A report on an unnatural death in police custody of a marginalised Muslim migrant labour from Panighata Purbapara under Kaliganj Police station area in Nadia district of West Bengal.
7 December 2021: Manab Adhikar Surakha Mancha (MASUM), a human right organisation in West Bengal, has brought to public notice and attention, a case of unnatural death in police custody of a marginalised Muslim migrant labour, Abdul Goni Sekh (43 years), from Panighata Purbapara under Kaliganj Police station area in Nadia district of West Bengal. Abdul Sekh was arrested on 04.12.2021 by the Bhimpur police station of Nadia district with allegations of using fake currency notes. The police visited the house of Abdul Sekh in Panighata at around 3:00 am on 5.12.21 and informed his family that he is ill and has been admitted to Shaktinagar District Hospital. On the same day the family was informed about the death of Abdul Sekh at around 7:30 am by police.
Details of the incident :
The details of the case are given in the fact finding report prepared by MASUM and attached with the complaint letter sent to the NHRC. According to the report, Abdul Goni Sekh is a migratory labour and used to work in Haryana as a mason. He has two brothers, Mr. Sajahan Sekh (50) and Mr. Moti Sekh (42), lives in Panighata with their own families and their mother, Sahida Bewa.
Abdul Sekh was apprehended by Special Operations Group (SOG) from Nelua village of Bhimpur for dispersal and usage of fake currency notes at least two day before his date of arrest shown by the police. According to a few locals, he was seen being taken by the police to one Majid Molla’s house under Nakashipara police station area on 2.12.21. Later Majid Molla was also taken into custody by the Bhimpur police on same charges. Abdul Goni Sekh was then handed over to the Bhimpur police, where he was kept in police lockup. Bhimpur police initiated a case with Bhimpur PS case number 344/21 dated 4/12/21 under sections 489(B) and 489 (C) of the Indian Penal Code.
At round 3:00 am on 5.12.21, a few police officials from Kaliganj police station went to Goni’s house in Panighata, woke up the family members and informed them that Goni was arrested by Bhimpur police and that he has been admitted at the Shaktinagar District Hospital as he was feeling sick in police lockup. The two brothers of Abdul were shocked to hear that he was back in West Bengal and was arrested by the police. At around 7:30 am when they were about to leave their house for Shaktinagar District Hospital, they again got a call from the Kaliganj police, and were informed that Abdul Sekh was dead.
Abdul’s family members, along with their relatives and neighbours, went to the Shaktinagar District Hospital and waited there for the inquest and autopsy from 9:00 am in the morning. At around 3:00 pm two of them were called inside the morgue to identify Abdul Sekh’s body and were asked to leave the morgue as soon as they identified his body. However, at around 3:30 pm, the on-duty police personnel from Kotwali police station informed the family members of Abdul that the inquest and autopsy was already done. The family members and neighbours present there were enraged and started agitating in front of the police. They stated that they were waiting there since morning to be present during the inquest and autopsy but it has been conducted secretively. They refused to take the body from the morgue until proper procedures were conducted.
Masum’s secretary Kiriti Roy told Groundxero that eventually the family under pressure from the police took the body, conducted the funeral, and since then they are refusing to talk about the incident. It seems they are in fear and are under pressure to keep silent. Kirity Roy has lodged a complaint in regard to this case with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), alleging that the facts in the case have been manipulated by the police, starting from the arrest of the deceased, to lodging of FIR, admission to hospital, conduction of inquest and post-mortem.
Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), Krishnanagar Branch, too has raised questions over the conduct of the police in this case. Abdul Sheikh had died while in police custod. APDR accused the police of not informing Abdul’s family — when, where and why he was arrested. As per law, the accused has to be provided with an arrest memo at the time of his arrest. His family has to be informed. But the police didn’t follow these rules. When contacted by APDR, the OC of Bhimpur police station said that Abdul was arrested for possessing counterfeit currency notes and that he died of a heart attack within half an hour of his arrest. How did the police know the cause of death when no such information has been received from the hospital till then!
According to APDR, the police administration was so desperate to cover up the incident that the family of the deceased and the human right activists were kept in complete darkness about the postmortem. And it was conducted secretively. Even the family members were not called in during the post mortem, though, they were waiting in the corridor of the hospital morgue. APDR alleged that this was done deliberately, so that no evidence of injuries of the deceased body comes to light.
In the complaint letter written to NHRC, MASUM too has stated that the police have presented the case as a death due to ill-health, whereas, there are several testimonies and facts that point towards the culpability of the police in the death of the victim in its custody. The letter mentions the following discrepancies in the police version of the case.
- As per police record, the victim was arrested on 04.12.2021 but the locals have seen the police officials taking the victim along with them two days before the date of arrest.
- The victim used to be a migratory worker and worked in Haryana as a daily labour. The family members of the victim residing in Panighata village had no information of his return or getting arrested by the police.
- The police visited the house of the victim in Panighata at around 3:00 am on 5.12.21 and informed his family that the victim is ill and admitted to Shaktinagar District Hospital. The police took signatures of the family members on a form.
- The family was informed about the death of the victim at around 7:30 am by police and asked to be present during the inquest and post mortem at Shaktinagar District Hospital. But even though the family members were present in the hospital for inquest and autopsy, they were not let inside the morgue during inquest and autopsy. They were called in after the inquest and autopsy was done.
- The inquest was conducted by one Executive Magistrate, Mr. Ajoy Kumar Saha and not any judicial magistrate as stated in the 176 1(A) of the CrPC.
- The police of Bhimpur and Kotwali police stations with nexus with civil administration conducted their role in perfunctory manner and thus violated sections of Criminal Procedure Code, 41B(b), 41C, 50, 50A, 53, 54, 57, 58 and 176(1)A.
MASUM stated that the police have violated several sections of the Criminal Procedure Code, particularly those on arrest guidelines and Section 176 1(A) which requires inquest in cases of custodial death to be done by Judicial Magistrate. The police have also violated the DK Basu guidelines given by the Supreme Court of India. The organisation sought the urgent intervention of the NHRC in the case. It has requested the National Human Right body to hold the police accountable for not following the guidelines and order an independent and impartial inquiry in the case by either the investigative team of the NHRC or the CID. MASUM has also demanded that the family of the deceased should be protected and receive adequate compensation for death in police custody. He has demanded that the family of the deceased should be provided protection, so that they can speak out the truth without fear and seek justice for Abdul Shek.
The Krishnanagar branch of APDR has also strongly condemned the incident and demanded immediate exemplary punishment for the guilty police officers. APDR alleges that the manner in which the police tried to cover up the incident has turned them into lawbreakers instead of law enforcers. The organisation termed the conduct of the police as highly reprehensible which needs to be protested at all levels.
The letter written by MASUM to NHRC and the fact finding report are attached below.
Masum's letter to NHRC