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Police custody death- Are policemen licensed to kill?

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Altaf’s death in police custody was reportedly cooked up to cover up the alleged torture leading to death in police custody

Altaf died under extremely suspicious circumstances in a police station in Kasganj district in UP. An in-depth analysis from the legal, policing and forensics angles makes it fairly obvious that Altaf’s death was reportedly cooked up to cover up the alleged torture leading to death in police custody.

Police reportedly tied themselves in knots

Prima facie the entire episode in perspective smacks of professional ineptitude. The manner in which the SP reportedly tried to explain the crime and lodged an FIR against Altaf after his death is a reflection of the incompetent and inefficient policing in India.

According to the police, Altaf’s offence was that he eloped with a minor Hindu girl or so to say technically, abducted with the help of a friend. To explain why Altaf was brought to the police station in the first place the police claim that Altaf and his father tried to convert the young girl to Islam.

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In fact, it is absolutely irrelevant and does not make any difference as far as Altaf’s own death in police custody is concerned. Even if Altaf was accused of a serious offence this does not justify the inhuman torture reportedly leading to Altaf’s death in police custody.

There are several blanks in the police version but despite their best efforts, they haven’t been able to cover up or deny Altaf’s presence in the police station at the time of his death? Even if we accept the police version – for the sake of argument what was Altaf doing in the police station and what were the circumstances leading to his death? Why did Altaf nearly die there under mysterious circumstances?

The police have ineptly been trying to shift the onus of the crime and blame Altaf and argue that he was allegedly involved in the ‘love jihad’ – a very sensitive issue these days. But does this provide them with a motive to torture him in custody?

To support their case the police claim to have a letter from Altaf’s father stating that Altaf was suffering from depression and “used to do such things all the time.”

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This makes the story even more ridiculous because depression is a medical condition. How can an illiterate man diagnose and say for sure that his son was suffering from depression that too without any medical opinion or supporting documents?   

Just for the sake of argument, can a depressed man make such elaborate plans to persuade a 16-year old girl (with whom he supposedly had sexual relations for quite some time) to elope with him with the help of a friend and also convert to Islam?

Intriguingly Altaf’s father is now reportedly claiming that he is illiterate and allegedly signed the papers provided by the police that too without knowing the meaning.

Suicide in the toilet –professional incompetence or routine?

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According to the Superintendent of Police, Altaf went to the toilet in the police station. When he did not turn up for ‘a long time’ (20 minutes), the policemen went to check and found him nearly dead.

This seems to be a baseless cock and bull story as Altaf was not an innocuous complainant who had gone to lodge a complaint at the police station. He was reportedly brought there for questioning or possibly torture – even as per the police story there was a complaint against him.

An accused brought to the police station under all circumstances should for all practical purposes be treated like an arrested or detained person. For a person who is detained in a police station, certain elementary precautions must be taken as a matter of standard practice.

Even the police admit that at least three others who participated in the offence with Altaf were in the lockup. This means that even Altaf was a proper detainee. Hence, even if we accept for a moment that Altaf sought permission to go to the toilet, he should not have been allowed to take more than a minute. In case he took longer than that the cops should have rushed in to check him immediately.

In fact, the standard practice is that if an accused, under-trial or person under detention wants to go for urination, he is not allowed to close the door of the toilet and a policeman stands outside watching his back. Even in case, he asks to go for defecation, someone stands outside the closed door. This time tested practice has been devised precisely to obviate the possibility of someone attempting suicide inside by any means—including slitting of his wrists.

Had someone been standing outside, he could have immediately been alerted by any sudden noise. In this case, the police do not have a case as they did not hear any suspicious sound amidst the sound of rushing tap water. If the police did not become suspicious for 20 minutes, it is a clear case of professional lapse or, more likely a white lie.

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Scientific scrutiny of death by asphyxiation completely demolishes the police story

The police claim that Altaf hung himself from the tap in the police station’s washroom, using the “drawstrings of his jacket hood”. This is ridiculous and outrageous beyond measure.

