A Murder Most Foul
For the first time in Maharashtra, 10 police personnel have been charged with the horrific custodial death of 25-year-old Agnelo Valdaris
Souzeina S Mushtaq Delhi
The CBI has charged 10 personnel of the Wadala railway police, Mumbai, with murder in the case of the custodial death of Agnelo Valdaris, a 25-year-old who succumbed to his injuries on April 18 this year. In a complaint filed by the three other boys who were picked up with Valdaris, the police personnel have also been accused of sexual abuse and torture.
On the intervening night of April 15 and 16, four young boys—Mohammed Irfan, 19, Sufiyan Mohammed, 23, Agnelo Valdaris, 25, and Salim, 15 (name changed) were detained by the Wadala railway police, Mumbai, to get information on a gold chain and a ring they had allegedly stolen from a senior citizen. Picked up from their Reay Road homes, the boys were taken to the station, detained in a small cabin, and assaulted by the police officers.
In their complaints, the boys have given horrifying details of the torture and sexual abuse in police custody, and demanded that the policemen be booked for murder, sexual abuse, kidnapping, assault and tampering with evidence, among other charges. According to them, they were slapped, beaten and assaulted by the police officers who ranked from constables to senior inspectors, including a woman officer, and that sexual abuse and torture led to the death of Valdaris three days later in custody.
According to one of the complainants, Irfan, Constable Mane and Kamble stripped him naked and put him on a table. “Mane assaulted me with a belt and Kamble with a baton. They hit me so hard I fell unconscious. They poured water on me. After I regained my senses, the torture started again. This time I was forced to perform oral sex on Valdaris and the minor. When I refused, I was threatened with more beatings. Left with no option, I did as asked. They later hanged me naked upside down and assaulted me again with belts and batons,” he said.
He also alleged that an officer threatened to pour petrol into his rectum, and even tried inserting a thick stick in his anus. Other complainants, who also corroborated the fact that Valdaris died because of excessive torture, narrated similar stories of custodial abuse.
According to the complaint by the minor, Valdaris was assaulted and he kept crying. After he was brought back to the lock-up, he complained of chest pain.
“Agnelo complained of chest pain and froth began to come out of his mouth. He also started trembling. The police officers put an onion and a chappal near his mouth and told him to lick it,” said the complaint. “He became unconscious for some time. When he gained his senses, he again complained of chest pain but the officers did not pay attention.”
“They then took us to the court two days later. They threatened us to not tell the magistrate anything about the torture. They did not bring Agnelo with us as he was badly injured. In these two days, we were forced to eat the leftovers from the policemen’s meals.”
Agnelo’s father, Leonard Valdaris, who works with the Mumbai Port Trust, also filed a complaint. “When I came to know that my son Agnelo had not yet been produced in the court, I went to the CST Railway Court and met Sufiyan and Irfan in the lock-up there. They told me that the police had beaten my son up badly. They showed me the injuries that the police had inflicted on them. I saw the injuries on Irfan’s buttocks where the skin had peeled off, and on his right leg and back. There were injuries on Sufiyan’s hands as well,” he writes.
Later in the evening, at Sion Hospital, Leonard met Agnelo who had a bandage on his wrist and was unable to walk. “As soon as he saw me he started to cry and said, ‘Daddy save me. These police people will kill me. They are beating me continuously and not taking me to the court.’”
Next day, on April 18, Leonard was taken to a mortuary where he was shown his son’s body. “I was only shown the front portion of the upper part of his body as the rest was covered. I saw that there was a hole on the right rib. The flesh had come off on the left hand and the upper body was blood-stained. His body was covered with a cream-coloured cloth.”
After Agnelo died, the other three boys were let off on bail on April 22. After the GRP commissioner ordered an inquiry based on the complaint, the three were, to their horror, asked to visit the same police station where they were tortured, to collect their summons.
On June 10, when the court first heard Leonard’s petition, it directed the Mumbai Police Crime Branch to register an FIR in the case. The court also asked the police to produce CCTV footage of Wadala and Reay Road railway station to prove their claim that Agnelo had fled from their custody and died after coming under a train. Advocate Yug Mohit Chaudhry pointed out that despite court orders, the CCTV footage was not produced. While the case was delayed, the court felt that the police had been hesitant to produce CCTV footage as their intention was to “destroy evidence”.
After conducting an initial inquiry, the CBI registered a case against 10 police personnel posted at the Wadala Railway Police Station and other unnamed persons under IPC sections relating to criminal conspiracy, murder, unnatural offences, among others, and provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act and of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. Among the cases of custodial torture, this is the first case in which the police officers have been accused of committing offences.
Asking the CBI to take cognisance of the case, Judges VM Kanade and PD Kode said, “It is really difficult to believe that such things can happen in a civilised society and in a state once known as a progressive state.” “The allegations made in the complaints have shocked the conscience of the Court and disclose the sordid and sorry state of affairs at the Wadala Railway Police Station,” the court observed. The court also said that the state government, too, had shielded the accused.
According to advocate Chaudhry, who has been representing the case, Maharashtra has had the highest number of custodial deaths in the past 13 years. The state has witnessed more than 298 custodial deaths since 1999, but not a single conviction of police officers had taken place during this period. “While there is no penal provision covering sexual abuse of an adult male in police custody, there is no law dealing with torture as well.”
While the ghastly reality of the custodial deaths stands exposed, there is a lot found wanting in delivering justice to the victims of the State. No amount of penance can bring
lives back. Only exemplary punishment to the culprits can bring some consolation to the family of Agnelo Valdaris, who was supposed to get married this December.