Request for suitable action against police officials responsible for suicide of a Dalit man Rishipal in Kaithal, Haryana

The Chairman
National Commission for Schedule Castes
5th Floor, Lok Nayak Bhawan, Khan Market,
New Delhi-110003
27th January 2016
Subject: Request for suitable action against police officials responsible for suicide of a Dalit man Rishipal in Kaithal, Haryana.
Dear Sir
We are approaching the Commission regarding the suicide of a young Dalit (Chamar) man, Rishipal,  s/o Balwant, resident of Bhana village, PS Pundri; district Kaithal, Haryana, on 24th Dec 2015. As per initial newspaper reports, Rishipal had been summoned by the police of Pundri Chowki, for questioning regarding the alleged abduction of Ekta (18), resident of Pundri, from a backward caste (Khati), by Binder (22), a Dalit (Chamar)  r/o village Bhana.
A five member team comprising of People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), Delhi and, Peoples Union for Civil Rights (PUCR), Haryana, conducted a fact finding into the incident  to enquire into police culpability, and what drove Rishipal to take his own life. On 29th December the team met members of Rishipal’s family and other villagers at Bhana village; Tarsem, (r/o Pundri), also a Dalit (Balmiki), who along with Rishipal was questioned by the police in the case of the  alleged abduction; Mr Satish Gautam (DSP, Kaithal) and the Invetsigating Officer (IO) – Mr. Shamsher Singh, who are enquiring in to the case. We also met Binder and Ekta in Kaithal who had married and returned to Kaithal on the night of 24th December, ie the same day that Rishipal died.
Our findings are as follow:
1. An FIR dated 23rd December, 5.30 pm, was filed by Ekta’s father alleging that his daughter Ekta, aged around 17 years, had been abducted by Binder, and naming Tarsem and Rishipal as his accomplices.
2. On the 23rd morning Rishipal had been summoned to the Chowki at about 10.00 am and questioned in connection with the alleged abduction. This has been confirmed by the family members of Rishipal , other villagers of Bhana as well as by Tarsem. According to Rishipal’s family, he had also been summoned by the police and questioned on 22nd evening as well. This was confirmed by Tarsem too, separately. According to the family, Rishipal was questioned by the police as he was known to be close to Binder.
3. Tarsem by his own account, left the Chowki at about 8.30pm on the 23rd. Rishipal was still there. Tarsem was told to report to the police again the next morning- 24th December. Tarsem said he did so. Its then he learnt of Rishipal’s death.
4. Early on 24th morning Rishipal committed suicide. In the FIR filed by Rishipal’s father against the police on 24th December, he has charged the police with beating ,threatening, and humiliating Rishipal. He reported that he went to the chowki in the evening after receiving a phone call. When they reached, they found Rishipal sitting in the Chowki and crying. He has also alleged extortion -that the police called him to the thana and asked for Rs. 15,000 to finish off the case against Rishipal.
5. Rishipal’s father, and his relatives returned from the thana, but later that night received a call to take Rishipal away. They also informed us that he was let off in the late evening on 23rd December only on the condition that he appears again the next day along with Rs 15000 in order to close the case. The police allegedly threatened him with severe torture if he did not comply.
6. The family informed us, and have also stated in the FIR that even after returning home Rishipal was very frightened about what would happen the next morning, when he returned to the police chowki.
7. Following his death, Rishipal’s father filed and FIR charging the police with abetment and crimes under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.
8. When we met them, the DSP informed us of events which allegedly occurred in the thana and contributed to his suicide. The DSP offered the explanation that Rishipal’s father had taken off his turban at the police chowki and publicly berated him for the shame he had brought upon the family. As a result, being a very sensitive youth, Rishipal felt humiliated, guilty and ashamed, and took his own life. The DSP informed us that in rural Haryana, being taken to the thana, and suspected of having a hand in an elopement were serious stigma. Rishipal felt that he had brought disrepute to his family and unable to bear the shame and guilt, he took his own life.
i)                 No crime: The so called ‘crime’ in which Rishipal was accused and which the police were allegedly investigating, never took place. Ekta had gone with Binder and married him of her own free will. Nor was she a minor, having turned eighteen in October. The FIR registered by Ekta’s family under S. 363 and 366 was blatantly false.
