Saturday, February 24, 2024

“They asked my wife to beat me,” Muslim couple share ordeal of custodial torture; seven cops booked

The Police Memorial in Kolkata, West Bengal, India. Wikimedia

The Calcutta High Court has directed a Muslim couple to file an FIR against seven police officers, including the Islampur city police station in-charge in West Bengal’s Uttar Dinajpur district, for alleged torture resulting in kidney failure for Muhammad Shahjamal (30) and his wife Sabnaj Khatun (24) in police custody.

In compliance with the High Court’s directive, Khatun lodged the complaint at Islampur Police Station on Sunday, January 14, naming two civic officers, two sub-inspectors, two assistant sub-inspectors, and an officer from the Islampur Sub-Divisional Correctional Center.

The incident of torture traces back to October 27, 2023, coinciding with a theft at the residence of Gurudas Saha, a councillor of Ward no. 4 in Islampur city.

Saha who is associated with Trinamool Congress filed a complaint against unknown person(s) at Islampur PS of theft worth 6 lakh rupees which included gold jewellery of Kaali Maata (A Hindu Goddess), an idol which is installed in his house’s temple, guarded by CCTV cameras.

Acting on Saha’s complaint with no evidence or warrant, police in Islampur City reached Shahjamal’s house and arrested Khatun on the intervening night of October 27 and 28 accusing her of being involved in the crime and that they were taking her for interrogation.

Shahjamal was not present at the house.

The police instead of producing a reason for Khatun’s arrest took Shahjamal into custody accusing him of the same crime.

The couple alleged severe torture in police custody. First, they were beaten individually by the police in separate cells, both by male police officers.

When Shahjamal returned home the next day, he went to the police station inquiring about his wife’s whereabouts after the relatives told him that she had been arrested by the city police.

When Shahjamal resisted and confronted, they were taken into the same cell and inflicted physical brutality, so much so that Shahjamal spitted blood from his mouth.

Shahjamal while speaking to Maktoob said: “I am still terrified of the torture. At one moment I felt faint. They were continuously beating us for three hours. They ripped our bodies apart.”

“Even 2 months after it happened, our bodies still have clear marks of the brutality inflicted upon us by the officers. Both my kidneys have failed,” he added.

Eventually, “as the night passed the torture became more intense,” he said, “They asked my wife to beat me and when I told them that beating one’s husband is haram (forbidden) in our religion, they made fun of us.”

“Because my wife refused to beat me she was beaten by the male police officers in front of my eyes,” said Shahjamal.

He said, “They made Sabnaj (his wife) drink a glass of beverage spiked with alcohol and then forced her to beat me. We realised later that alcohol was added to the drink when Sabnaj started feeling dizzy.”

Khatun was released a few days later while Shahjamal continued in jail and on October 31 was produced before the Sub-Divisional court, Islampur which empowered police with 10 days of police custody of Shahjamal.

Shahjamal claims that once he was taken to police custody, he was beaten and tortured again.

On 2 November, Shahjamal’s condition with the continuous physical and mental assault worsened and the police were forced to admit him to the Islampur Sub-Divisional Hospital. While he was receiving treatment, the police kept taking him back to the police station, despite his serious condition.

From the Sub-Divisional Hospital, he was referred to the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital in the Siliguri district.

While he was being referred to the District hospital, one lady constable along with 2 police officers approached Sabnaj at around 3:00 AM and took her thumb impression on a blank paper. Following the police’s pressure she gave the impression.

In critical condition, Shahjamal was granted bail by the sub-divisional court on December 21 on a personal bond.

Advocate Muzaffar Alam, who represented Shahjamal in the Sub-divisional court said, “He got the bail, as his condition was beyond critical. The bail bond produced by him has also not gone to the court yet.”

He accused police of keeping the bail bond amount and not forwarding it to the court.

The family and the couple alleged Shahjamal’s ‘kidney failure’ due to ‘police torture in custody’. They also accused police of not sharing any medical reports and history of Shahjamal’s treatment in both hospitals.

Khatun approached the Calcutta High Court seeking justice alleging torture in custody.

The High Court on 5 January ordered in her favour, instructing her to file a complaint against the seven police officers at the Islampur Police station.

A case has been registered by the Islampur police under several sections including, 323 (Voluntarily causing hurt), 325 (Voluntarily causing grievous hurt), 340 (Wrongful restraint), 342 (wrongful confinement), 354(Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty) and 120(B) (Criminal conspiracy) of Indian penal Code against Inspector Incharge Sandip Chakraborty, Sub-inspector Sourav Barman, Sub Inspector Ajay Haldar, Assistant Sub-inspector Debashish Mukherjee, civic volunteers, Sukumar Barman, Md. Rabbul Hussain and Superintendent and Controller, Islampur Subsidiary Correctional Home (Jailer).

Khatun told Maktoob, “We are very close to justice if these officers are not punished then we will lose hope on justice.”

She said, “We were taken into custody illegally and illegal means of torture were used on us in the jail. I was forcefully given alcohol, male police officers had beaten me, and my husband’s kidney is damaged. He has endured severe injuries. We only want justice and nothing else.”

However, she also believes that sections mentioned in the FIR are very lenient and ‘bailable’ against the police officers who tortured them.

Sabnaj’s counsel in Calcutta High Court, Advocate Nazar Chowdhary informed Maktoob that the complaint by Sabnaj has received a positive response.

“We mentioned three prayers in the complaint before the court, fair departmental proceeding of the case, compensation of the loss and physical assault on my client and permission to file a case against the police officers. All the prayers are heard and prompt action was taken by the court”, said Chowdhary.

The court had directed the Islampur Superintendent of Police, Jaspreet Singh to file a detailed report concerning the case on 7 January and based on the report filed by the SP, the police officials were found at fault. Therefore, the court gave the order favouring Sabnaj’s plea.

“The FIR has been filed in the Islampur police station by my client and if fair action is not taken, we will again approach the court. Regarding all other prayers, the court is considering the plea further”, Chowdhary said.

The family has also written an application to the West Bengal Human Rights Commission (WBHRC) and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

On 22 November 2023, the WBHRC responding to the application stated, “National Human Rights Commission officer is first to take cognizance of the issue”. The officer will ascertain whether NHRC has taken any action or not.

Calls made to SP Jaspreet Singh by Maktoob went unanswered and the report will be updated as soon as we get a response.

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