CBI books Dharavi cops for homicide in custodial death

Besides indicting the Mumbai police, the charge sheet also casts a shadow over the JJ forensic department, which certified that the suspect died of meningitis despite presence of 22 injuries including brain haemorrhage

The Central Bureau of Investigation has booked two Dharavi policemen for culpable homicide after finding that a suspect who the police claimed died of meningitis in 2012 actually died due to 22 grievous injuries, including a skull fracture, multiple lacerations and contusions.

This is a rare instance where it has been forensically opined that a suspect in custody has died of neurogenic shock due to physical abuse. Neurogenic shocks occur if the spinal cord is severed or the central nervous system is subjected to immense trauma. It can also happen due to intense pain.

Julfar’s brother Menzel and son Noorhasan at the spot where Julfar was picked up by the police. Pic/Rane Ashish
Julfar’s brother Menzel and son Noorhasan at the spot where Julfar was picked up by the police. Pic/Rane Ashish

The CBI got the clinching opinion from the Chandigarh Medical Board comprising experts from the Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER). The CBI is investigating the case on the direct orders of the Bombay High Court, which had in June 2014 pulled up the Mumbai Crime Branch for not completing the investigation and handed it over to the central agency.

Besides nailing the Mumbai police’s lies, the revelation has also raised questions about senior JJ Hospital doctors, who had certified that the suspect had died of meningitis.

The case dates back to November 29, 2012, when the Dharavi police picked up Rafiq Kamu Shaikh alias Julfar (40) in connection with a fake currency case. After three days in custody, Julfar died on December 2, 2012.

The CBI has now booked Assistant Police Inspector Irfan Shaikh and Police Naik Chandrakant Shirkar under Section 304 (Part 2) for ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’.

Yug Chaudhry
Yug Chaudhry

The Mumbai Crime Branch had earlier booked the two officers, attached to the station’s detection branch, only under Sections 330 (voluntarily causing hurt to extort confession) and Section 34 (act done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) and had filed the charge sheet on May 21, 2013.

The two were only suspended and never arrested. National Crime Records Bureau data shows that not a single police officer accused in a custodial death case has ever been convicted in Maharashtra in the last 15 years. (see table on P11).

Beaten with mill belts
The supplementary charge sheet says the two officers beat Julfar with their bare hands as well as a transmission belt used in local flour mills “with the intention and knowledge that their actions would cause hurt to
Julfar and it can be said that they voluntarily caused hurt.”

The CBI further said the post-mortem report, the medical board’s opinion and the statements of witnesses taken together establish that 22 injuries found on Julfar’s body caused his death and that the two accused officials caused those injuries.

Advocate Yug Chaudhry, who is fighting the case, told mid-day that the Mumbai Crime Branch, which initially probed the case, never took into custody the flour-mill belt or the hook to which Julfar was allegedly tied to
and tortured.

Autopsy findings
The CBI finding also casts a shadow over the Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, Grant Medical College and JJ Group of Hospitals. Dr GS Chauhan, Dr GD Niturkar, Dr HR Thube and Dr DV Bhore from the
department conducted Julfar’s postmortem on December 3, 2012, in a videotaped process lasting nearly two hours.

While the findings included the 21 external injuries and subarachnoid (internal) haemorrhage in the skull, the team concluded, surprisingly, that the cause of death was “meningitis and subarachnoid haemorrhage with
chronic venous congestion of lungs and liver and oesophageal candidiasis (natural)”.

Directing that the case be handed over to the CBI, a Bombay High Court bench of Justice VM Kanade and Justice PD Kode on June 30, 2014, slammed the prosecution for this.

The bench said in its order: “It is an admitted position that post-mortem report indicates that deceased suffered more than 22 grievous injuries and also had a subarachnoid hemorrhage on the head. Though the court had given a direction to the respondents (State of Maharashtra and Others) to reinvestigate the crime and carry out a fresh investigation, more than 9 months have passed, but no action has been taken. We have no other option but to transfer this case to the CBI to carry out fresh investigation and submit a fresh report.”

Even after it began its probe, the CBI first requested the state to constitute a Board of Forensic Medicine Experts from Government Medical Colleges. On October 28, 2014, the state constituted a Medical Board with Dr S B Punpale as the Chairman of the Forensic Expert Committee, and two other junior doctors from Pune.

Stunningly, in a report dated November 12, 2014, this Board also concluded that Julfar’s death was due to “meningitis associated with subarachnoid haemorrhage.” In a damning indictment of the state, an exasperated CBI was left with no option but to seek opinion from an expert committee outside the state.

Significantly, both the JJ PM report, and this board’s report said the neuropathology and histopathology departments of Grant Medical College had cited meningitis as the cause of death.