ii)               Laxity in investigation: The police did not bother to verify the facts related to the complaint filed by Ekta’s father, before bringing in Rishipal for questioning. The police did not verify proof of age, or investigate Ekta and Binder’s relationship. If they had done so, instead of peremptorily summoning Rishipal, his death could have been avoided.  The police’s negligence becomes even more pronounced given their experience in cases of elopement whereby, as they informed us, false complaints by girls’ parents, alleging abduction are routine.
iii)             Illegal detention: The detention and questioning of Rishipal and Tarsem on 22nd evening, and the morning and afternoon of 23rd December was completely illegal as it was done before the filing of the FIR , which was registered only at 5.30pm on 23rd December. Rishipal was detained at the thana from at least 11 am on the morning of 23rd December till about 10.00 PM.
iv)             Harassment: The police continuously harassed Rishipal by repeatedly calling him to the chowki- on the 22nd, then again on the 23rd, and then again  on the 24th. Tarsem has confirmedthis, independently.
v)               Physical torture: The family members and villagers told us that Rishipal was subjected to harsh treatment, and tortured by the police during his detention in Pundri Police Chowki. The family showed us photographs of Rishipals body, on which injury marks are visible. They said that Rishipal had shown them wherehe was beaten on the thighs and buttocks. We learnt from his uncle Om Prakash and other family members that Rishipal was limping when he came out of the Chowki.  The police have denied custodial violence, citing Tarsem as an eye witness. However, Rishipal was alone at the thana with the police for at least two hours, after Tarsem left. Did the police beat him up, after the family did not pay the money demanded, as a method of frightening them into paying?
vi)             Mental Torture: That Rishipal was mentally tortured is apparent from the family’s, Tarsem’s and even the DSP’s accounts , all of whom are agreed that he was  extremely agitated, upset, frightened and depressed. While the family attributes his suicide to fear, of the police’s threats, and anticipated torture, and the police to the father’s emotionally charged words, both are  linked to his illegal detention, unwarranted questioning and humiliation by the police.
vii)           Biased inquiry by the DSP: We found the DSP safeguarding the accused policemen’s interests. He rejected the complaint of extortion saying that no one would be foolish enough to make such a demand as Rishipal’s family was too poor.
III.    CONCLUSIONS- Police culpability:
Binder told us that Rishipal had met him on the 22nd because Binder and Ekta needed money so they could marry. Thus Rishipal paid with his life for helping his friend. In a casteist society where intercaste marriages are not accepted, even the suspicion of having aided and abetted in one, was enough to invite police action.
The police exceeded its authority in asking him to repeatedly come in for questioning, in violation of his legal rights. Rishipal, was a landless dalit marginal worker  - a mason. Both socially and economically marginalized,  Rishipal had no option but to comply. Under the fear of further police torture and harassment, unable to meet the police pressures and demands and  to bear the pain and humiliation- his own and that of his family, he committed suicide on the morning of 24th December.
The DSP’s ‘social’ explanation about Rishipal’s sense of shame and guilt, we believe, only further emphasises the police’s culpability. Despite knowing the stigma and attendant humiliation, the police still summoned and detained Rishipal, that too without cause. They thus helped to create conditions where Rishipal took his own life.
Based on our findings we find the police culpable of Rishipal’s death. The various acts of omission and commission  by the police, we believe, make them guilty of abetment to suicide and caste atrocities. .
IV.   PRAYERS:  In the light of the powers vested in the Commission PUDR requests that :
1.         Cognizance be taken of the photographic evidence in inquiring into the allegations of custodial violence.
2.         The allegations of extortion be investigated.
3.         An independent judicial inquiry be ordered, as we believe that the criminal investigation can be compromised, by its being conducted by the same local agency- the Kaithal police, against their very own ie the Pundri police.
4.         Tarsem’s statement be recorded before the Commission.
5.         Maximum possible compensation be awarded to Rishipal’s family.
6.         An FIR be registered under the SC-ST Act against Ekta’s father for registering a false complaint against Rishipal.
We hope that commission will be swift in taking suitable actions, in a fair, transparent, and non-biased manner.
Deepika Tandon and Moushumi Basu