New Delhi: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has sought reports from the police of eight states on how they acted on a complaint by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative which alleged that 15 people had died of police beating or caning or in police custody during the first couple of months of the COVID-19-induced lockdown.
The CHRI complaint to NHRC on May 16, filed by researcher Raja Bagga, had stated that all these deaths took place between March 25 and April 30 this year after police action. Citing media reports, the complaint said “12 individuals were subjected to beating/caning by the police on the streets and three died in police custody.”
Furthermore, the complaint had stated that “the 15 victim families allege the deaths of their loved ones were a direct result of excessive force by police” and thus demanded an “immediate inquiry by the Commission into the allegations of excessive force and to ascertain the culpability of the police.”
Without the effective intervention of an external authority like the commission, the CHRI had said, it feared “there may be apathy, or attempts to cover-up leading to impunity.”
The complaint had also noted that all the 15 deceased were men. While five of them were from Andhra Pradesh, three were from Uttar Pradesh, two from Madhya Pradesh, two from Maharashtra, one from Tamil Nadu, one from Punjab, and one from West Bengal.
The civil rights group said the deceased “came from weaker socio-economic sections – five were daily wage workers, one farmer, one driver, and one vegetable vendor.” Stating that most of these were “income-earning members”, the complaint had also noted that four of them were Muslims, at least two were Dalits, and one tribal. It said six of those killed were between the ages of 18 and 22 while three were above 50 years of age.
The complaint said the primary source of information for these cases were media reports as per which “three victims died in police custody and 12 died subsequent to beatings/canings by the police on the streets ostensibly as “punishment” for being out in public during the lockdown. Of the 12, in nine cases victims succumbed to their injuries, and three committed suicide.”
In the case of deaths in police custody, the CHRI said those killed were identified as Kalapala Krupakar, Muni Kulla, and Raju Velu Devendra. It also said that in these cases, the families alleged excessive force by police lead to the deaths. It urged the NHRC to take appropriate action and said:
“As these took place in custody, it is essential to ensure that the police are adhering to all mandated processes which require them to report and inquire into the cause of these deaths, namely compliance with the NHRC guidelines on custodial death, the police inquest under Section 1742 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), and the mandatory judicial inquiry under Section 176(1-A)3 CrPC.”
The complaint said while an inquiry was instituted into the death of Krupakar; six police personnel have been suspended in Muni Kulla’s case but there was no information that inquiries have commenced. Likewise, it said, there was no information available on whether the mandatory inquiries have been initiated in Raju Velu’s case.
As for the deaths of others, the CHRI said in nine cases, the victims’ families recounted how their family member had stepped out of home to get essential services like food and medicine; or had gone out for some work when they were stopped and beaten by the police on the streets, and told to return home.
“It is telling that in six of the nine cases, the victim died the same day they came in contact with the police. Two others died after three days, and one after four days. Six victims sought medical attention following the beating and yet succumbed,” the complaint added.
Lamenting how “implicated police personnel have been suspended in only one case”, the complaint had stated that the police had denied the family’s allegations in all cases.
In view of the gravity of the offence, the CHRI had stated that “the suspicious circumstances and the families’ serious allegations require immediate intervention, comprehensive inquiry, and external monitoring of all steps taken by the police.” As per law, it said, all 12 cases require inquiry under section 174 CrPC.”
With reports being unclear on whether magisterial enquiries or judicial inquiries had been ordered; the post-mortem reports having been filed in only five cases; and limited ex-gratia being granted in just one case, the CHRI had urged the NHRC to conduct team visits to the families of the victims to ensure they were not being subjected to threats, reprisals, or intimidation by anyone.
It also urged the NHRC to constitute an investigating team for inquiry saying it should be accompanied by an experienced civil society activist and the appropriate state special rapporteur of the commission. The civil rights group had among other things also urged that interim compensation be awarded to families of the victims and that instructions be issued to state DGPs to report on the status of all inquiries.
In response to the complaint, the NHRC had, on June 4, taken up three cases of custodial death and asked the police commissioners or superintendent of police of the districts where these incidents had taken place to submit detailed reports by July 26.