Custody death haunts Left Front in Kerala
The ruling Left Front in Kerala seems to be stumbling upon one controversy after another in quick succession.
Coming weeks after the suicide of an NRI investor that put the CPM in a politically embarrassing situation, the death of a private financier in police custody has pushed the government and the chief minister into a tight corner. Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan is also the home minister.
This is the sixth custodial death after the Left Front came to power three years ago with the promise to set things right. In the past three years, the state had also witnessed three encounter deaths and the lynching of an adivasi youth.
The latest death in custody comes barely a year after the death of a 26-year-old, arrested on mistaken identity at Varappuzha in Kochi, that had shaken the conscience of the state.
Rajkumar, 49, who was taken into custody on June 12 following complaints from investors in his financial undertaking at Nedumkandam in Idukki, died at a local hospital on June 21.
In between, the police kept Rajkumar in illegal detention for three days before his arrest was officially recorded on June 15. He was produced before a magistrate the next day and remanded in judicial custody for two weeks.
It is alleged that while Rajkumar was produced before the magistrate’s court, he was not even in a condition to stand up. Kerala High Court has ordered a probe into the circumstances in which the magistrate remanded Rajkumar in judicial custody overlooking his health condition.
The post-mortem report stated that Rajkumar had suffered 22 wounds, mostly below the thighs, indicating that he was subjected to third-degree torture. It is said that policemen in boots stood rolling over lathis placed on his thighs and legs while the interrogation was on.
This is considered the most heinous of tortures, made infamous by Kerala police during the Emergency when engineering student Rajan, who is still a household name in the state, was killed by such a method for his alleged links with the Naxalite movement.
The death of Rajkumar took place when the nation was observing the 44th anniversary of the Emergency. Ironically, Kerala is ruled by the CPM, whose leaders, including chief minister Vijayan, were behind bars during that time.
That the Left Front government is no different from its predecessor is borne out by the fact that there has been a concerted effort to shield senior officers by putting the blame on ordinary policemen.
While the locals demanded the arrest of senior police officers, especially the superintendent of the district, for their complicity in the crime, the government tried to pacify them by suspending just two policemen belonging to Nedumkandam police station.
One of the Left Front partners, the CPI, wants the SP, who was transferred days after the incident, to be charged with murder, but it is unlikely.
What is more farcical is the government’s decision to institute a judicial inquiry into the case even as the crime branch that is investigating the matter has found deliberate attempts by the local police to cover up the case.
Incidentally, three other commissions constituted in the past by the LDF are yet to submit their reports. Another one is still probing a custody death that happened four years ago during the previous UDF regime.
The locals allege that the police arrested and tortured Rajkumar at the behest of those CPM leaders as the business went bust.
Party involvement in the affairs of the police has been a bane of Left governments in the state.
Whether the allegation is true or not, the Vijayan government is in a fix over the police administration. Through the past three years, the police have been accused of highhandedness, something that the chief minister had tried to play down as a case of “hangover of the past regime”.
Considering the “hangover” has lasted over three years, there is no explanation as to why this LDF government is yet to act on a confidential IB report that found over 1,200 police officers, including those of IG rank, guilty of criminal offences such as murder and rape.
Seven policemen who were suspended for the Varappuzha custody killing in April 2018 were reinstated by December. The Aluva rural police SP, A.V. George, under whose jurisdiction Varappuzha falls, and who too was under suspension, has been promoted to the post of DIG.
However, Varappuzha police are yet to file a chargesheet.