A 25-year-old Dalit man died in police custody at Dhanera town in Gujarat’s Banaskantha district on Sunday. While the police claimed the man, identified as Lubaram Uttamaram, a migrant labourer from Rajasthan’s Barmer district, committed suicide in custody, civil rights activists in the region alleged that the man was beaten to death.

“It is a case of custodial death, for which one constable has been suspended and two home guards have been removed from the post for negligence of duty,” Deputy Superintendent of Police (Banaskantha) Pradip Sejal said. “The man was arrested in connection with a vehicle theft case. He was detained at a border check point in Dhanera for around 15 minutes, where he hanged himself with a rope, which he had found at the spot, near a carton of confiscated tiles.”

According to Dalit activist Dalpat Bhatia, who often visits Dhanera, Uttamaram was picked up by the police around afternoon. Late in the evening, when he was taken to the community hospital in Dhanera, doctors declared him dead on arrival. “It is evident that Uttamaram was killed by the police because he was a poor Dalit man,” Bhatia said.

Human rights activist Vasudev Charupa claimed the police are trying to circumvent the situation by portraying it as a case of suicide. “The incident came to light when some locals raised an alarm,” Charupa said. “It is also not clear whether the police have actually recovered a motorbike from his possession or they are just trying to frame him.”

The police added that prima facie there were no injury marks on Uttamaram’s body. “To bring more transparency, we are also going for some forensic tests other than the basic autopsy report,” Sejal said. “Meanwhile, we have informed the relatives of the deceased person.”