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Mumbai: 2 years after custodial death, youth's family torn apart

Leonard Valdaris, whose son Agnelo was allegedly tortured to death by 12 railway cops in 2014, will be in the high court today where petitions filed by Valdaris’s lawyers in the case will be heard

The Bombay High Court will, today, take up the case of Agnelo Valdaris, in which 12 policemen are in the dock for allegedly torturing him to death in police custody in June 2014. The court will be hearing petitions filed by Valdaris’s lawyers on the CBI wanting two separate charge sheets (under IPC and POCSO) and delaying the trial.

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Leonard Valdaris, father of Agnelo, prays at his son’s grave. Mohammed Irfan Shaikh and Sufiyan Khan, who were tortured by Wadala railway police, also offered their respects. Pics/Sameer Markande
Leonard Valdaris, father of Agnelo, prays at his son’s grave. Mohammed Irfan Shaikh and Sufiyan Khan, who were tortured by Wadala railway police, also offered their respects. Pics/Sameer Markande

Agnelo’s father, Leonard, has vowed to see the case to its very end.

Midnight knock
Leonard, who works with the Mumbai Port Trust, spoke of the night that changed his life forever. “On April 16, 2014, the Wadala railway police came to our house looking for Agnelo over a theft aboard a train. My wife Elga asked me in Tamil if she should phone Agnelo and caution him (Agnelo was living with his grandparents at Dharavi at the time). I stopped her, saying if Agnelo had committed a crime, he should pay for it.”

Read Story: Four Mumbai cops get 7 years for 2013 custodial death

Mohammed Irfan Shaikh and Sufiyan Khan show their injury marks
Mohammed Irfan Shaikh and Sufiyan Khan show their injury marks

I took the police to Dharavi and Agnelo was taken into custody. Just a day before his death, I met Agnelo at Sion hospital, where he told me he was innocent. He said the railway police would kill him and pleaded with me to save him. I told him not to worry, Leonard said.

The last call
On April 18, 2014, the police were to produce Agnelo before the holiday court in Bhoiwada. At 10.30 am, Agnelo called me from someone’s phone and told me to bring clothes and Glucon-D. He said he was very weak. I told him I had arranged for a lawyer for him and would be waiting at Bhoiwada court. He never came,” Leonard said.

Leonard then called the police personnel concerned, who initially gave a vague reply, but when he insisted, told him to come to Sion hospital where he was shown Agnelo’s body. The police said he was hit by a local train while trying to flee.

“Had Agnelo been hit by a train, his limbs would have been severed or he would have got serious head injuries, but my son’s body was intact. Also, one of the constables, in his statement, had said that Agnelo was very weak. How could he have run towards the local train then? I would have paid the police the cost of the property my son was supposed to have stolen. They did not have to kill him,” Leonard said.

“Agnelo cried and pleaded his innocence, but these policemen forced him to perform sexual acts and tortured him to death,” he said.

Family split
“Elga continues to accuse me of killing my son. She and my younger son Reagan tell me not to spend time and money pursuing the case. I have left the house and am staying with my parents in Dharavi. I want to see all the accused policemen behind bars. I will ensure justice for my dead son.

“Agnelo was to get married in December 2014 to his Malaysian girlfriend. His devastated girlfriend even tried to kill herself,” Leonard said.

Tortured in lock-up
Mohammed Irfan Shaikh (21) and Sufiyan Khan (23) were the others picked up by the police with Agnelo. They, too, were tortured.

“Our external wounds have healed, but the internal scars remain,” Khan said. “I still get shooting pain in my body. A lathi was inserted in my anus, and I was forced to perform oral sex on Agnelo and a 15-year-old boy. We were tied naked to an iron rod and tortured. I saw Agnelo being beaten mercilessly,” Irfran said.

“We have asked for police protection. We are receiving constant threats asking us to withdraw the complaint. Some offered us money, but we did not budge. The callers even threatened to involve us in a rape case or get a chain-snatcher to assault us with a blade. We never had any police record before this theft incident,” Irfan said.

Lawyer speak
Advocate Ajay Basutkar, their lawyer, said, “Instead of registering the case under stringent sections of the IPC and POCSO Act (Protection of Children from Sexual Crimes), the CBI has filed a charge sheet with mild sections like 323 (minor injury) 120 (b) (conspiracy) 223 (escape from custody), 342 (punishment for wrongful confinement) etc, so that the accused policemen are protected. Moreover, they are yet to file the POCSO charge sheet in the special POCSO court.”

The lawyer said, “It is unheard of that for the same FIR, two separate charge sheets are filed at two different courts and it seems that it has been done deliberately to go soft on the accused policemen.”

CBI speak
A senior CBI officer said, “We have already approached the State Law and Judiciary department for permission to charge-sheet the policemen involved in the case and after obtaining their permission have filed the first charge sheet under IPC provisions. As not all the policemen were involved in the sexual offences against the minor, which is to be tried under POCSO, we have written to the state government seeking permission to try the accused in the case under POCSO. Even though the FIR is one, there are two different sets of offences that have to be dealt with and hence the charge sheet will have to be filed at the respective courts.”

The theft that started it all
On April 10, 2014, at 9.10 pm, Shrinivas Kishan Veeramallu was in the first class compartment of a CST-bound local. At Dockyard station, four men asked Veeramallu for the time and when he was about to tell them they allegedly pushed him before escaping with Two gold chains of 60 gm and 20 gm each, three gold rings, cash of Rs 1,100, a pair of spectacles and a steel lunch box. When contacted, Shrinivas told mid-day, “I won’t be able to speak about the case. But, I still have not got my stolen property back. I had identified the boys and one of them is no more.”

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