Custodial killings in Kerala: After over 760 days of protest, Sreejith still seeks justice for brother's death

Kerala has one of the highest education and media exposure levels in the country. Yet, no one took notice of a 30-year-old youth sitting on dharna in front of the state secretariat for more than 760 days, demanding a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the death of his elder brother while he was in police custody.

A social media post about the one-man crusade of Sreejith, however, saw hundreds of netizens from across the state marching to the capital on 14 January in support of the youth. The apolitical protestors included youths, senior citizens, women and several celebrities. Some came from as far as the northern districts of Kannur and Kasargod.

The multiple protests organised by various Facebook fraternities demanding justice for "non-celebrity Sreejith" continued throughout the day, waking up the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government and several other agencies from their deep slumber.

While state chief secretary Paul Antony shot off a letter to the Union secretary, department of personnel, seeking his intervention for a CBI probe, the State Human Rights Commission has directed the state police chief to instal CCTV cameras in all police stations, to prevent third-degree brutalities by the police.

Kerala Police. Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Sreejith's brother Sreejeev was a victim of such a brutality. He paid with his life for loving the daughter of a police official. The youth was taken into custody by the Parassala police in Thiruvananthapuram district two days prior to the girl's wedding on 19 September, 2014, following rumours that he would elope with her.

The police slapped a petty theft case against him. The State Police Complaint Authority (SPCA), which probed the case, came to the conclusion that the youth had died two days later due to brutal physical assault. The probe report submitted by the agency in May 2016 said that the police had made him consume poison in order to make the death look like a suicide.

The SPCA held former Parassala circle inspector Gopakumar and assistant sub-inspector Philipose guilty of misconduct and ordered departmental and criminal action against them. The agency also ordered the government to recover Rs 10 lakh from the duo to compensate Sreejith and his mother.

Sreejith had launched his agitation before the report came. The government sought to placate him by paying the compensation from the state exchequer. But he continued the agitation saying his struggle was not for money but for justice for his deceased brother.

He believed that the Sreejeev's soul would rest in peace only when those responsible for his death were punished. However, the government was not even ready to suspend the two police officials from service. A stay obtained by the cops from the high court came as an excuse for the government.

The government took no step to get the stay vacated. When pressure mounted, it wrote a letter to the Union home ministry seeking a CBI probe but the plea was turned down by the CBI, saying that the case was not rare and exceptional warranting the central agency investigation.

The attempt by the government, headed by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who claims himself to be a victim of police brutalities, to shield the police officials has come as a surprise to social activists. Advocate Harish Vasudevan said that the chief minister, who holds the home portfolio, has been shying away from action thinking it would affect the morale of the police.

"He doesn't realise that shielding criminals in the police would only encourage such elements to continue with their criminal activities and deter people to approach the police. This is the major reason why the police brutalities are continuing in Kerala," he added.

No wonder, the number of policemen involved in criminal cases in the state has been showing a rising trend every passing year. According to information provided under the Right to Information Act, there were 1,134 police personnel in the state as on April 2017 against whom criminal cases have been registered.

The cases included murder, atrocities against women, sexual offences, forgery, assault on complainants, violation of traffic rules, illegal financial transactions, threatening, drunken brawls etc. Apart from this, around seventy officials, including an ADGP and eight deputy SPs face vigilance probes for various offences. Most of these officials are continuing in service with the criminal tag.

The present chief minister had promised he will end custodial torture after he was sworn in. He had urged the police to adopt scientific methods in dealing with persons taken into custody in connection with various cases. Yet, the state has witnessed as many as eight cases of custodial deaths during his term so far, according to KA Pouran, president of Kerala chapter of the People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL).

He said none of the policemen involved in the cases had been arrested so far. Pouran told Firstpost that such cases were on the rise because of the failure of the government to take action against the guilty. This is mainly because of the connections they have with the political class.

The most sensational custodial death case in the state was that of Kozhikode engineering college student P Rajan during the Emergency. His father, TV Eachara Warrier, had to wage a long battle to bring out the truth that led to the resignation of the then chief minister late K Karunakaran.

A recent case to rock the state was that of V Sampath, who died while in the custody of Palakkad South police in 2010, after he was arrested in connection with a murder. The CBI team that investigated the case found five cops, including two IPS officers, involved in the custodial torture of Sampath, a casual labourer.

"Police force in Kerala is one of the most educated in the country. However, they lack in professional education. Therefore, they still rely on third-degree methods in dealing with the criminals. Even senior police officers, who have received scientific training are not free from this malaise," he added.

Former state police chief TP Senkumar said that there were more lawbreakers in the top echelons of the force than the constabulary. The percentage of criminals among lower ranking officers was one percent, while it was four to five percent in the IPS, he said.

The sole threat the police faced was from within its own ranks. Felons inside the force often create problems, Senkumar added.

Published Date: Jan 15, 2018 19:33 PM | Updated Date: Jan 15, 2018 19:33 PM

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