Observing that custodial deaths are occurring routinely, the high court added, “It seems to be happening only against certain persons from the minority community.” Chaudhry agreed: “I have done my research and it shows that the cases are mostly of Muslims and Dalits.” The court questioned why such deaths are happening in Maharashtra. Referring to the case at hand, it said, “It is not reported as a custodial death but as a natural death.” The number of such cases is unknown, the court noted.
The same bench had recently handed over the investigation into two custodial deaths to the Central Bureau of Investigation. The first case was of Agnelo Valdaris, who died in the Wadala railway police lock-up this April, and the other case was of Zulfar Shaikh, who died in the Dharavi police lock-up in December 2012. While hearing a third case—of Akash Kharade who died in the Samata Nagar police’s lock-up in April this year—the bench had directed the state director-general of police to form a committee to examine cases of custodial deaths and suggest steps to prevent them.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 1,418 custodial deaths took place in India between 1999 and 2013, and around 23% of these (or 333) were reported from Maharashtra. For the majority of the 15 years, the state topped the custodial death charts.
The judges said on Thursday that they want to hear all custodial death cases together. They asked Chaudhry to assist the court as “we want to do something about this”.
Chaudhry was appointed amicus curiae in a case in which the petition was filed in 2012 by Alia Begum Ansari. According to the petition, Ansari’s son Taj Mohammad, a mobile repairer, was arrested by the Sion police on February 21, 2012, for the alleged theft of a mobile phone. He was initially kept in police custody and then transferred to judicial custody, where he died. Alleging that Taj Mohammad was tortured by prison officials, Ansari’s petition sought compensation and urged the court to direct CBI to probe the case. In July 2012 Ansari passed away and since then her husband Deen Mohammad is pursuing the case.
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