At least twelve people lost their lives in different parts of the country after they were allegedly beaten up during police’ action in public for “violating restrictions” during the first five weeks of the nationwide lockdown, which was imposed to contain the further spread of novel coronavirus, 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 (first day of lockdown) to April 30 based on media reports, stated that three out of these 12 deaths were suicides committed by the victims due to the humiliation and insult they faced after being beaten up brutally in public.
According to the study, three deaths each were reported from Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. Two deaths reported in Madhya Pradesh, while Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Punjab reported one death each.
Those 12 who died were identified as - Luvkush, Mohammad Rizwan, Roshan Lal from Uttar Pradesh; Bansi Kushwaha and Tibu Meda from Madhya Pradesh; Shaikh Mohammed Ghouse, Veerabhadraiah, and Peddada Srinivas Rao from Andhra Pradesh; Sagir Jamil Khan from Maharashtra; A Abdul Rahim from Tamil Nadu; Lal Swami from West Bengal and Bhupinder Singh from Punjab.
The study further stated that Bhupinder Singh, Peddada Srinivasa Rao and Roshan Lal committed suicides after feeling humiliated and insulted in public.
Demanding an independent inquiry into the matter, Devika Prasad, CHRI’s program head (police reforms), while speaking to Hindustan Times, said, “Media reports have brought to light that people have died following alleged police action during the lockdown. There must be an independent inquiry into these deaths.”
Prasad said the CHRI believes that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) will probe these serious allegations in a “fair and effective way towards accountability.” “This is yet another sign that courts and other oversight bodies need to hold police accountable for excessive force in “enforcing” the lockdown,” he said.
In two of the 12 cases reported, police personnel involved were suspended from duty and a magisterial inquiry was also ordered. These two cases are of Bansi Kushwaha (Madhya Pradesh) and Shaikh Mohammed Ghouse (Andhra Pradesh).
As per the study, the concerned authorities have denied any police beating in the cases of deaths of Lal Swami, Mohammad Rizwan, Sagir Jamil Khan and Tibu Meda. Moreover, regarding the death of Lal Swami, who was from West Bengal, the police claimed that he died due to cardiac arrest since he was already suffering from heart ailments.
Hindustan Times reported that Kunal Aggarwal, Howrah Police commissioner, told the media that it was a case of “misreporting” by the press.
Similarly, Uttar Pradesh police also refuted the claims that the death of Mohammad Rizwan was due to police action to enforce lockdown, the said CHRI report.
As per statement reported in the media, Alok Priyadarshi, Ambedkar Nagar’s superintendent of police, had said, “Going by the evidence collected, there was nothing to show that Rizwan was assaulted with batons.”
Regarding the death of Tibu Meda, who was a native of Madhya Pradesh, the district collector told media that he had lost his life due to a cardiac arrest after he saw a “police vehicle approaching him with blaring sirens”.
Despite such a claim, Meda’s family was given a compensation of Rs 20,000 by the state authorities, the CHRI reported.
Meanwhile, the Maharashtra Police registered Sagir Jamil Khan’s demise as “accidental death”.
Speaking to PTI on the matter, Sangram Singh Nishandar, the deputy commissioner of police (Zone 1), had said that Sagir Jamil 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 held on various charges also lost their lives in police custody during the nationwide 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.
Meanwhile, the CHRI has sent a plea to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to initiate a thorough probe in all these 15 deaths.
Speaking on the same, Hindustan Times quoted Alok Prasanna Kumar, a senior resident fellow at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, as saying, “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.”
He continued, “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.”