But, answering a specific question raised by CBI, the Chandigarh Board clearly stated that the GMC pathology reports do not suggest any evidence of meningitis.

Also the family member of deceased, including brother Menzel has told the police that Julfar had no health issues and rather he had met him on the evening of November 28, 2012 at 5 pm before he was detained by Dharavi police.

“Because of the seriousness of this case, and it being investigated by us as per the order of Bombay High Court, we decided to get one more opinion from a Medical Board outside Maharashtra,” said a senior CBI 
officer privy to the investigation.

On December 30, 2014, a Board of forensic experts from PGIMER, Chandigarh, was formed under the chairmanship of Prof Dalbir Singh, Head of the Department of Forensic Medicine.

The seven-member team comprised experts from Forensic Medicine, Department of Neurology and Staff Clinic. After going through the postmortem reports and autopsy videotapes, including the final report made by 
the JJ forensic team and the second Board of experts report, this team concluded that the cause of death may be due to neurogenic shock as a result of the ante-mortem injuries.

It also ruled out subarachnoid haemorrhage as a cause of death. It also explicitly stated that trauma to the head was caused by a flour-mill belt.

The CBI on July 21, 2015 filed the supplementary charge sheet with the 37th Metropolitan Magistrate court. With additional charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder being added, the case will likely be 
transferred to the Sessions Court.

“I am yet to get a copy of the supplementary charge sheet,” said Chaudhry.

“I will move an application and ensure that the trial begins at the earliest. The officers responsible for the custodial death need to be punished.”

CBI books Dharavi cops for custodial death

I had to stop studies after my father died'
If two policemen are facing culpable homicide charges three years after Julfar’s custodial death, it is only because his brother Menzel Shaikh (33), who works as a porter in Crawford market, doggedly pursued it.

“They (policemen) tortured and harassed my brother and forced him to admit to a crime he was never involved in,” Menzel told mid-day. “My brother was detained on November 28, 2012 and not November 29, 2012 as claimed. I had met him at 5.00 pm that day near Crawford Market. Around 5.30 pm, he got a call from taxi driver Inamul Usman Shaikh, (he was known to us, as my brother would get cosmetic items in his taxi sometimes), who called my brother to a hotel close to yellow gate.”

Menzel said a police team waiting at the spot bundled Julfar into a jeep in which Inamul was already sitting. When he learned about his brother’s detention, Menzel rushed to Dharavi police station.

“API Shaikh did not allow me in. He abused me and asked me to leave,” said Menzel.

When Julfar was not produced in court till of November 29, Menzel approached a lawyer. At 5.15 pm, the police produced Julfar in court, saying they arrested them at 1.40 pm.

“They lied to the court,” said Menzel. “When I met my brother outside the court, he was hungry and was not even able to stand. He was beaten up badly.”

Two days later came the call saying Julfar had died after complaining of chest pain. “The police told the media Julfar died a natural death due to heart attack, then changed it to jaundice,” said Menzel. “They tried saying he was an illegal immigrant from Bangladesh”

Accompanying Menzel was Julfar’s son Noorhasan(14). He had seen very little of his father as he lived with his mother.

“I had to stop going to school after Class 6 following my father’s death,” he said. “My elder brother Ajmul (16) too stopped studies and left to Delhi in search of work. He is doing odd jobs there. I came to my uncle in Mumbai and I assist him in loading and unloading work at the station. My three sisters are studying and my family is supported by what little my brother, my uncle and I earn. We would still be in school if my father had not died.”

What is a ‘satyashodhak patta’?
A senior officer told mid-day on condition of anonymity that the police have employed the belt for several decades. Every station and crime branch unit has the belt.

It is usually 3.5 feet to 4 feet in length and 6 inches in breadth with a wooden handle.

The officer said the police collect used belts from flour mills. They give the belt to a carpenter, who fizes one end to a wooden handle with a grip. At times, rubber sheets of similar dimensions are used, added another detection officer.

Criminal lawyer Yug Chaudhry said there is constant reference to a torture implement routinely used by the police called ‘satyashodhak patta’ in the first charge sheet filed by the Crime Branch and the accompanying statements.

“The torture implement has become institutionalised in Mumbai police,” said Chaudhry. The name indicates its widespread use among the police, and a belief in its necessity and justification.”

Chaudhry claimed that the state’s decision to appoint ‘encounter specialist’ Praful Bhosale showed how serious it takes the issue of custodial deaths. “Bhosale was arrested in connection with the custodial death of Khwaja Yunus but the charge sheet could not be filed due to lack of sanction.”

