Police torture in custody is common knowledge. In Maharashtra, at least 20 people have died in custody in the past five years. The latest: a Chembur resident dying of injuries in hospital on Thursday.
About a week ago, Trombay police arrested Sachin Dhage on bootlegging charges. Though Dhage died in hospital, the circumstances that led to his death are shrouded in mystery. The crime branch of the Mumbai police is investigating the role of Trombay police.
Dhage's sister Nanda said he told her in hospital how the police tortured him mercilessly while he was in custody. "My brother was a regular drinker, but he was not involved in bootlegging," she said. "He was framed by some policemen who wanted to save the real bootlegger. These policemen thrashed my brother and forced him to accept his supposed involvement. He suffered an epileptic attack during torture and probably bit his tongue. He had several injury marks on his body."
Dhage was shifted from Sion hospital to a private hospital in Kharghar where he died.
This is not a case in isolation. On January 22, Mohammad Jafar Shaikh, 22, who was lodged in Arthur Road jail, died on his way to JJ hospital after he complained of chest pain. Shaikh's family refused to take his body for final rites, alleging he died of police torture. Shaikh and his brother were arrested in a theft case and remanded in judicial custody.
In the last week of January, Pankaj Singh, 25, hanged himself in a toilet inside Taloja prison, leaving behind a suicide note accusing a Mumbai police officer of harassing him. Singh, a resident of Dahisar, was in the prison for a week after he was remanded in judicial custody in an extortion case. Police said a similar case has been registered against him in Mulund.
In January 2003, Aurangabad resident Khwaja Yunus died in the Mumbai crime branch's custody. He was arrested in connection with the December 2002 bomb blast in a BEST bus in Ghatkopar.
Following his custodial death, a few high-profile police officers were arrested and the Bombay High Court observed that Yunus was murdered in custody. The court even ordered the government to compensate Yunus' mother.
"The Supreme Court has repeatedly expressed its anguish on the growing number of custodial deaths in various parts of the country," Majid Memon, senior criminal lawyer, said. "According to the law, custodial deaths are perhaps the worst crime committed in a civilised society governed by the rule of law."
Memon said the gravity of custodial deaths is much higher than any other case of murder because the death is caused by the custodians of law. "Therefore in any custodial death proved beyond considerable doubt, the SC suggests that such cases should be treated at par with the rarest of rare cases... the punishment for such offences should be death rather than life imprisonment," Memon said.
A senior Mumbai police officer said the police have been asked to be extra cautious while interrogating suspects in custody.