Police excesses for lockdown violation led to 12 deaths: Study
Twelve people died in various parts of the country after they were beaten up in public for alleged violation of restrictions during the first five weeks of the national lockdown to curb the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), a report by a non-government organisation has said.
The study by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), which tracked such deaths from March 25 to April 30 based on media reports, said three out of the 12 deaths were suicides committed by the victims due to the humiliation and insult from the public beating.
Three deaths each were reported from Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Andhra Pradesh (AP). Madhya Pradesh (MP) reported two deaths while Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu (TN), West Bengal (WB) and Punjab reported one death each.
The 12 deceased are Luvkush, Mohammad Rizwan, Roshan Lal (UP), Bansi Kushwaha, Tibu Meda (MP), Shaikh Mohammed Ghouse, Veerabhadraiah, Peddada Srinivas Rao (AP), Sagir Jamil Khan (Maharashtra), A Abdul Rahim (TN), Lal Swami (WB) and Bhupinder Singh (Punjab).
The cases of Bhupinder Singh, Peddada Srinivasa Rao and Roshan Lal were suicides, according to the study.
“Media reports have brought to light that people have lost their lives following alleged police action during the lockdown. There must be an independent inquiry into these deaths,” Devika Prasad, CHRI’s program head (police reforms), said while speaking to HT.
“This is yet another sign that courts and other oversight bodies need to hold police accountable for excessive force in “enforcing” the lockdown. CHRI believes the NHRC will investigate these grave allegations in a fair and effective way towards accountability,” Prasad said.
In two of the 12 cases, police personnel involved were suspended pending an inquiry. These cases are from Madhya Pradesh (Bansi Kushwaha) and Andhra Pradesh (Shaikh Mohammed Ghouse). A magisterial inquiry was also ordered in both these cases.
The study said in the cases of deaths of Lal Swami (WB), Mohammad Rizwan (UP), Sagir Jamil Khan (Maharashtra) and Tibu Meda (MP), authorities denied the fatalities were caused due to police beating.
Regarding the death of Lal Swami from West Bengal, the police claimed that the victim died of cardiac arrest since he was already suffering from heart ailments.
Kunal Aggarwal, Howrah Police commissioner, told the media that it was a case of misreporting by the press.
Similarly, UP police denied that the death of Mohammad Rizwan was due to police beating, the CHRI report said.
As per media reports, Alok Priyadarshi, Ambedkar Nagar’s superintendent of police, said that going by the evidence collected, there was nothing to show that Rizwan was assaulted with batons.
Regarding the death of Tibu Meda, the district collector told reporters he had died due to a cardiac arrest after he saw a police vehicle approach him with blaring sirens.
Despite such a claim, Meda’s family was given financial assistance of Rs 20,000 by the state authorities, as per CHRI report.
The death of Sagir Jamil Khan was registered as an accidental death by Maharashtra police.
Sangram Singh Nishandar, the deputy commissioner of police (Zone 1), told PTI that Khan’s medical report showed the cause of death as ‘heart enlargement’, and there was no external or internal injury on the body.
Besides these 12 deaths, three people who were arrested on various charges also died in police custody during the lockdown. They were from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. In two of these three cases, the victims were in custody for crimes unrelated to lockdown.
CHRI has sent a petition to the National Human Rights Commission to investigate these 15 deaths.
“The police in India continues to function with the colonial outlook of protecting the state/ regime in power from the people. Hence, the Constitution and rule of law take the backseat and the police wield their lathi at the slightest provocation. Moreover, the police is viewing the lockdown and its implementation as a law and order problem and not as a public health necessity,” Alok Prasanna Kumar, a senior resident fellow at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, said.
“Besides, there is also the issue of not holding them accountable. At the most, we hear about a policeman being suspended or transferred. But there is hardly any criminal prosecution against those in the police who violate the law. This also contributes to the impunity with which they function,” Kumar added.