The Human Rights Forum (HRF) demands that criminal prosecution proceedings be immediately initiated against police personnel responsible for the suicidal death on February 27, 2014 of Vanjam Gujja Rao (24) an adivasi resident of Sunnamatka village in Vara Ramachandrapuram (VR Puram) mandal in Bhadrachalam division of Khammam district.
A five-member HRF fact-finding team visited Sunnamatka and VR Puram on Sunday and elicited facts of the case. The police version is that their personnel had not committed any illegality but had only questioned Gujja Rao in connection with a recent burglary at Tellamvarigudem village. They contend that he had later hung himself because he was of unsound mind and was depressed since his wife could not beget children. This is nothing but a brazen falsehood intended to cover up crimes the police have committed in the course of investigation.
Following the burglary from a house at Tellamvarigudem on February 9, the VR Puram police picked up about 60 adivasi residents of Sunnamatka including over 15 women on February 11. They were let off the same evening but the police detained 7 men, including Gujja Rao’s elder brother V Kannaiah. Over two days Kannaiah and two others, Vetti Jogaiah and Vanjam Kannam, were beaten by the VR Puram SI of police Ravi Kiran. The police even got them treated at the Kunavaram government hospital. After five days, six of the adivasis were let off but Kannaiah was not.
The VR Puram police then took into custody Gujja Rao on February 22 when he had gone fishing in a pond near Venkampalem. He was taken the next day (February 23) to the Chintoor police station where he was subjected to severe beatings by the police over four days. He was let off on the evening of February 26. When he returned home, Gujja Rao was in a lot of pain and was even unable to eat food given by his wife Nandina. She did her best to console him saying he was fortunate to have come out alive.
The next morning at about 7 am, residents of Sunnamatka found Gujja Rao hanging from a mahua tree near the village. It is clear that the brutal treatment meted out by the Chintoor police had driven Gujja Rao to suicide.
The police then put out the outlandish version that Rao had hung himself due to personal problems but was however still alive! They decided to help the villagers save him and were rushing him to a hospital in Khammam when he expired enroute at Kothagudem! These lies are being trotted out by Chintoor CI Amrutha Reddy and his subordinates.
Custodial violence and abuse of police power is a matter of serious concern. This is the second custodial death in a little over a month’s time in the State, the earlier one being at Korutla police station in Karimnagar district on January 20. The law criminalises torture, but custodial torture seems to enjoy unprecedented license in our State with an average of 22 persons being killed annually in lock-up by the police. Inflicting violence on helpless suspects has become a common phenomenon and routine police practice of interrogation. A pervasive regime of impunity is the single most important factor for institutionalising widespread use of torture.
HRF demands that the VR Puram and Chintoor police including SI Ravi Kiran and CI Amrutha Reddy be immediately suspended and charged under Section 306 (abetment to suicide), Section 201 (screening of evidence) and other relevant sections of the IPC as well as appropriate sections of the SC, ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The criminal investigation into the case must be done by an agency as independent of the police as possible. A mere departmental probe and the mandatory magisterial enquiry are not a substitute for this lawful process.
HRF also points out that the insertion of section 176 (1-A) through an amendment to the CrPC in 2005 mandates that all custodial deaths should be enquired into by a judicial magistrate or metropolitan magistrate rather than an executive magistrate. This has come into effect from June 23, 2006 and therefore a judicial magistrate should enquire into Gujja Rao’s death rather than an executive magistrate as has usually been the case.
At a broader level, we call upon the government to implement the recommendations of the Law Commission of India’s 152nd Report on “Custodial Crimes” and make consequential amendments to Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (insertion of Section 114B) to provide that “in case of custodial death the onus of proving of innocence may be fixed on the police.” The government must seriously address the issue of torture by law enforcement personnel.
(HRF State general secretary)
SK Khader Babu
(HRF State vice-president)
(HRF Khammam dist. general secretary)
(HRF Khammam dist. vice-president)
(HRF Khammam dist. secretary)