MUMBAI: The Bombay High Court on Thursday directed a sessions court here to frame a charge of murder against eight Railway police personnel over the alleged custodial death of a 25-year-old man in the city in 2014.
A division bench of Justices B P Dharmadhikari and S S Jadhav directed the trial court to frame charges under IPC sections 302 (murder), 201 (destruction of evidence) and 295 (A) (deliberate act to insult religious beliefs).
"Prima facie this is a case of custodial death. The persons taken into custody were sexually abused by the police," the bench observed.
At present the eight accused in the case, who were attached to the Wadala Railway police in 2014, are booked under IPC sections 338 (causing grievous hurt or endangering the life of another person) and 377 (unnatural sex).
The high court was hearing a petition filed by the victim Angelo Valdaris' father, demanding that the accused policemen be charged with murder.
All the accused are out on bail.
Valdaris, detained by railway police for a petty theft, was found dead on the tracks in April 2014.
The Railway police, and later the CBI which probed the case, claimed that he was knocked down by a train after he escaped from the police custody.
His father, however, alleged that he was tortured in custody, leading to the death.
The high court in its judgment relied on witness statements and medical reports which said that Valdaris was not even in the position to walk, so there was no question of him running so fast that the police could not catch him.
"Custodial death cases have been on rise in the country. Custodial violence may be either physical, emotional or mental. It leaves a permanent impact on the victim," the judges said.
"In the present case, the victim was tortured by none other than the protectors of law," the court said.
The police's action was "riddled with mystery right from inception", it said.
"Torture when committed under the shield of uniform and authority within the four walls of a prison, police station or lock-up makes thevictim helpless," the court said.
The accused policemen also allegedly sexually abused the victim and taunted him over his caste and religious beliefs, the court noted.
According to Valdaris' father, Valdaris and three of his friends were picked up by the Wadala Railway police on the charges of robbery.
The police officials tortured and mentally harassed them in custody, and even forced them to perform "unnatural sex" with each other, the family claimed.
The Central Bureau of Investigation contended before the HC that there was no evidence to establish the charge of murder against the accused police officials.
CBI lawyer Hiten Venegaonkar argued that the accused policemen did torture Valdaris and abused him sexually, but he died after being mowed down by a train while fleeing.