Custodial death: 40 days on, WB Muslim man’s family awaits justice

Mother and wife of Goni. Photo: Special arrangement

In a detailed letter dated 7 December 2021, Kirity Roy, a human rights activist wrote to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) , apprising the NHRC of the events leading to the “unnatural death” in police custody of 43-year-old Abdul Goni Sekh.

Goni is a resident of Panighata, Purbapara under Kaliganj Police station area in Nadia district of West Bengal while Roy is secretary of Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) the national convenor at Programme Against Custodial Torture And Impunity (PACTI).

Goni breathed his last on 5 December 2021, three days after his arrest on 2 December. However, according to police records, Goni’s arrest had taken place on 4 December 2021 on charges of using fake currency notes.

Refuting the police claim, the locals told MASUM’s fact finding team that they have seen the police officials taking Goni along with them two days before the date of ‘arrest.’

Goni used to be a migratory worker and worked in Haryana as a daily labour. The family members of Goni residing in Panighata village had no information of his return or getting arrested by the police.

At around 3:00 AM on 5 December, the police visited Goni’s house in Panighata and informed his family that he had been admitted to the Shaktinagar District Hospital as he had taken ill within half an hour of arrest. Reportedly, the police had taken a family member’s signature on a “form” while informing them of Goni’s hospitalization.

At around 7:30 AM the same morning, police officers informed the Goni’s family members of his death. They had been asked to be present in the hospital for the inquest and autopsy of the body.

Reason of death as alleged by the police at the time was a “heart attack”.

However, even though the family members were present at the hospital premises for the above mentioned formalities, they were not allowed to be present while the inquest and autopsy were being conducted. They were allowed into the morgue to identify the body only after the above procedures had been completed.

“When we raised objections to the high-handed manner in which the police handled the matter, they threatened us. We retreated out of fear of being arrested,” Shahanara Bibi, sister-in-law of Goni told Maktoob.

“What happened to my brother- in-law can happen to my husband tomorrow. This is why we want justice,” she said.

Shahanara said they are waiting to receiving a copy of the post-mortem report following which they intend to explore the legal options.

MASUM’s fact finding report has revealed that the inquest was conducted by one Executive Magistrate, Mr. Ajoy Kumar Saha and not any judicial magistrate as stated in the 176 1(A) of the CrPC.

The cops at Bhimpur and Kotwali police stations with nexus with civil administration conducted their role in perfunctory manner and thus violated sections of Criminal Procedure Code, 41B(b), 41C, 50, 50A, 53, 54, 57, 58 and 176(1)A.

On the basis of the factual discrepancies, MASUM has sought urgent intervention by the NHRC.

An independent and impartial inquiry should be initiated in the case by either the investigative team of the NHRC or the CID, the rights group demanded.

The Police should be held accountable for not following the guidelines of arrest, MASUM wrote to NHRC.

The Inquest report of the victim should not be deemed reliable because due procedure was not followed while conducting the examination. Hence a fresh inquest should done by judicial magistrate.

The family of the deceased should be protected and to receive adequate compensation for death in police custody, they demanded.

Guidelines issued by the NHRC require that every case of death in custody whether in police or judicial custody and regardless of it being an instance of natural death or otherwise, must be reported to the NHRC within 24 hours.

“We have not had any response from the NHRC till date, regarding the urgent intervention sought in this case. Unless Goni’s family seeks further intervention from MASUM, we unfortunately cannot follow up the case any longer. In my experience, in the aftermath of such cases, the guilty police officers almost always receive support from the political party that holds sway in the region and manage to get away with it,” says Roy on behalf of MASUM.

Data shared by the ministry of Home Affairs has revealed that a surge in custodial deaths has been reported in states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal in the year 2018-2019, 2019-2020 and 2020-2021.