SR Sreejith one of many custodial deaths in Kerala as over 1,000 cops under scanner for criminal activities

The recent death of 26-year-old SR Sreejith, a resident of Varappuzha in Kerala's Ernakulam district, is one of the many examples of police excesses where the state police force has been criticised for breaching the rules guaranteeing basic human rights. An RTI query revealed that over 1,000 police officers in the state are being probed for various criminal activities including custodial torture.

P Mohan Das, acting chairperson of the Kerala State Human Rights Commission feels that not much is being done to limit police atrocities. "Policemen facing criminal charges should be removed from the service; penalising them with small salary cuts or stopping promotions are not going to make the force people-friendly," Das told Firstpost.

 SR Sreejith one of many custodial deaths in Kerala as over 1,000 cops under scanner for criminal activities

Representational image. Getty images

"We should act morally. We should treat the uniform wearing officials who exhibit criminal behaviour as criminals only. They should be removed from service or else custodial deaths and the high handedness of the police will continue in the state,” he added.

Sreejith was taken into custody on 6 April by the special police force, Tiger Force, acting under the instruction of Superintendent of Police (Aluva Rural) AV George, in connection with the suicide of one Vasudevan. He was allegedly beaten up at the police station and succumbed to his injuries a few days later.

"The police record from Sreejith’s first hospital visit states that his health was okay. But the postmortem report revealed that he had suffered intestinal injuries, which might have led to his death," said Das.

After a detailed probe into the incident, the Kerala State Human Rights Commission asked for a CBI probe into Sreejith’s death as the special investigation team (SIT) deployed by the state police failed to yield any results. Das said that in an order to the home secretary, the rights body has asked the government to pay Rs 10 lakh as compensation to Sreejith’s family.

"The officials responsible for the torture of Sreejith should be removed from their service," reiterated Das. Bowing down to mounting pressure, the Kerala Police suspended seven officials suspected of being involved in Sreejith’s death.

But despite Sreejith’s case gaining prominence and increasing pressure on the state police force to resolve criminal cases involving policemen, incidents of custodial death and police torture continue to grow in Kerala.

Over 1,000 police officers face criminal charges

According to the Kerala State Human Rights Commission, 20 percent of all cases registered in the last two years in the state have been against police officials.

DB Binu, an advocate, said that there are 1,129 police officials facing criminal charges in the state.

Quoting figures from an RTI response he received after months of toil, Binu said that of the 1,129 officials, 195 are of a sub-inspector or assistant sub-inspector rank. Besides them, eight officers facing criminal charges were circle inspectors.

"There are 10 officials from higher ranks, including deputy superintendents of police (DSP) and assistant commissioners, who face criminal charges in the state,” Binu said.

He added that 215 officers accused of criminal activity are based in the capital, Thiruvananthapuram, and 146 are from the neighbouring Kollam district.

“Interestingly, in at least 50 percent of the registered cases, police officials are culprits,” said Das, adding that police deliberately choose to act slowly in such cases.

“They themselves are responsible for investigating their own mistakes. How can such an investigation be without bias? That’s why I have recommended a CBI probe (on the Sreejith case),” the human rights body chief said.

Mini Mohan, a Kerala-based sociologist, said that while police are supposed to be people friendly, the fact remains that people are afraid of them. Mohan also pointed out the slow progress in cases involving police officers.

"Let's consider the custodial death of Udayakumar in 2005 at Fort Police Station. Six policemen are being probed. But the trial has not yet been completed. In 2010, Sampath, the primary accused in the sensational Puthur Sheela murder case, died in police custody. The trial for that case too is not completed. In 2017, a Dalit boy named Vinayakan was taken into custody for his hairstyle. Due to embarrassment, he hanged himself. Even in that case, the trial is yet to be completed,” said Mini.

Recently, the Kerala government was forced to order a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the death of one Sreejeev, after his brother, Sreejith of Thiruvananthapuram district went on strike for over 800 days outside the Kerala Secretariat.

Sreejeev died at a hospital a few days after he was released from police custody after being arrested on charges of theft. The police claims that Sreejeev consumed poison leading to his death, but his family members continue to allege that he was killed by the policemen. The CBI probe was ordered after Sreejith’s protest gained prominence through social media.

Last month, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told the Assembly that 36 custodial torture cases had been registered against police officers during the tenure of the incumbent government, with 13 suspected cases of custodial death were reported in the last two years.

But despite this, activists say that a police-politician nexus in Kerala is giving rouge policemen more power to execute criminal activities. The political inclination of Kerala Police was recently seen at a state conference of the Police Officers Association in Alappuzha. A few policemen were seen attending the event in red shirts, a colour usually associated with the state’s ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Das feels that this nexus needs to be removed before resolving the issue of custodial torture and deaths. "Without breaking the police-politician nexus, we can’t solve these issues," he said, adding that the reformed 2011 Kerala Police Act still remains far from being implemented due to a lack of specific rules.

The author is a member of The NewsCart, a Bengaluru-based media startup.

Updated Date: Apr 19, 2018 13:25:35 IST