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Published in the 16-31 March 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Yunus case: who'll police the police?

By MH Lakdawala

The Milli Gazette Online

Mumbai: Back in the modest Syed household in Parbhani, it was the television that broke the news of the arrest of four police officers in the case of Khwaja Yunus. But 63-year-old Syed Khwaja Ayub was not around to feel vindicated. The man who fought a hard battle to expose the policemen blamed for killing his son in custody, died last year, heart-broken.

Khwaja Yunus

Khwaja Yunus

The state CID on 5 March 2005 arrested four Crime Branch officers in connection with the alleged custodial killing of suspected Ghatkopar bomb blast accused Khwaja Yunus, a 27-year-old engineering graduate. The blast in Ghatkopar, which occurred in a BEST bus in December 2002, was the first in a series of explosions which rocked Mumbai during the next eight months.

The officers include Senior Police Inspector Praful Bhosle, assistant police inspectors Hemant Desai and Rajan Vanmane and Police Sub-Inspector Ashok Khot from the Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU) at Ghatkopar. 

The squad, according to police records, was responsible for arresting Yunus from Parbhani. However, he was later reported to have "escaped" from custody on Jan 7, 2003. The police had already arrested another Crime Branch officer, Sachin Vaze, early last year in connection with the case. He was acquitted after he was kept in detention for 56 days. 

Mumbai police maintains that Yunus had "disappeared" when a police vehicle carrying him to Ahmednagar on January 7, 2003 met with an accident. But his family did not buy this theory form the very beginning. "How was it possible for a van to overturn and knock out four policemen while Yunus, who was in handcuffs, managed to escape?" a family member had said then. Dr Abdul Mateen, who was a doctor of forensic medicine at JJ Hospital, said that officers of the crime branch had alleged in the trial court that Yunus was tortured in police custody as a result of which he died. Dr Mateen had seen Yunus vomiting blood after the police hit him in the chest. Yunus was never seen after that incident. Most probably he was liquidated once his death due to torture became imminent.

Yunus' family, fearing he had been killed in a fake encounter, filed a habeas corpus plea. The Supreme Court directed the state CID to treat Mateen's statement as an FIR and to conduct a fresh probe. The CID arrested API Sachin Vaze and three constables who claimed to have "escorted Yunus when he escaped". 

The lower court had ordered a monthly compensation of Rs 5000 to the family of Khwaja Yunus until and unless he was produced dead or alive. The state filed an appeal in the High Court which stayed the lower court's order. The Bombay High Court then came down heavily on CID for "shoddy" investigations and asked why FIR had not been registered against arrested cop Sachin Vaze.

Hearing a habeas corpus petition filed by the father of the accused, another bench had earlier observed that not much progress had been made in the case. They had even threatened to transfer the matter to CBI for investigation.

Thanks to our judicial system, Yunus's father was able to exert legal pressure on the CID. What's more, the CID itself was directed to investigate the case with a deadline of March 3, 2004. It was like a thief investigating theft! Prejury without a trial is not a legal offence, but by the ease with which the Police get rid of evidence and even legal cases, the practice certainly seems to be rampant. Who'll be the next victim isn't an important question now. The real question here is: who'll police the Police? Hashiya Begum, mother of Khwaja Yunus, then had said "Pota has swallowed my son." She did not want any other mother to relive her fate. She said, "Tomorrow it could trap somebody else's child." 

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