As another young man died in police custody early this week in Kerala, fingers are being pointed at the shortcomings of the Left Front government in disciplining its men in uniform, even as it criticises police atrocities elsewhere in the country, especially the cow belt. B. Sreejith, 26, of Varappuzha in Kochi, died a day after he underwent a major surgery in a private hospital for intestinal injuries he had suffered, allegedly due to police torture. Policemen in mufti had picked him up from home late Friday night following the suicide of a neighbour. Police had booked Sreejith and ten others on charges of abetment to suicide and rioting. The policemen didn’t produce any arrest warrant while hauling him up from bed and kicking him, as his mother and wife pleaded for mercy. According to reports, the youth died shortly after the state Human Rights Commission’s acting chairman P. Mohan Das visited Sreejith at the hospital Monday morning on receipt of a complaint from the victim’s wife about alleged custodial torture by the Varappuzha police.
“The youth’s wife gave us a statement that she had witnessed policemen torturing her husband and that he was denied food and water and even treatment for two days. There is gross violation of basic human rights,” the Commission said in a statement. The death of Sreejith, father of a three-year-old daughter, at the hands of the police comes days after Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had called upon his forces to “behave ideally” while dealing with the public. Inaugurating the delegates’ meeting held as part of the 30the annual state conference of the Kerala Police Officers Association in Kottayam on Thursday, Pinarayi, who also holds the home portfolio, had said, “Behaviour of the police is an important factor. Police should behave well, which is not in the police station alone, but also while dealing with the public all the time.”
It seems that the Chief Minister’s advice has fallen on deaf ears, as Sreejith has become victim number 13 to die following police brutality after the Left Front came to power less than two years ago. Criminalisation and politicisation of the police force in the state go hand in hand. The state government has prepared a data about its police officers, following instructions from the High Court. As per the data, 1,129 police officers are accused in criminal cases. The figure was 654 in 2015. Another 475 have joined the gang. The accused include officers in the rank of deputy SPs and CIs. Crimes include torture, rape, bribery and dealing in narcotics. No action has been taken against any of these officers and all of them continue to remain in their respective positions. Many of them have found favour with the new political masters.
A classic case is that of ADGP Tomin J. Thachankary—facing many criminal charges—who was posted at the police headquarters last June to keep a tab on the movements of the then DGP, T.P. Senkumar, who was at loggerheads with the Chief Minister. Responding to a petition moved against Thachankary’s appointment, the Kerala High Curt had issued an interim order to the state government then. The actions of the government had been called into question on the ground people holding high public offices should not have controversial credentials, the court had said. Nothing happened and Thachankary continues to be one of the most favourite of the present government. Most of the policemen found involved in criminal activities become pliable instruments in the hands of their political bosses. Suspension is just eyewash to fool the public. After six months, the suspended officer is quietly given the same post or even a higher one.
Politicisation of police always gets a pre-eminent position whenever the Left comes to power. Most of the postings in the force are decided by party functionaries of respective areas. Say for example no police officer can continue in his post in volatile Kannur without the consent of CPM’s district secretary. This was not the case during the opposition UDF government. The presence of able and honest police officers during that time had reflected in the fall of political murders in the area. However, things changed with the taking over of the police force by the present DGP, Loknath Behra, who is said to be close to the Chief Minister. During his tenure so far, Kannur has witnessed over a dozen murders.
Each time something goes wrong, the Chief Minister would be too eager to defend his police chief and the force in the state Assembly. He has done it umpteen times, including lapses on the part of the police in investigating the rape of a prominent film star. It is always others to blame or the constant refrain of party functionaries is that “this is not our policy”. But no one spells out what actually the policy of the Left government is, regarding the functioning of the police force. Initially, the blame was on the “saffronisation” of police force. Now it has shifted to those in uniform out to “discredit the Pinarayi Vijayan government”.
There are enough indications that the local CPM leadership is trying to cover up the case by just suspending a few officers, while the real culprits get away. Shockingly, the Crime Branch IG’s report says there is no evidence of police torture. Policemen on duty are only accused of denying food and prompt medical facility to a dying Sreejith. Indications are that like all other lock-up murders in the past, inquiry into Sreejith’s murder too will be conducted by the department itself. That will ensure no action against any of those criminals in the force who murdered Sreejith in cold blood.