On Sunday, a Dalit man died while in police custody on the outskirts of Dhanera town in Gujarat’s Banaskantha district. Lubaram Uttamaram, 25, a migrant labourer from Rajasthan’s Barmer district, was picked up by the police from a check post on the border of the two states in connection with a case of vehicle theft. He was later taken to the community health centre in Dhanera, where doctors declared him dead. While the police said that Uttamaram committed suicide by hanging himself with a rope that he found in the police check post, groups of local residents and Dalit activists have alleged that the police beat him to death.
Scroll.in looked at government data from 2007 to 2016 on the incidence of deaths in police custody, and the numbers pertaining to Gujarat were grim. This data is published annually by the National Crime Records Bureau.
The parameters relevant to Uttamaram’s case include death in police custody where remand is not granted by a court (Uttamaram died before he was taken to a police station, let alone being produced before court), custodial deaths that are passed off as instances of suicide, and incidents of custodial deaths that result in First Information Reports against police officials, and convictions if any.
What the data says
Of all the reported instances of deaths in police custody in the state over the 10-year period studied, the individual died before being produced in court in 80.9% of the cases. Gujarat leads the charts in this parameter. The data showed that Gujarat is closely followed by Maharashtra, with 80.6%.
But in cases of deaths in police custody that were eventually closed as instances of suicide, Gujarat left Maharashtra way behind. The government data revealed that of all reported instances of such deaths in the period under consideration, 42.4% of the individuals in Gujarat were said to have committed suicide, and their cases closed. This is also the highest among all states. In Maharashtra, the comparable figure is 30.6%.
A similar analysis of deaths caused by police assault could not be done as this category was added in the National Crime Records Bureau’s annual report only in 2014. Before 2014, in its data, the report did not distinguish between injuries caused before a person was taken into police custody and after a person was taken into police custody, making it impossible to ascertain physical assault by the police.
In terms of absolute numbers, however, since 2014, both Gujarat and Maharashtra have registered two instances each of death in police custody due to assault by police personnel, and all four instances materialised into cases.
In all, 125 people have died in police custody in Gujarat in the 10-year period under consideration. These include deaths of people in police custody with court remand and without.
The number of FIRs against police personnel in cases of deaths in police custody in Gujarat is abysmally low. Of the 125 deaths, only 16 led to cases against police personnel. For instance, Assam – which accounted for less than one-third of the total instances of police custody deaths in the same period – has a greater number of cases registered against officials, according to the National Crime Records Bureau data.
Finally, of the 16 cases registered against police officials in Gujarat in connection with the death of individuals in police custody, none have led to a conviction. The charges ranged from murder and culpable homicide to negligence.
In the 10 years, Uttar Pradesh is the only state to have recorded seven instances of convictions in cases in which the accused were policemen, the data showed.
Judicial inquiry ordered
A judicial enquiry has been initiated in the Dhanera case as per protocol, and one constable has been suspended for negligence while on duty. Additionally, two home guards, who report to the state’s home department and are not directly under the control of the police, have been removed from their posts.
“The police helped the deceased person’s family to arrive in Ahmedabad,” said Pradip Sejal, Deputy Superintendent of Police (Banaskantha). “We showed them the body and they found no external injuries other than the ligature marks caused by the ropes, the family was handed over to the family this [Tuesday] afternoon and they will soon be leaving for Barmer.”
He added that if the final autopsy report or forensic report in the case brought out some new information, the police would act accordingly.