Three days of hell at Dharavi lock-up
Rafiq Kamu Shaikh alias Julfar (40), from Gori Nagar in Maldah, West Bengal, lived in a rented apartment in Dobhi Ghat, Cuffe Parade, and worked at a cosmetics shop in Kandivali. On November 29, 2012, the Dharavi police, on the claim that they received specific information about counterfeit currency likely to be exchanged, laid a trap for some unknown accused near the Dharavi bus depot.

According to the police, API Irfan Shaikh and his team from the detection branch stopped a taxi and questioned the driver Inamul Usman Shaikh and a passenger sitting besides the driver (Julfar). The police claimed the team recovered Rs 1.20 lakh of counterfeit notes from them and the duo was taken into custody.

The police claimed that the notes were inspected at a nationalised bank in Sion and it was confirmed that the currencies were counterfeit and returned to the police station to question the detainees.

The CBI probe says that on November 29, 2012, API Shaikh and Shirkar interrogated Julfar to find out where he brought the fake notes from and who they were delivering them to. With Julfar allegedly not revealing anything despite being slapped multiple times, API Shaikh brought out the flour-mill belt (‘satyashodhak patta’ according to the police's own admission to the court in Crime Branch charge sheet) and started hitting him on his legs, hands, back and soles. The CBI said a few policemen present in the detection room corroborated the same in their statements.

At 10.00 pm, Julfar was taken to the police lock-up as directed by Shaikh. A constable helped Julfar walk, as he had difficulty in walking, the CBI said. After being warned not to reveal anything of the torture to the doctors, Julfar and co-accused Inamul were taken to LTMG hospital, Sion, for a medical check up. The questioning continued for next two days.

On December 2, API Shaikh ordered his staff to get Julfar from the lock-up. The registry shows Julfar was taken out of the lock-up at 11.15 am and was taken into the detection room by 11.20 am.

API Shaikh and Shirkar used both their hands and the ‘satyashodhak patta’ on the body of Julfar by beating him on his hands, legs, back and soles again, only this time more seriously than before.

The CBI said Julfar allegedly informed API Shaikh that a person from Nagpada/Kamathipura was involved in the counterfeiting racket and that he did not have the exact address.

API Shaikh and the detection team left for the spot but returned empty handed. Meanwhile, Julfar who was still in the detection room, felt thirsty and took a bottle of water kept on the window sill; as he was drinking the water, he fell face first.

At 2.55 pm, an entry was made in the station dairy of Dharavi police station and Julfar was rushed to LTMG hospital, Sion.

At 3.15 pm, a still-unconscious Julfar was rushed to the causality ward of the hospital, where Dr Sheetal Bankar, on duty Casualty Medical Officer, checked his pulse and blood pressure. Following a routine examination, he was finally declared dead at 3.40 pm.

The body was shifted to the JJ Postmortem center for an autopsy.

Every 4th death is in our state
Advocate Yug Mohit Chaudhry said the malaise of custodial torture has gotten worse with time. “Maharashtra has the worst record in India,” he said. Maharashtra is ranked 19th in the crime rate in India. Yet, as per NCRB records, it has had the highest number of custodial deaths in the country for 14 of the last 16 years (1999 - 2013). It contributed 23.4 %.”

The Bombay HC's 2014 order to install CCTVs in every room, lockup and corridor of each police station in Maharashtra has been ignored by the state government.

What the supreme court says
A three-judge Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice of India YK Sabharwal, Justice BN Srikrishna and Justice RV Raveendran, while passing an order in a criminal writ petition (237 of 1998) Sube Singh vs State of Haryana and others had sighted six points to prevent custodial torture.

Justice BN Srikrishna
Justice BN Srikrishna

The six points in the 2006 order are:

1) Police training should be re-oriented to bring in a change in the mindset and attitude of personnel in regard to investigations so that they recognise and respect human rights, and adopt thorough and scientific investigation methods.

2) The functioning of lower level police officers should be continuously monitored and supervised by their superiors to prevent custodial violence and adherence to lawful standard methods of investigation.

3) Simple and foolproof procedures should be introduced for prompt registration of First Information Reports relating to all crimes.

4) Computerisation, video-recording, and modern methods of records maintenance should be introduced to avoid manipulations, insertions, substitutions and ante-dating in regard to FIRs, Mahazars, inquest proceedings, port-mortem reports and statements of witnesses etc. and to bring in transparency in action.

5) An independent investigating agency (preferably the respective Human Rights Commissions or CBI) may be entrusted with adequate power, to investigate complaints of custodial violence against police personnel and take stern and speedy action followed by prosecution, wherever necessary.

6) Compliance with the 11 requirements enumerated in DK Basu (supra) (another earlier order in a similar case) should be ensured in all cases of arrest and detention.

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