As the judicial probe claims custodial torture in Rajkumar’s case, is Kerala showing a pattern?

CM Pinarayi Vijayan claimed that the custodial deaths during the LDF tenure was due to a few criminal elements in the force and that they had been removed, but facts state a different picture
As the judicial probe claims custodial torture in Rajkumar’s case, is Kerala showing a pattern?

Justice (Retd) K Narayana Kurup has officially handed over the judicial commission probe report on the custodial death of Rajkumar in Nedumkandam in Idukki. The report claims that Rajkumar’s death was due to custodial torture and highlights the actions to be taken against the accused police officers. The report says that the police had violated countless laws and norms set by courts to hide their crime, and they even subverted postmortem procedures.

In the mid of June 2019, Nedumkandam police had arrested Wagamon-resident Rajkumar concerning Haritha Finance fraud, where he was the Managing Director. The police had decided that they would recover the money without registering custody. The police resorted to torture and third degree and when Rajkumar’s situation became worse, the officials tricked the magistrate and sent him into judicial custody. From there, he was taken to a Taluk Hospital as his conditions worsened, and there Rajkumar succumbed to his injuries on June 21 of the same year.

Following his death and public outcry, the LDF government had constituted the judicial commission with Justice K Narayana Kurup. Moreover, the CBI had also investigated the case and while their first accused was the then Sub Inspector Sabu KA, they also included the then Idukki Superintendent of Police KB Venugopal. Another investigation by the Crime Branch is ongoing as well. However, nothing has happened there as of yet.

The National Human Rights Commission report released by the Ministry of Home Affairs noted that Kerala recorded eight custodial deaths in 2017-18, which is more than a 100 per cent increase over the three deaths in 2017-18. This is not including the many other hospitalisation, torture, and violence that the state police have executed in the last few years

A Repeat of Instances

While announcing a judicial probe into Rajkumar’s custodial death, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was asked why there were a lot of custodial deaths under the LDF government. The CPM leader replied, “There were certain criminals in the force, and such incident cannot be condoned at any cost. Many policemen with criminal background have been dismissed ad removed from service during the tenure of the current government.” However, facts speak a different story.

The National Human Rights Commission report released by the Ministry of Home Affairs noted that Kerala recorded eight custodial deaths in 2017-18, which is more than a 100 per cent increase over the three deaths in 2017-18. This is not including the many other hospitalisation, torture, and violence that the state police have executed in the last few years.

In September 2020, the State Human Rights Commission had ordered the State Police Chief Loknath Behera to conduct a probe into the alleged police brutality that led to an injured spine. According to complaints, the police had brutally assaulted Johny Joseph following a domestic quarrel he had with his wife. The incident happened in June 2015, and nothing had happened to the probe until September 2020. Johny died in 2019 in an accident without getting justice.

While there were investigations against accused officers, suspending them from service, it went nowhere. The suspended officers returned to their duties and their position of power. Moreover, there haven’t been reforms introduced to bring down such incidents, which is evident in the rise of custodial deaths in Kerala according to the NHRC

One of the most important cases in recent periods would be the death of 19-year-old Vinayakan, who took his own life following custodial torture. He was called into the police station using flimsy excuses and when there the officers accused him and his friend of “snatching necklaces”. The two were put through a string of violent gestures from the police’s side, resulting in hospitalisation for both, and Vinayakan taking his own life. Dalit, human rights, and public activists clamoured for justice and called his death an institutional murder.

Another incident would be the custodial death of 26-year-old Sreejith, who was arrested by the police on April 2018 in Varapuzha. He was mistakenly picked up by the police who was looking for another person concerning an assault case. However, before the mistaken identity came to the fore, Sreejith had died in police custody. The medical probe revealed severe abdomen injuries, which the State Human Rights Commission believes is a result of custodial torture. This was also because Sreejith had made a final statement implicating two police officers of torturing and beating him. At the time of his death, Sreejith was married and had a two-year-old child.

While there were investigations against accused officers, suspending them from service, it went nowhere. The suspended officers returned to their duties and their position of power. Moreover, there haven’t been reforms introduced to bring down such incidents, which is evident in the rise of custodial deaths in Kerala according to the NHRC.

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