UP: In Yet Another Case of Police ‘High-Handedness’, Sanitation Worker Dies in Police Custody
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Lucknow: A case of “high-handedness” of Uttar Pradesh police came to light on Thursday when a sanitation worker in Agra district, who was suspected of stealing Rs 25 lakh from a police station warehouse, allegedly died in police custody during the recovery of the amount on Wednesday.
Arun Kumar (29), a sanitation worker belonging to the Valmiki community, was accused of stealing Rs 25 lakh from the locker room of Jagdishpura police station. After being picked up by the police for interrogation, he died while in custody on Tuesday.
A First Information Report (FIR) on charges of murder was lodged against unidentified persons after Arun’s family members alleged that he was beaten up mercilessly soon after being picked up for interrogation and raised doubts on the police statement.
Following the FIR, five police personnel, including a Sub Inspector (SI) and Inspector who had gone for the recovery, were suspended for negligence and an inquiry committee was constituted, Muniraj G, SSP Agra said.
According to the Senior Superintendent (SSP) Agra, the accused allegedly confessed that he was in possession of Rs 15 lakh from the stolen amount which was kept in his home. A police team was accompanying him when his “health suddenly started deteriorating”. The police and his family rushed him to a hospital where the doctor declared him brought dead, said Muniraj. “The police had managed to recover Rs 15 lakh from Arun Valmiki,” the SSP claimed.
Contrary to the Agra SSP’s statement, the family members of the sanitation workers termed it as “cold blooded murder”. They accused the police personnel of trying to falsely implicate Arun. They demanded that the circumstances leading to his death be investigated.
The incident has led to anger among Valmiki community members. A large number of people, including dalit activists gathered near the post-mortem venue, demanding action against police personnel. The anger also spilled on to the roads and has sparked a debate on the UP Police’s “high handedness” and custodial deaths.
Meanwhile, members of the Valmiki community have called for protest against the alleged custodial death if action against the police personnel concerned is not taken. The deceased’s family has already submitted a complaint against the police.
However, the SSP Muniraj said that a post-mortem conducted by a panel of doctors had shown that Arun’s death had been caused by a heart attack.
“As per the NHRC (National Human Rights Commission) guidelines, the post-mortem was conducted by a panel of doctors. According to the post-mortem report, the cause of death is a heart attack,” he said.
The government has announced Rs 10 lakh compensation for the family of the deceased. However, the family members are demanding Rs 1 crore and a government job anyone in the family.
Arun's mother Kamala, who reached the post-mortem venue, alleged that the theft in the ‘malkhana’ (warehouse) of Jagdishpura police station was done in connivance with the policemen. Her son could have revealed the names of the policemen, so they killed him, she alleged. Sonam, Arun’s wife, said: “If my husband had stolen money, they could have sent him to jail, why did they kill him. Before Karva Chauth (a fast kept for husband’s long life), the police have made me a widow,” Sonam, a mother of three minor children, told NewsClick. She demanded severe punishment for the culprits.
Kamla alleged that the policemen “planted this story to show the money was recovered from our house so that they (police) could save themselves. If my son was alive, he would have revealed their names.”
A distraught Sonam said: “Who will look after me and my children after Arun, He was sole breadwinner in our family”, adding that there were “visible marks of injuries all over her husband’s body.”
Taking strong exception to the death of the sanitation worker, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati has asked the Uttar Pradesh government to bring necessary reforms in the police system.
“After the tragic murder of a businessman in a hotel by police in Gorakhpur, now the present BJP government is again in the dock due to the death of a dalit sweeper in police custody in Agra. Therefore, the government should bring necessary reforms in its police system. This is the demand of the BSP,” Mayawati said in a tweet in Hindi.
Meanwhile, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was detained by Lucknow police at the Lucknow Expressway while she was traveling to Agra to meet the family of sanitation worker.
“What is the government so afraid of? Arun Valmiki died in police custody. His family is seeking justice. I want to visit that family. What is the Uttar Pradesh government afraid of? Why I am being stopped?” she tweeted.
HIGHEST CUSTODIAL DEATHS IN UP
As many as 348 people died in police custody in different parts of the country in the past three years, Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai told the Lok Sabha while responding to a question by Congress MP Karti Chidambaram on whether there has been a sharp rise in custodial deaths and torture in the country. The minister, citing NHRC figures, said 136 people died in police custody in 2018, 112 in 2019 and 100 in 2020.
The Union minister had said that Uttar Pradesh topped the list when it came to custodial deaths.
In 2018 -19, there were 12 deaths in police custody and 452 deaths in judicial custody in Uttar Pradesh. In 2019-20, three deaths in police custody and 400 in judicial custody were reported.
In 2020-21, the numbers further rose - eight people died in police custody while 443 died in judicial custody. In the last three years, the minister said, this was the highest number of police and judicial custodial deaths recorded in the country.
As per data quoted by Union minister, out of 5,569 police and judicial custody deaths in the country in the last three years (2018-21), as many as 1,318 were reported from Uttar Pradesh alone.
CASES AGAINST UP POLICE INCREASED
Cases against Uttar Pradesh police have also subsequently increased in the past the few years.
In May, during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Faisal, a vegetable vendor in Unnao died after allegedly being beaten up by the police for reportedly violating lockdown norms.
Three police personnel were booked for murder. Faisal, a sole breadwinner, was picked by local vegetable market for allegedly flouting the partial COVID-19 curfew enforced in the state.
In another case, a special police team (SWAT) in Ambedkar Nagar was booked for murder after a man from Azamgarh died in police custody after being allegedly picked up for questioning. His family alleged police torture in custody.
An FIR was lodged against Devendra Pal Singh, SWAT team in-charge and few unidentified police under Sections 302 (murder) and 364 (abducting for murder) of the Indian Penal Code at Akbarpur police station.
Recently, in Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s home turf there was a controversy after a businessman died after allegedly being beaten up by policemen. Almost six police were arrested in connection with the murder of Manish Gupta - a businessman of Kanpur who was allegedly beaten to death by police in a hotel in Gorakhpur.
Sushil Gautam, a dalit activist claimed that atrocities against his community have increased as in most of the cases, the accountability of police officers cannot be fixed. A case against any involved police personnel can only be registered after due government permission. “The government is not paying heed to this inhuman incident. Therefore, such cases are increasing rampantly. It is a matter of shame that people are dying in police custody in a democratic country,” he told NewsClick.
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