason is the inherent character of police officials,” he said and recalled the incident in Nagore last year where an auto driver was beaten to death after he allegedly refused to obey a police officer. The police department takes action on its officers only on the intervention of political, social organisations or courts. Even then it would be simple punishments like transfer or suspension for a brief period, Marx claimed.
Pointing out that a majority of such incidents happen during interrogation of offences like theft and abduction, he said.
“Even in the Ambur incident, the alleged offence was kidnap. In our experience, a tortured suspect would confess if he had really committed the crime. But in cases where the suspect has no clue about the information which police are seeking, it leads to death,” added Marx.
The Police Act followed in this country was adopted by the British in the 19th century. “That is the root cause of such barbaric incidents. It needs a major re-haul,” he said.
According to A Kathir of Evidence, an NGO, custodial torture is a short-cut adopted by police to extract information from suspects. “Police lack the basic knowledge to deal with suspects,” he said charging that 1,500 plus police stations in the State are run as “torture camps”.
Lack of proper training, unrestricted power and political patronage are reasons for the continuance of such atrocities, Kathir said adding that attitude of officers must be changed. Claiming that Tamil Nadu police has the latest and better infrastructure compared to other States, he said. “Such incidents can be prevented only when measures like adopting quality working hours, making investigation and law and order as separate departments, are followed.”
To free police department from political meddling, it must be made an autonomous institution with monitoring by the judiciary, he added.
KILLERS IN KHAKI
A look at some suspected custodial death cases that shook Tamil Nadu in the recent years
July 6, 2015: N Gokulakannan (22) dies in police custody hours after he was detained along with seven others in connection with a murder case in Mettur
June 26, 2015: Sameel Basha (26), who was detained for four days by the Pallikonda police in Vellore district in connection with the disappearance of a woman, dies in a govt hospital in Chennai, triggering violence in Ambur
Oct 14, 2014: Syed Mohammed, who was picked up for questioning after he threatened the public with a knife, was shot dead by sub-inspector Kalidoss at the S P Pattinam police station in Ramanathapuram district
Aug 20, 2014: 32-year-old Ramesh, a history-sheeter, reportedly beaten to death while he was in police custody after being picked up by a special team led by Red Hills Inspector Sampath for interrogation in connection with a theft case
July 16, 2014: D Gopal (26), an accused in at least two murder cases, died within 12 hours of being arrested by Kodungayur Police, who claimed that he fell unconscious in custody. Stanley Govt Hospital doctors declared him brought dead
Feb 17, 2014: 36-year-old Ashok of New Washermenpet collapses and dies at the Chromepet Government hospital after remaining in the custody of the Ashok Nagar Police for six-and-a-half hours in connection with a petty crime
Dec 31, 2013: Suresh, a 39-year-old auto driver, collapses and dies at Nagapattinam Government Hospital when he was taken for a medical check following his arrest. He was accused of manhandling some policemen in an inebriated condition
Sept 25, 2013: Murugan (40), a diffabled daily wager of Jayapriya Nagar in Vadalur, who was taken for questioning two days ago by the Panrutti police regarding illegal sale of lottery tickets, reportedly beaten to death in custody
Oct 1, 2013: Gopal (45), an ex-serviceman of Vellore, taken for questioning in connection with a murder case, died in custody
Oct 1, 2012: Venkatesan Ramanujam (26) of Madurai, arrested by the Paramakudi police, died in custody. Sub-Inspector and three constables, suspended and inquiry ordered
Aug 1, 2012: Ganesan (31), a construction worker of Muthukrishnapuram in Thoothukudi, picked up the previous night on suspicion of lifting a mobile phone died in custody
June 6, 2012: Raja (27) of Chellayipuram near Vedasandur in Dindigul district, a textile mill worker, was picked up in connection with a fortnight-old daylight robbery, died in custody
Jan 16, 2012: S Nityaraj (25) of Ayanavaram who was with the Friends of Police was picked up from home by the police in connection with a cellphone theft four days ago, was brought ‘dead on arrival’ at Royapettah GH
Oct 1, 2011: K Muthu (34), of Virugambakkam in Chennai, pursuing a career in film, was picked from home by cops in connection with an enquiry in a theft case, died in custody
June 2, 2011: Markandeyan (48), a building contractor who had lodged a police complaint about his missing daughter and asked to report at the police station at midnight, allegedly tortured to death at the Oomachikulam police station on the outskirts of Madurai