Not Much Has Changed Since the Deaths of Jayaraj and Bennicks. Now Delhi Auto Driver Dies in Police Custody

Social Commentary

Not Much Has Changed Since the Deaths of Jayaraj and Bennicks. Now Delhi Auto Driver Dies in Police Custody

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

In June, the deaths of a trader P Jayaraj and his son J Bennicks in police custody in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district after alleged torture shook the nation. There were protests and calls for police reforms and soon the issue died down. Not much has changed. Custodial deaths are a regular occurrence.

Now in Delhi, a 45-year-old autorickshaw driver, who was being questioned in connection to a car theft case, has died in police custody. According to the police, the driver, Dharambir Prajapati, jumped from the first floor of the police station and was rushed to AIIMS but succumbed to his injuries. However, the family has alleged that Prajapati was tortured by police officials.

After news of the death, the family and a few locals protested outside AIIMS. They alleged that the auto driver was beaten by policemen, who also asked him for a bribe of ₹50,000.

However, the Delhi police has denied the family’s claim. According to the police, the auto driver was being interrogated by ASI Vijay Kumar post midnight on Saturday. When the cop went to the washroom, the driver jumped from the first floor and was found lying in the courtyard for the station, they said.

The ASI has been suspended after the death over lack of supervision and two constables have been sent to police lines. They were interrogating the driver in connection to a car theft at Lodhi Garden. The CCTV footage showed that the thieves arrived in an auto that was registered in Prajapati’s son’s name. The police later learnt that the vehicle was rented out to two men, who are arrested in the case.

The Chief Metropolitan Magistrate has been informed about the death in police custody. However, the cause of death is yet to be ascertained and a post-mortem report is awaited.

It’s unfortunate but custodial deaths are all too common in India. According to an IndiaSpend report, 51 custodial deaths were reported until July, 2020, and by October 12, National Human Rights Commission, registered another 16 such cases.

The report also points out that 63 per cent of deaths in police custody occur within 24 hours of the arrest, before the suspect can be produced before a magistrate.

The numbers are worrying and what India needs urgently is police reforms – sensitising the forces and implementing tougher laws to cut down on police excesses.

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