Horror in custody: murder and rape at the hands of ‘protectors’

In 1992, Annamalai Nagar policemen took a man from a hut, where he and his wife were sleeping, to the station for inquiry. He was wrongly kept in the lock-up for three days. The wife was gang-raped by policemen at the station and the man died of torture

February 25, 2024 10:18 pm | Updated February 26, 2024 04:32 pm IST

Illustration by Soumyadip Sinha

Illustration by Soumyadip Sinha

A violent knock on the door in the early hours of May 30, 1992, woke up Vijaya*, 26 and her husband Gopal*, 27, who were fast asleep. A posse of police from the Annamalai Nagar station at Chidambaram barged into their hut and pulled Gopal out by his hair. Despite Vijaya’s protests, they dragged him to the police vehicle and whisked him away. At dawn, Vijaya went to the station where she saw her husband in the lock-up. A constable told her that her husband would be released shortly after an inquiry. She was told that frequent thefts of electric items were reported from the neighbourhood and since Gopal was involved in a petty theft case, the police brought him to the station for an inquiry.

Vijaya belonged to a most backward caste, and had been living at Chidambaram. At a young age, she got married to a married man against the wishes of her parents. She gave birth to a child which later died. While working as a part-time sweeper at a college at Annamalai Nagar, she became acquainted with Gopal, a mason, and they got married. As the theft of fans, motor pumps, and tape recorders was reported frequently in the Annamalai Nagar police station limits, the police constituted a special team. It was led by sub-inspector A. Ibrahim Sheriff and included six constables. Since Gopal was facing a case of theft, the team took him to the police station and confined him, along with two other suspects, in the lock-up.

Beaten up throughout night

Meanwhile, Vijaya approached the clerk of a lawyer for moving a bail petition for her husband, but was asked to come later as it was a weekend. On the morning of May 31, when she went to the station to meet her husband, she learnt that he was beaten up throughout the night. In the afternoon, three policemen came to her house and beat her. She was forced into an autorickshaw in which her handcuffed husband was sitting with another suspect. She was also shoved into the autorickshaw, which took them to the Annamalai Nagar station where she was brutally assaulted and made to stay in the station with two women constables who left in the early hours of June 1, 1992.

At 8 p.m. on June 1, Gopal was brought out of the lock-up. One of the policemen said someone would remove the sari of his wife and he would have to see it. He called out one of the suspects from the lock-up and asked him to remove her sari. But he refused to do so. Subsequently, the policemen stripped her naked and made her run nude in the courtyard. One of them beat her too. 

On June 2, a Tuesday, Gopal’s sister and her husband were brought to the station for an inquiry in connection with the theft of a tape recorder. Policemen warned the brother-in-law of Gopal that he would see his wife stripped as it was done to the wife of Gopal a day before. At 10.30 p.m., Gopal was brought out of the lock-up and before his eyes, his wife was raped by the station house officer. Four others followed suit. As policemen beat Gopal, he fainted. When she went towards Gopal to give water, all the five attempted to rape her again; then, she bit the leg of a policeman.

On Wednesday, she was taken to the Chidambaram Town station where she heard that there was an agitation due to a death at the Annamalai Nagar station. By then, she was let out. She ran towards the taluk office to lodge a complaint with a revenue official. But she was directed to Annamalai Nagar where revenue officials were camping. She rushed to the station and told the officials that she was raped by the policemen who had killed her husband too. The police said Gopal had committed suicide in the lock-up in the morning.

High Court moved

K. Balakrishanan, South Arcot district secretary of the CPI(M), and his wife B. Jansi Rani, president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, came to the hospital. She met them and narrated the incident. Ms. Jansi Rani recalled, “Despite all hurdles, we moved the Madras High Court for immediate remedy: an impartial inquiry and compensation to the victim.”

The police did not register a case for offences she had alleged in her complaint. In July, the High Court ordered the then CB-CID Superintendent of Police, Letika Saran, to investigate the death of Gopal in custody and the rape of his wife. Ms. Letika Saran, who went on to become the DGP, said, “At that time, there was much scepticism whether we would do a fair job. We were going in not only for oral evidence but also scientific evidence. We conducted an identification parade twice for witnesses to identify the accused. We had exhumed the body of the deceased and conducted a post-mortem twice to ascertain the allegation of murder.”

The CB-CID filed a charge sheet against 11 police personnel for rape, outraging the modesty of a woman, wrongful confinement, and hurt. The trial was conducted at the Sessions Court, Cuddalore. On September 4, 1997, judge S.R. Singaravelu, convicted six policemen and acquitted the others. Inspector B. Jayaraman and sub-inspector Ibrahim Sheriff were convicted for wrongful confinement and creating incorrect records. They were sentenced to three years in prison, besides a fine of ₹5,000. Constables Mohaboo Batcha, S. Parthasarathy, D. Jaffer Sadiq, and N. Karunanidhi were convicted for rape and sentenced to 10-year rigorous imprisonment and a fine of ₹5,000. On March 29, 2011, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction. The convicts did their prison terms. The victim was given a compensation and a job by the government.

(*names changed)

(Assistance for overcoming suicidal thoughts is available on the State’s health helpline 104, Tele-MANAS 14416. and Sneha’s suicide prevention helpline 044-24640050.)

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