Lucknow: The families of two dalit undertrials found hanging from a tree inside Uttar Pradesh’s Sultanpur Jail on Wednesday have alleged custodial death and demanded a high-level independent probe.
Human rights activists have questioned chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s model for law and order in the state and accused his administration of targeting minorities.
The families have accused the police of torturing their sons, charged with murder, to death. However, the police claimed that Manoj Raidas (19) and Vijay Pasi alias Kariya (20) died by suicide.
The duo was arrested on May 30 for allegedly murdering a man in a village in the Amethi district after an FIR under Sections 302 and 201 of the Indian Penal Code was registered at the Jamo Police Station.
Jamo station house officer Vivek Kumar Singh told Newsclick that the “duo was charged with murdering one Om Prasad Yadav in Amethi on May 26. “They were arrested on May 30 and sent to Sultanpur jail. Their families never visited them,” he said.
Singh claimed that “Raidas and Kariya, in their police statements, confessed to murdering Yadav mistaking him for their rival Jitendra”.
Sultanpur jail superintendent Umesh Singh told the media that a warden spotted the duo hanging from a tree behind their barracks. “Both had a scarf tied around their necks. The warden immediately informed other staff and the bodies were brought down,” he said.
Director general prisons SN Sabat has directed DIG Jails SP Hemant Kutiyal to probe the deaths.
“When the two prisoners did not come out for the yoga session on Wednesday, jail officials searched the premises and found them hanging from a tree around 12.30 p.m,” Sultanpur superintendent of police Somen Barma told Newsclick, adding that the police are waiting for the autopsy reports to know the actual cause of their deaths.
However, Raidas’s mother Sitarani alleged foul play. “My son couldn’t have committed suicide. If he had to commit suicide, why would he do it in jail?” she told Newsclick.
“Some cops landed at my house and asked whether I knew my son was in jail. When I said I wasn’t aware of it, they said he had committed suicide and I should arrange for his cremation,” she added.
Accusing the police of killing his son, Kariya’s father Jaganarayan said, “The police informed me that he had ‘hanged himself’ in the jail and asked me to arrange for his shroud. He couldn’t have hanged himself. He was killed there and the jail administration is responsible for his death.”
However, Barma claimed the duo was “dejected and remorseful for killing an innocent and that was the probable reason they committed suicide”.
Barma also claimed that the “bodies had no injury marks” and were sent to the district hospital for post-mortem after permission from the judicial magistrate. “A forensic team has examined the scene of death and post-mortem is being done by a panel of three doctors,” he added.
Human rights activist Ravi Ambedkar told Newsclick, “Deaths of dalits and other minorities under the current regime don’t seem to stop. The Yogi government boasts of having the best law and order in UP, but minorities are the worst sufferers under BJP’s rule.”
He added, “When jail is unsafe, what is the point of boasting of law and order? UP also tops the chart in custodial deaths.”
Another activist Sushil Gautam demanded compensation for the families. “The police know that the government won’t hold them accountable for killing dalits and other minorities in the state.”
He told Newsclick that if the government “can’t ensure safety in jail, what is the point of advertising ‘best law and order’ in the country? We will take legal action against the jail authorities”.
According to local journalists, this is not an isolated case of undertrials dying in jail. Six prisoners died in the Sultanpur jail in the last six months.
On January 1, one Mohd. Sufiyan, imprisoned for the last eight months, died under mysterious circumstances. On April 14, rape-accused Hariram (70), in jail for five years, developed breathing problems and died.