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New Delhi: In the last 10 days, four men – Abdul Rajjak, Jiyaul Laskar, Akbar Khan and Saidul Munsi – died in judicial custody at the Baruipur Central Correctional Home, South 24 Parganas district, West Bengal.
All the four men had been picked up by the West Bengal police in separate cases in the last week of July. The families of the four deceased men have alleged foul play and raised doubts about the causes of their deaths, openly stating their suspicions that the men were grievously tortured to death.
Meanwhile, with no postmortem reports available as yet, police sources have denied these charges, calling the deaths of these four men one after the other while they were all jailed in the same facility “a coincidence”.
On July 25, Jiyaul Laskar, who lived in Subash Pally and worked as an auto-rickshaw driver in nearby Baruipur, did not return home from work. Worried about the whereabouts of the 35 year old, his family had set out to look for him the next morning when they learned that he had been arrested for conspiring to commit a dacoity. Laskar’s family alleged that he was grievously assaulted inside the Baruipur police station on the day of his arrest and also the following day. The day after that, he was taken to the court, from where he was sent to jail.
“Three or four days before his death, he met my sister-in-law,” said Sabera Bibi, Jiyaul Laskar’s older sister. “He was crying during the short meeting and said that he was being assaulted. If the police say that my brother did drugs, I will accept it. But does that mean they should hit him like that? His body has bruises and injuries.”
While Jiyaul’s family claim he died on August 1, he was officially declared dead on August 2.
According to advocate Tonoy Bhattacharya who represented Sabera Bibi in the court, two other men – Surojit Haldar and Rabiul Haldar – who had been arrested along with Laskar told them that Laskar had died because of torture. The two men pleaded for bail a few days later, citing assault by the police and the death of Laskar in judicial custody. They were granted interim bail by the additional chief judicial magistrate (ACJM) who noted that their detention in the Baruipur jail where the deceased had also been housed would not be proper for a fair enquiry.
Stating that an inquest must be conducted again, this time in the presence of at least two of Jiyaul’s family members and the magistrate concerned, ACJM served a show cause notice to the superintendent of the Baruipur correction centre for non-compliance with a court order dated August 3 that had asked for an inquest in the presence of family members and a magistrate.
The father of two girls, 34-year-old Abdul Rajjak ran a poultry business for which he visited Bihar frequently. Rajjak’s wife Suhana Bibi told The Wire, “On July 24, four men in civil dress came to my house and asked for Rajjak. He was sent to jail the next day. I met him on July 27 and he was totally normal. But at around 1 PM on July 29, a policeman came to our home and told us that Rajjak was in a critical condition and we needed to visit the hospital.”
At this point, Suhana broke down, so Sirajul Rajjak, Rajjak’s uncle who is now taking care of the family, took up the story. Sirajul claimed that Rajjak had already been dead when he arrived at the hospital. He told The Wire that he had overheard the hospital staff asking the policemen heated questions. However, he had not been able to hear what the hospital staff had said to the policemen.
“We want justice. I trust the law but we can’t fight this case. What will happen to these young girls and their mother? Who will take care of them,” Sirajul asked.
According to the disposal order regarding the burial of his corpse, Rajjak died on July 30 at 12:48 pm. Police sources told The Wire that Rajjak was booked under sections 399 and 402 of the Indian Penal Code, which relate to preparation and assembly to commit a dacoity. While the police refused to comment on specific details of the case, the first information report (FIR) says that on July 23, after a tip-off from a source, the police found 10 to 12 people whispering amongst themselves behind a newly constructed wall near the Kanthal bypass close to the Baruipur police station. The FIR does not state what the police overheard the men discussing. However, the police arrested Rajjak along with seven other men and allegedly seized sharp weapons from their possession.
According to advocate Asfak Ahmed, Akbar Khan, an accused in another suspected dacoity case, died on August 2 while in judicial custody. The lawyer said that Akbar Khan’s body had marks of torture and the family is yet to recieve the postmortem report. The Wire tried to contact Anjuhar, the wife of Akbar Khan, but she was not in a condition to comment at the time.
According to his family, 33-year-old Saidul Munsi was picked up from his home on July 25 by the Maheshtala police. Munsi’s family claims that he was assaulted by the police on the day of his arrest. A day later, he was sent to the Baruipur jail.
“On August 1, he was admitted to the hospital but our family was not informed,” said Salma, Saidul’s older sister. “We only learned of this on August 2. There was no adult at home when the police came to get a signature on a document. We do not know what the document said, but the police coerced my younger sister to sign it. Saidul did not get treatment and was declared dead on August 3. They beat him up so badly and so often that he died. We don’t know who killed him, but he died while he was in jail. If you had seen his face, you would have broken down as well.”
‘The treatment of Muslims is concerning’
Ranjit Sur, general secretary of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) told The Wire, “Every political party in Bengal rightly spoke about the custodial death of a boy in Kolkata. However, four men from the minority community booked in similar cases and lodged in the Baruipur jail died one after the other in just one week. Yet no party has raised this issue. It is very alarming. We think there should be an independent judicial enquiry into these cases. South 24 Parganas is notorious for such high-handedness by the police. The treatment of Dalits and Muslims is particularly concerning.”
The APDR has independently decided to look into the four cases and file a fact-finding report on them.
On August 7, 2022, a team of lawyers led by Kolkata high court lawyer and Congress leader Asfak Ahmed met the four families and offered them legal support. Ahmed told The Wire that the four cases appear to be quite similar to each other and should therefore be clubbed together for an independent investigation.
Police sources informed The Wire that the four men had been arrested in separate cases and had previously had criminal cases against them for dealing in drugs. According to the police, Rajjak and Laskar were consumers and sellers of drugs.
“The accusations of high-handedness by the police are incorrect,” said a police source on condition of anonymity. “It is just a coincidence that the four men died one after the other. We are waiting for the postmortem reports to arrive so that further investigation can be done.”
On August 7, the Baruipur police had posted a denial on Facebook that four men had died in custody in the Baruipur police station. However, police sources confirmed to The Wire that the men had died in judicial custody.
After the report was published, Advocate Asfak Ahmed informed The Wire that the four families have been offered compensation of Rs 5 lakh each and a government job to one family member. A CID probe into the four deaths has been initiated.
Rajjak’s uncle Sirajul said, “No political party came to meet our family. But it’s the media that pulled Mamata Banerjee’s attention to this case and now we expect justice. This is how the media should work.”