“Killed for Muslim identity”: Weeks after custodial deaths of 4 men, case makes no progress

About two weeks after the mysterious deaths of four Muslim men in judicial custody at the Baruipur Central Correctional Home, South 24 Parganas district, West Bengal, their families still await answers to what actually happened in those ten days. 

All these days later, the postmortem reports of Abdul Rajjak, Jiyaul Laskar, Akbar Khan, and Saidul Munsi, are yet unavailable while the police denied the charges and called the deaths in the same Correctional Home, a mere coincidence.

While the deaths of these men look like a strange “coincidence”, they were all arrested in separate cases during the last week of July by the West Bengal police. Days later, their families received calls from the police saying that the health condition of the detained men worsened suddenly.

On reaching the hospital, the families found their kins dead. 

It all started on July 24, when police took away 34-year-old Abdul from his home. He was having tea with his wife, 27-year-old Suhana Bibi, and his two young daughters when the police, dressed in civilian attire, knocked at his door. Moments later, Bibi was rushing after the police vehicle in an auto to beg for her husband’s life. 

Abdul, a poultry business owner in Bihar had come home for a few days to celebrate Eid with his family. The last time he had been detained was about 20 years back when he was 14-year-old. Back then, Abdul, a teenager had bought a stolen phone from someone. He was eventually allowed to go home after a month, however, he was often “asked to become an informer for the police,” said Sirajul Rajjak, his 45-year-old paternal uncle.

“He had remained in the eye of police but he was innocent,” Sirajul told Maktoob.

This time, however, the detention was different and the reasons were unknown. On July 27, Bibi went to meet her husband and found him healthy and hopeful. Two days later, she received a call about his worsening health condition and was asked to reach the hospital.

On reaching the hospital, however, Sirajul alleged that the family found Abdul’s dead body in the morgue. “His entire body was covered with red-coloured bruises as if he had rashes all over. And the blood was oozing out of his mouth even though he was dead,” said Sirajul.

While the marks on his body suggested that “something had been done to him”, Sirajul said that the police could not come up with a proper justification. However, the family, scared of the consequences decided to remain calm until three more men, all belonging to the Muslim community and detained in the same Correctional Home, died in a similar way.

“They need to tell us how these men died. And whosoever did this to them, should be punished,” Sirajul said, adding that the death has left the family with many questions about why no one looked after Abdul when his health condition worsened in the jail and why his family was not informed in time after the death. 

“An employee at the hospital told us that Abdul was brought to the hospital a night before and he was already dead. We were informed the next day in the afternoon,” he said.

“We deserved better than this.” 

Soon, the District Magistrate announced a compensation of rupees 5 lakh, a government job to a family member, and a Crime Investigation Department (CID) investigation into the case. 

Sirajul is currently looking after Abdul’s wife and two daughters, four and 10-years-old. He said that their future no longer looks bright. “For how long is this money going to last? And will it compensate for a life that’s lost?” he questioned. 

Jiyyaul Laskar’s sister Sabera Laskar has similar questions regarding her brother’s sudden death, however, she believes that she cannot fight the police.

“You fight someone who is equal to you in power. They [police] are extremely powerful. And when the crime is done by those who are supposed to do justice then what can you really do?” she asked.  

Jiyyaul, a 35-year-old auto-rickshaw driver did not return home on the evening of July 25. He had directly gone to a friend’s home and was arrested from there. His family continued to look for him the entire night and finally found out about his arrest in the morning for allegedly committing a dacoity. 

On reaching the Baruipur police station, Sabera said that her brother was beaten terribly and while she requested the police to let him go, she was asked to move the court.

“We were told at the court that he would be allowed to go after 28 days. We are middle-class people, we couldn’t even say anything. After he was brought back to the police station, he was again beaten terribly,” she said. 

The same night, Jiyyaul was sent to the Baruipur Central Correctional Home. two days later, when his wife went to meet him, Sabera said that he had told her that he was being beaten badly and was questioned about things that he had absolutely no idea about.

“When we asked the police about why he was being beaten like that, they asked us for money. They didn’t mention the exact amount but said that they would let him go after we paid the money,” she said. 

Later, on August 2, Jiyyaul’s family was informed about his death around 1:30 pm in the afternoon. However, Sabera said that he had died the previous night. “We asked the police why they didn’t inform us. They kept telling us that they called us but we didn’t answer. We asked them to show us the call records but they could show nothing because nobody had called us in the first place,” she said. 

Moreover, Sabera said that the District Magistrate had ordered the hospital authorities to allow a family member to remain present during the post-mortem, however, the police didn’t let that happen. 

“My brother had no past police records. He had never even been to a police station all his life. 

I believe that he and others were killed for their Muslim identity. Muslims are their targets,” said Sabera. “I cannot say a lot because I have only one brother left now. One is gone and I cannot afford to lose the other one.” 

According to advocate Tonoy Bhattacharya who represented Sabera in the court, two other men – Surojit Haldar and Rabiul Haldar – who had been arrested along with Laskar told them that Laskar had died because of torture, reported The Wire. 

Maktoob tried to contact the families of Akbar Khan and Saidul Munsi but the calls went unanswered. 

Asfaque Ahmad, an advocate representing the four men told Maktoob that the four men were “killed and then taken to the hospital”.

“They were arrested under section 403 for dacoity. These were not just four men. Many others were also arrested but only these four died,” he said. 

Ahmad said that the sudden deaths have everything to do with the identity of the four men as Muslims. “They are from a minority community and they are poor. Police blackmail families for money but these people are not able to pay the money. The administration is responsible for all of this,” he said.

“There are a lot of facets to this.”