Lucknow: “First they stabbed my father with a screwdriver and then they beat him black and blue for hours. In between, they even consumed liquor and kept beating my father with the leather belts and did not pay any heed to requests of not beating him,” these are the words of an 11-year-old, who was witness to the alleged custodial death of his father, Pradeep Tomar, on October 13.
The grieving son says he felt helpless when the police was giving ‘third degree’ torture to his father, adding that even his request for some drinking water being given to his father was ignored by the police officers. Instead, the boy was offered a Rs 5 packet of chips by the police to keep him mum.
The son alleges that the police kept drinking liquor and beating his father until he died and was only rushed to hospital in a bid to establish that Tomar died in the hospital. Pradeep Tomar was declared dead on arrival by the Meerut hospital.
The death of Pradeep Tomar, allegedly in police custody, has raised many questions on the Uttar Pradesh police which has gone horribly wrong in the state, as per several law & order experts.
The FIR against the police was registered five days after Tomar succumbed to alleged third degree torture and that too after a media outcry and the National Human Rights Organisation taking cognisance of the matter and seeking a report.
According to a top Hapur police official, Yesh Veer Singh, “An SHO (station house officer), SI (sub-inspector) and one constable were suspended after this incident,” adding that Pradeep was detained by the police in connection with the murder of his brother-in-law’s wife.
Conflicting Police Accounts
Yet another case raises serious concerns about the working style of UP Police. In the Pushpendra Yadav encounter case in Jhansi, the conflicting claims made by the police raised several doubts. The family members of Pushpendra are sticking to their allegation that he was killed in a staged encounter by the police.
Jhansi’s Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Om Prakash Singh, said SHO Moth Dharmendra Singh Chauhan was returning from two-day leave when he received a phone call by the deceased, who asked him to meet him at some intersection where he fired on the police officer and in retaliation the police officer fired back and he was killed. Technically, as per the SSP, the SHO was on leave at the time of encounter.
However, SHO Chauhan, in an interaction with the media in the hospital, said he was on a police patrol and was accompanied by constable Saurabh. They were in a private car.
“At around 9 p.m, at the Bamrauli intersection, a person waved at us. I stopped the car. The person came close and shot at us from his country made pistol,” Chauhan said, without mentioning any phone call, as claimed by the SSP.
Shivangi Yadav, Pushpendra Yadav’s wife, told Newsclick said that her husband was killed because he had threatened the SHO for demanding bribes to free his seized truck, for which Pushpendra had already paid Rs 1.5 lakh. They were demanding more money, she alleged.
“My husband did not fire bullets on the police. Instead he was caught and killed in cold blood by the police,” says the grieving Shivangi.
‘Encounter Policing’ Under Scanner
Encounter policing and corrupt investigation has made it to the news since day one after the Aditynath-led Bharatiya Janata Party government came to power in Uttar Pradesh. In January, while talking to reporters in Gorakhpur, Adityanath boasted that more than 3,000 encounters had been been conducted under his regime, with about 69 criminals being gunned down and over 11,981 criminals getting bails cancelled by various courts.
Out of the 14 cases of police encounter killings that The Wire looked into in four districts of western UP, eleven had the same pattern. The victims were in the age group of 17 to 40. They were all undertrials in a number of cases. Just before each encounter, the police received a tip off about their location. They were either on a bike or a car. As soon as the police tried to stop them on the road, they start firing. In retaliatory fire, the accused received bullet injuries and were declared dead on arrival at the hospital.
Mrityunjay Kumar, advisor to Chief Minister Adityanath, claimed that policing was being done as per rules and manuals and organised crime in UP had been curbed to a large extent.
“There are two things, one is the pressure of the media on us to solve a case promptly, and the second is half-baked news story circulation. It is the duty of the police to solve the case, but media trials add a lot of pressure on the police. Curbing crimes need some time as it involves studying the mental disposition of the person committing crime,” he says, adding that “there has been a significant drop in organised crime in Uttar Pradesh and even the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) figures were presented in a wrong manner by the media.”
He maintained that “law and order has improved to a great extent and things will improve with time. There is nothing wrong with the policing.”
However, law & order experts and human rights activists question the working style of the UP Police. Rajeev Yadav, who helped many families raise their voices against alleged fake police encounters in the state, said, “One can understand what’s wrong in policing when the Chief Minister himself uses words like ‘Thok Denge’ (Bump them Off).”
“Nowhere in the world are encounters or killings celebrated, but Uttar Pradesh has been an exception. The spokesperson of a political party has literally defended the encounters, saying it was the best thing that the police are doing. But the fact is that many innocent people have been killed in the name of encounters,” Yadav said, adding that most of the people killed by the police, especially under this regime, were either Muslims or were from the backward castes.
The state police is even violating the guidelines of the Supreme Court of giving any cash rewards to the police party for executing encounters.
“A policeman killing an Apple executive in posh Gomti Nagar area of the state capital of Lucknow is the best example of what is wrong with policing in the state,” he added.
Former Uttar Pradesh IPS officer, Vikram Singh, who had held the post of Director General of Police (DGP), said it was impossible to find a police force without any blot anywhere in the world, but this did not mean that police have the independence to work as per their wish.
“Giving third degree for interrogations is totally illegal and against the guidelines of United Nations, State Human Rights Commission and National Human Rights Commission. Nowhere in the world the police has been given a free hand to work as per their will. The only free hand the police has is in curbing the crime rate, that too by staying or working within the law,” Singh said.
On the rise of gun usage in Uttar Pradesh, Singh said, “First, the encounter is done under Sections 96 to 106 of the Indian Penal Code, but the law says that encounters can only be done either in self-defence or to save someone else’s life. The police cannot pump bullets if a person slaps or tries to run or anything else, when no threat on life is involved.”
Singh further said that undertaking a large number of encounters was no way to curb crime “It is unfortunate that even after getting a free hand from the CM, policing in the state has failed,” he said.
Singh felt that “allegations of custodial death or fake encounters are a blot on the police uniform as there are so many technological ways through which interrogation can be done successfully. If a person flees from police custody or dies while interrogation, then it means that the problem is with the police system.”
The writer is an independent journalist based in Uttar Pradesh.