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Bedtime bias in Arabul lock-up

Arabul, Sushanta

Calcutta, Jan. 18: Arabul Islam will not accuse Bengal police of robbing his sleep, unlike Sushanta Ghosh who has not yet forgotten his “sleep-deprived” nights and days in custody.

Arabul, accused of attempt to murder, is a former MLA and belongs to the ruling party. Ghosh, accused of multiple murders, is a serving MLA and a former minister but on the wrong side of the political spectrum as he belongs to the CPM.

Both have come to symbolise the “strongman” culture that is widely prevalent and blamed for the lumpenisation of politics in Bengal but rarely acknowledged. The difference in the manner in which they were treated by law-enforcers shows another side of the rot.

Arabul, arrested yesterday on charges of assaulting CPM legislator Abdur Rezzak Mollah and CPM supporters in two incidents, spent the last 24 hours in relative comfort at the Sonarpur police station, sleeping most of the time and barely being questioned till this afternoon.

Late tonight, Arabul was admitted to MR Bangur Hospital with chest pain.

An officer, in fact, rued that the station could not play a better host. “We could have let him sleep in the room of the officer in charge of the police station but we didn’t do that as that could have created a controversy,” the officer said.

The treatment would have added a feather to the human rights record of Bengal police had the force treated every suspect in the same considerate manner.

But veteran officers said the investigators have frittered away the most vital phase to question a suspect. “The unwritten ground rule of interrogation is virtually non-stop, round-the-clock questioning of the accused immediately after his arrest because that is the time that the person is the most vulnerable, placed as he is in hostile surroundings in an unfamiliar place,” an officer said.

The drill is familiar to CPM legislator Ghosh, who was arrested in August 2011 on charges of killing and burying political opponents in West Midnapore during his heyday in power.

Ghosh, who is now on bail and awaiting trial, told The Telegraph today in response to a question: “I was brought to the CID headquarters (Bhabani Bhavan in Alipore) from Midnapore around midnight on August 11. A team of officers entered my cell within half an hour. They interrogated me till around 1.30am. Just as I was falling asleep around 3.30 am, another batch of officers came and they continued questioning me for two hours.”

Ghosh is casting himself as a victim now but experienced officers said what he claims to have undergone was the “standard procedure”, especially since politicians are usually spared the more violent third-degree methods.

The “key” to successful interrogation, an officer said, was to deprive the accused of sleep so that, out of desperation, he “spills the beans”. “We followed this standard procedure after we arrested Sushanta Ghosh,” the officer added.

CID officers corroborated Ghosh’s account. “Ghosh was extensively interrogated because the nature of his crime was far more serious and horrific,” a CID officer said.

According to CID sources, 30 investigators formed five teams to question Ghosh round the clock. The teams worked under the supervision of the then director-general (crime) and a deputy inspector-general of police

In the case of Arabul, no such teams were formed till this evening. Officers from the police stations at Calcutta Leather Complex and Sonarpur questioned Arabul this afternoon.

Besides Arabul’s wife and son, Sonarpur’s Trinamul MLA Jivan Mukherjee and another office-bearer of the party met the former legislator at the police station in the past 24 hours.

“If leaders of the ruling party go to meet an accused and are allowed to do so, you cannot expect the police to seriously interrogate an accused. To expect them to do so would be unfair as the policemen involved also have to think of their future,” said an officer not involved with the investigation.

But Arabul should keep his fingers crossed — just in case the police decide to treat everyone the same way.

CPM’s Ghosh described what happened the day after the first night at Bhabani Bhavan: “The police made me sit in a wooden chair and separate teams questioned me for the next 30 hours till I fell sick the following evening. I was then rushed to SSKM where doctors conducted an echocardiogram test.”

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