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INDIA: A woman dies in illegal custody

14 May 2014

INDIA: A woman dies in illegal custody

ISSUES: Arbitrary detention; police torture; impunity; rule of law, police corruption

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from Nervazhi – a human rights organization based in Kerala, concerning the custodial death of a young woman aged 23 years. It is reported that the police took the victim in the case, Ms. Hanisha, into illegal custody on 23rd March 2014. The police did not record the arrest and detained the woman at the police station, and on the next day, reported that Hanisha committed suicide inside the police station. It is alleged however that police officers tried to sexually abuse Hanisha whilst in custody and that she fell unconscious during this sexual assault. The police officers, fearing that Hanisha has died, hung her on a ceiling fan inside the police station and in fact Hanisha died due to the hanging.

The State government has suspended some of the police officers involved in the incident. However, it is feared that the officers will tamper with the evidence and that there would not be an independent investigation in the case and therefore the perpetrator police officers will go unpunished.

CASE NARRATIVE:

Hanisha, worked as a cleaning assistant at a private hospital in a place called Kottakkal in Malapuram District of Kerala State. On the morning of 23rd April 2014, the police arrested Hanisha, while she was on her way to work. The police alleged that they arrested Hanisha on suspicion of her involvement in a pickpocketing case. Police arrested Hanisha, at Kottakal.

The police reportedly questioned Hanisha, initially at the Changaramkulam Police Station. Later, the police took Hanisha to two jewelers at a nearby place called Edappal from where the jewelers have alleged that the police threatened them and seized 8.5 sovereigns of gold. At about 5 p.m. the police brought Hanisha back to the Changaramkulam Police Station.

Meanwhile, Hanisha contacted her mother, Ms. Subaidha, over the phone and informed her that she is in police custody. Subaidha, immediately went to the police station along with Hanisha’s brother and met Hanisha at the police station. Subaidha, and Hanisha’s brother remained at the police station till 9.30 p.m.

Subaidha informs that at the time, the police had kept Hanisha inside the police station, in a locked room with an iron grill instead of walls but not inside the police lockup cell. Subaidha requested the women police constables who were present at the station to release her daughter but they refused.

On the same day at about 11 p.m. Hanisha contacted Subaidha again over the phone and informed her mother that the police had not given any food to her so far. Subaidha claims that on the next day at 6 a.m. when Subaidha tried to contact Hanisha the phone was not answered.

It is reported that the police had arrested Hanisha on several occasions in the past. Details of the reason why Hanisha was repeatedly arrested by the police is not yet known. It is alleged that Hanisha had acquaintances with several police officers in the locality. It is also alleged that some of them have been sexually abusing Hanisha.

Some police constables stationed at the Changaramkulam Police Station has informed the senior police officer who is investigating Hanisha’s murder, that on the 23rd night, the female police constable Ms. Rathika stationed at the Changarankulam police station, instead of remaining at the police station on duty had gone home at the night and only returned the next day morning. It is also reported that, during this time Sub-Inspector of Police, Mr. Manoharan, visited the Changarankulam Police Station.

It is alleged that Manoharan approached Hanisha on the excuse of questioning her at night and tried to rape, which Hanisha vehemently refused and tried to fight off. It is also reported that Hanisha, threatened Manoharan that she would file a complaint of sexual harassment if Manoharan.

Police constables at Changaramkulam Police Station have reportedly informed the investigating officer that Hanisha fell unconscious when Manoharan tried to silence Hanisha. Fearing Hanisha was dead, Manoharan with the help of other police constables have hung Hanisha from a ceiling fan. This they did to claim that Hanisha has committed suicide. Unfortunately, however, Hanisha was killed when the officers hung her from the ceiling fan from the impact of the hanging and not before as claimed by the police officers.

Changarankulam Police Station is notorious for custodial violence. In a previous incident, on the 26th January 2014, one Mr. Mohanan had visited the police station to mediate a boundary dispute. The police had brutally tortured Mohanan inside the police station and detained him over night at the police station, even though there was no case against him. The next day, after Mohanan went home he complained to his family that the police had brutally tortured him at the police station. Subsequently on 28th January, Mohanan succumbed to his internal injuries that he suffered from torture at the hands of the police. Despite complaints from Mohanans’s relatives the police have failed to initiate a case against this incident and nothing further had happened in this regard.

Apart from custodial murder, Hanisha's detention at the Changaramkulam Police Station, is a very serious offence. Unfortunately it is a common practice by the Indian police to take persons into custody and detain them illegally without recording the date, time, place and reason for such detention of persons in police records. This practice negates all procedural as well as legal formalities.

The practice however allows police to illegally detain a person in custody for as long as they wish. It is during this period of illegal detention that the police exploit the detention of the person to demand and collect bribes, to engage in brutal torture, and also to see how best the police officers can utilize the person’s illegal custody for their private benefits. Such private benefits include sexual harassment of the person in custody irrespective of the person’s gender.

Men, particularly young males including boys, often get sodomized and are forced to perform oral sex in Indian police stations during these detentions. If the detainees are women, the chances are that they will be sexually abused at varying degrees by male as well as female police officers. This is one of the reasons why Indian women rightly claim that the police station is one of the most unsafe places for women in India.

The station house officer, in charge of the Changaramkulam Police Station and Manoharan the Sub-Inspector of Police from the Kuttipuram Police Station have not explained why Hanisha was taken into illegal custody; why her arrest, detention and the seizure of the gold articles were not recorded and under what authority has the sub inspector from another police station tried to meet a detainee held at a police station outside his jurisdiction, in the excuse of questioning her. All these are not only, serious violations of procedural formalities but are also offences that need to be investigated and prosecuted.

The police have not released to the family the autopsy report relating to Hanisha’s death. The report should ideally state the reason for Hanisha's death. If the family has any objection to the initial findings of the forensic surgeon they should be given an opportunity to request a subsequent autopsy by a medical professional of their choice. Such an autopsy should be undertaken at state expense. The police failed to provide such an opportunity in order to prevent the true cause of the crimes the officers have committed from being exposed.

The Indian state has the responsibility to end custodial death and torture in India immediately. What exists in India today is a demoralized police force. Average people consider the police as criminals in uniform. The Indian police have the least amount of accountability and discipline. Hanisha’s case is yet another gruesome example that further highlights these facts.

Please send a letter to the authorities listed below expressing your concern about this case and requesting an immediate and an impartial investigation in this case.

A judicial Magistrate must be authorized to monitor the progress of the investigation as otherwise the state police will not investigate this case properly. In fact without a judicial officer monitoring and supervising the investigation the AHRC believes that the investigation will be a farce and that the punishment of the police officers who violated every procedural and legal mandate in this case would be limited to them having a brief period of suspension.

It is also important to note that taking into custody of a person by the police without following the Supreme Court of India’s direction on this matter is open contempt of the Court. In that context the AHRC also expects the Supreme Court of India to initiate a contempt of Court proceeding against the police officers in this case. Any further laxity of the Indian Supreme Court towards police officers that intentionally fail to follow the Directions of the Court will necessarily seem as the Supreme Court being unable to enforce its own writ jurisdiction in the country.

Please note that the AHRC has also written a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur, on extra judicial, summary and arbitrary execution calling for intervention in this case.

ENDS

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