Tuesday, 14 January 2014

For the poor, getting picked by police for questioning is end of freedom

Last week, a city police inspector had once again vindicated the strange fear and
contempt that the poor feel from deep inside when they visit a police station. A 16-year-old school dropout, living with his destitute mother and mentally-challenged sister in a shanty, was shot during interrogation for the crime of attempting to steal from a temple donation box.

Fortunately, Thameem Ansari from Vettuvankani has survived the attack and might live to see better days. But for many poor in the city, getting picked up by police for their alleged role in a crime is their last brush with freedom.

For the past four years, Ramesh (43) from Alwarthirunagar near Virugambakkam has been living with that fear. In 2009, his younger brother Suresh was picked up by the police along with his colleague in a similar manner about a week after an elderly woman, a distant relative, was found murdered at her home near Velachery.  

The two men were locked up in a dingy hotel room for several days and forced to confess to the murder as the police traced their mobile phones near the crime scene at the time of the incident. “Two weeks after he went missing, we came to know that my brother was accused of robbing and murdering the woman and had been put in jail,” Ramesh says.

Ramesh belongs to a poor Saurashtrian family who migrated down South centuries ago. He is the eldest of five brothers who had all gone their separate ways after their marriage. At the time he was picked up, Suresh worked as a salesman and a part time electrician.  “My brother married a woman from Kancheepuram and moved there. However, the couple were divorced a few years after marriage and we did not stay in touch since then,” he says.

Within a few days after his arrest, all the estranged brothers got together decided to fight the case. “When we got together, the police were alarmed. A senior police officer met my brother in jail and confessed that he would not have arrested him if he knew that it would get so much attention,” says Ramesh

Over the next few weeks, the local police cooked enough data to prove that Suresh, who had never been accused of any crime in the past, was a habitual offender threat to society. They booked him under the draconian Goondas Act and ensured he remained in jail. 

However, Ramesh hired an advocate to challenge his detention in Goondas Act and managed to get it quashed within three months.  “But, he was still denied bail for unknown reasons,” Ramesh says.  Barely six months later, a Fast Track court had pronounced the accused guilty of murder and robbery and confined the two men to a life term.  

The family tried to appeal to higher courts but later gave up as various other preoccupations took precedence. “After a point, we could not afford to spend for the case,” says Ramesh who shifted to Thanjavur with his family.  “It’s been a year since I met him,” he says.

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