Can cops fix you? Yes, says email that police wont comment upon - Police custody death
Around 6am on this August 14, four civic police volunteers took a 26-year-old man named Raju Thandar to a government hospital in Bolpur. He was declared brought dead.
Bolpur police registered an unnatural death case, saying Thandar was found with injury marks by local people near the hospital.
The police version was greeted with scepticism and an irate crowd ransacked the Bolpur police station, alleging that Thandar, a truck driver, was tortured to death in custody. The police stuck to their account and insisted that Thandar was never arrested.
Eleven days later, the Bolpur police station inspector-in-charge, Prabir Kumar Dutta, was temporarily transferred without disclosing any reason in public.
The matter would have been lost in the maws of law enforcement bureaucracy but for the surfacing of a purported email from the inspector-in-charge to the Birbhum superintendent of police, the senior-most cop in the district.
The email, attributed to the inspector-in-charge and addressed to the SP and other senior officers in the district, says: "...one person... seeing the police vehicle he tried to flew (sic) away but after a chase he was apprehended. He disclosed his identity as Raju Thandar (26y)...."
The email was obtained and circulated by the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) in Birbhum.
If the email is authentic, it punches a gaping hole in the police story and confirms an allegation that strikes at the root of law-enforcement and personal liberty: fudging records to suit official versions.
Such allegations are not uncommon and sometimes are levelled by vested interests to weaken a case but rarely have emails emerged with specific details that add traction to charges of a cover-up.
Digital fraud is also common and it is possible to cook up emails. However, till late this evening, no official denial about the authenticity of the email had been issued.
The Telegraph held back this report for 48 hours on the expectation that officials will respond to questions and clear the air on the authenticity or otherwise of the email.
In the absence of an official reaction - other than a response from the SP asking "what is the question?" - the newspaper is publishing this report because the issue affects every citizen.
The purported email from the inspector-in-charge to the SP was sent at 12.04am on August 14, around six hours before Thandar was taken to the hospital.
The email says the complaint from a sub-inspector, who arrested Thandar, was received at the police station at "21:15 hrs" on August 13 -around nine hours before he was taken to the hospital.
The email says the sub-inspector came across Thandar at "20:05 hrs" - around 10 hours before he was taken to the hospital.
Yet, the police report on the unnatural death states Thandar was found near the hospital. It makes no mention of any such arrest.
The email refers to "Case No. 223/16".
However, a purported copy of the first information report with the same number, 223/16, shows the name of the accused as Babar Sk, a mason who told this newspaper today that he was originally picked up in neighbouring Nanoor on the same evening of August 13.
In the purported FIR copy - circulated again by the APDR - the words "Babar Sk S/o Yousuf Sk of Chandidas, Nanoor" appear darker than the rest of the entries. Traces of smudged letters can be seen beneath - similar to the manner in which letters appear when whiteners are applied and fresh words are scrawled over the paper.
The purported email on Thandar and the purported copy of the FIR have several common factors: the arresting officer (SI Pradip Sarkar), the place (Bolpur-Bahiri Road), the time of the arrest ("20.05 hrs") and the time of registration of complaint ("21.05hrs"). A mistake is identical, too: both documents use the phrase "flew away" in place of "flee".
Another striking common feature: both have been accused of carrying the same type of unlicensed weapons. Country-made guns of "about 3ft 4 inch of length, having wooden butt, trigger, firing pin etc and one round .303 live ammunition". The only variance in language is that the FIR adds after the length "approx".
Serendipitous discovery of guns is said to be the oldest trick in the book when a person needs to be kept in custody but there is no immediate proof that sticks.
On Thursday, The Telegraph sent two questions, along with a copy of the email, on WhatsApp to Birbhum SP Sudheer Kumar.
The questions were "the document that was sent, is it genuine or false? If it is false, will you file a defamation case against those who are circulating this document?"
The SP answered: "What was your question?"
Since then, there has been no response from the SP.
Most of the other senior officers to whom the purported email was sent confirmed that the email address tallied but added that they would not be able to comment on the veracity of the content.
Dutta, the inspector-in-charge of Bolpur police station and to whom the email is attributed, answered a phone call this evening, said "hello" several times and the line went off. Subsequent calls met with the response that the phone was switched off.
Shown the copy of the email, Sarkar, the SI, said this morning: "This is our official document. How did you get hold of it? There must have been a leak from our end. I refuse to comment on the content because I have not sent the email. I will not comment on it."
By most accounts, the police had launched a crackdown on August 13 and picked up several persons on suspicion of allegiance to rival gangsters.
For some reason, it appears that matters went out of hand in Thandar's case.
However, by then, the bureaucratic wheels had turned and the details of the arrest had been forwarded in the form of the email to the SP and other senior officers as is the routine practice.
Babar, now out on bail, told this newspaper he was picked up on August 13 but was initially kept in the Nanoor police lock-up. Late in the night, he was taken to the border of the Nanoor police jurisdiction, handed over to Bolpur police and taken to the police station in Bolpur, 20km away, he said.
On the day of the death, Thandar's wife had claimed that the police had gone to their home in the evening the previous day (August 13), picked him up and returned with him sometime later. The police kept asking Thandar where he had kept the stolen goods and again took him away, the wife said. The suspicion is the police were probing a theft complaint.
On September 5, the post-mortem report on Thandar said: "Death was due to severe head injury causing cardio respiratory failure. Final opinion kept reserved for chemical analysis report."
Thandar's father-in-law Mihir Birbangshi said: "We have not got the post-mortem report. The police have not told us anything regarding my son-in-law's death."
On September 21, the police started a case of murder.
Sailen Mishra, the secretary of APDR in Birbhum, said: "We have sent a complaint to the chief minister about the suppression of the case. We have documents which clearly say that Raju was arrested by the police on August 13. However, in the official FIR, the name of the arrested person was replaced by that of Babar Sheikh.