By Rishiraj Bhagawati
Maharashtra lead the chart of deaths in police custody by a significant margin, with 22 deaths recorded in the period between January 1, 2016 and December 7, 2016. This was followed by Gujarat which recorded 12 deaths. A total of 133 deaths in police custody were recorded in the country, with all 34 states and union territories recording at least one death.
A senior police official with the Mumbai Police suggested that the numbers are not really a cause of worry. “I don’t think the situation is particularly bad here. It can also be because of the sincerity of a police force in keeping records- we generally are too efficient in putting everything on paper,” he said.
“Sometimes, the numbers are actually misleading. Recently, our men helped a dying beggar on the streets and moved her to a hospital, but the doctor declared her dead on arrival. Now this gets recorded in the list of police custody deaths in Mumbai,” he added, “Another incident that happened recently involved a very sick prisoner. Since the jail was under-staffed, they requested us to send a man to guard the prisoner in the hospital. When the prisoner died in the hospital due to his sickness, the death got recorded as a police custody death.”
A total of 591 deaths were recorded in police custody between 2010 and 2015. A recent report about a police custody death around the turn of the year revealed that no charges have been levelled against the six suspended policemen yet, even after an FIR clearly indicts the policemen for hatching a conspiracy to destroy evidence and get the body declared "unidentified" by dumping it in a deserted area.
An article in the Human Rights Watch explores how police custody deaths in India go unpunished. A report quoted in the article examines disregard for arrest regulations by the police, custodial deaths from extreme torture, and impunity for those responsible, and states how those involved work around the law to ensure minimum consequences. In 67 out of 97 deaths in police custody in 2015, the police either failed to produce the suspect before a magistrate within 24 hours- as regulated by the law- or the suspect died within 24 hours of being arrested.
The total number of judicial custody deaths recorded in 2016 is 1,538, with Uttar Pradesh leading the list with 376 deaths. This was followed by Punjab and Madhya Pradesh, recording 147 and 140 deaths respectively.
This Article is written by Rishiraj Bhagawati as part of curriculum at IIJNM