The police story shows their utter intellectual bankruptcy and ignorance of forensic medicine, as well as lack of imagination to concoct a fictitious story.

The foremost question begging to be answered is — whether the length of the string was enough to make a noose around his neck and then tie to the pipe? Second, whether it was strong enough to withstand the weight that was required to be exerted on it to strangulate the neck? Third, whether the plastic tap and the pipe were strong enough to withstand the weight? It has been reported that the pipe had come off from the wall, and had allegedly been fixed to its original position again. This needs to be verified in a fair investigation. These questions will require to be raised during the trial and a demonstrative experiment on dummy may be conducted before the court.

It has been reported that Altaf was five-and-a-half feet tall whereas the tap was less than three feet high (two feet by some accounts) from the floor. Photographs in the social media show Altaf died with his neck attached to the tap, waist resting on the floor.

According to Kasganj district SP Botre Rohan Pramod Altaf died after 5-10 minutes of first aid at Ashok Nagar community health centre. In other words, he was alive at the police station. What emergency care can be given at a community health centre needs no imagination. In any case, what matters is that Altaf eventually died due to injuries sustained in the police station and whether he was breathing when brought to the health centre or not — is irrelevant. In other words, it is yet another proof of the stupidity of the police.

The police story is unbelievable – from the perspective of forensic medicine:

If Altaf’s waist was resting on the floor, it means that very little force could have been applied by way of constriction by the drawstring by the weight of the body—certainly not enough to cut off oxygen supply by way of choking or strangulation (that is, cutting off blood supply to the brain) by way of occluding the carotid arteries or jugular veins.

According to the research of Wolfgang Keil et al on the science of death by hanging (in Burkhard Madea’s Handbook of Forensic Medicine), occlusion of the carotid arteries or jugular veins requires a minimum amount of force. This force is not available in the instant case.

Moreover, as shown in the research of Roberta J. Dunn et al, if death were to result from choking (that is, obstructing breathing), there have to be internal injuries such as swelling, bleeding, fractured larynx (“voice box”) or hyoid bone and thyroid cartilage. Breathing cannot be stopped without such internal injures taking place.

Why a second post mortem is necessary

I do not know whether the post mortem report has commented on aspects mentioned above or not. Even if they have, it is not known whether photographs have been taken or not. That is why a second post mortem is necessary.

We are given to understand from media reports that the autopsy report cited asphyxia as the cause of the death, and mentioned no other ante mortem injuries on his body. It is also reported that there are over three ligature marks on his neck.

The post mortem report is plainly suspicious and reeks of incompetence or complicity under police pressure as has been the record of the police and doctors in this country since long and which we had exposed in an earlier article.

There is a strong case for the court to order exhumation of the dead body and a second post mortem by an independent panel of experts in forensic medicine from outside the state as it has been done in many other cases in the past.

Authorities are trying to hogwash a heinous crime

On November 13, Altaf’s father named six police officers and unknown people, accusing them of murdering his son in police custody. Suspending a few offices is not a solution to a systemic problem. The manner in which the district SP Botre Rohan Pramod, an IPS officer, sought to defend the incredible police story makes him also liable for defending people accused of custodial murder—it is professional incompetence as well malfeasance.

While giving compensation to the family is the sweet will of the government, it cannot mitigate the sheer atrocity and depravity of the crime—as Shakespeare had said, “All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”

The police story about Altaf’s death in police custody is so outrageous that perhaps in the history of crimes and policing in the world, nobody had ever dared to present such an absurd story. To accept it would be an insult to the collective intellect of the nation and murder of justice.

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Dr N C Asthana IPS (Retd)
Dr N C Asthana IPS (Retd)
Dr. N. C. Asthana, IPS (Retd) is a former DGP of Kerala and ADG BSF/CRPF. Of the 51 books that he has authored, 20 are on terrorism, counter-terrorism, defense, strategic studies, military science, and internal security, etc. They have been reviewed at very high levels in the world and are regularly cited for authority in the research works at some of the most prestigious professional institutions of the world such as the US Army Command & General Staff College and Frunze Military Academy, Russia. The views expressed are his own.


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