'Custodial deaths... a manifestation of the darker side of the guardians of civil liberties': Delhi HC

Shanu Shahnawaz Choudhary, who intervened in a roadside fight, was first illegally confined and tortured by Delhi Police and eventually died in the custody. On the evening of 7th September ’2015, Shahnawaz with his wife and a three month old baby was going to a hospital in East Delhi. On their way they witnessed a fight between a couple and Shahnawaz intervened in presence of policemen, who asked him to stay out of the matter. Eventually the policemen rebuffed him and snatched the motorcycle keys the family was travelling on. The policemen started beating Shahnawaz and separated their 3 month old baby from him and Rabia. They bundled him into the police van and continued to hit him badly. Rabia’s pleading was as if going on deaf ears. Subsequently he was taken inside the Nand Nagri Police Station and Rabia was told that he was taken to hospital because of ill health. Rabia was not informed of the status of the health and well-being of her husband. At 2 am, her statement was recorded by the metropolitan magistrate under pressure by the policemen present and threat to the well-being of Shahnawaz. Same night she went searching for her husband at the GTB hospital, to be found nowhere. She waited outside the Nand Nagri station for the whole night till 7 in the morning. Only when she returned again with her father was she told about Shahnawaz’s death and that he was declared “dead on arrival by the doctor at the GTB Hospital on the previous day. “ His death followed protest on the streets by the people of the area. Through HRLN’s intervention, Shahnawaz's wife Rabia@ Mamta had filed a writ petition in Delhi High Court. The high court passed a judgement on 20th October’2015. A judicial enquiry by magistrate examined, “that the deceased Shanu died due to asphyxia caused by compression of neck. The internal injuries on the neck of the deceased show that force was applied by the broad object on the neck of the deceased due to which the deceased expired. The medical evidence on record clearly proves that this is not a case of natural death and rather it is a case of homicide.” In the judgement he also observed, “Custodial deaths are anathema in a civilized society and militate against all the ideals and protections enshrined and guaranteed by the Constitution of India. Custodial deaths are a violation of basic human rights and are a convoluted manifestation of the darker side of the guardians of civil liberties. “ The court ordered directions “for an effective and independent investigation” and “to restore the confidence of the general public in the force, the officers found to be delinquent and complicit in Shahnawaz Chaudhari’s death be suspended and/or transferred during the pendency of the enquiry/investigation.”