Zeeshan Malik

A rights group in national capital Delhi is calling for an investigation into the custodial death of a 18-year-old Muslim man Zeeshan Malik and said their fact-finding visit proved that the jail authorities and police officers were complicit in the death.

Since November, Malik was lodged in Tihar jail for his alleged involvement in stealing cigarette packets. While the police authorities say Malik died due to “illness”, his family told Maktoob that it was a custodial murder, citing bruise marks and broken bones as proof.

Janhastakshep, the group in Delhi who prepared a fact-finding report said that it seems no inquest into the circumstances of Malik’s death had been initiated by police even one week after he was “murdered / grievously assaulted in the jail.”

There was only a week submission by the Law Officer of Tihar Jail that the inquest will follow. This was the attitude despite categorical guidelines issued by NHRC in this regard, said the rights group.

Malik, a car repairman, lived in JJ Colony, a slum cluster in East Guru Angad Nagar in Preet Vihar. On 20 November 2021, he was taken into custody by Preet Vihar police after an FIR was filed on the complaint made by one Anil Chaurasia for an alleged theft of cigarette packets from his roadside shop.

The family told Maktoob that they have not been provided with a copy of the FIR or transfer papers to Tihar Jail during the time of arrest and subsequent remand.

Malik’s mother Shanno told the fact-finding group that the police had demanded Rs 15,000 from her for out of court settlement of the case. As the family was not in a position to give the money, Malik was sent to jail.

“It is noteworthy that the sections 457 and 380 slapped on Jishan (Malik) for the ‘grand’ theft of stealing cigarette packets from a shop derive directly from the colonial era Indian Penal Code (IPC) Act of 1860. Crime committed under these sections is non-bailable,” read the report.

It went on to say: “Likewise, in dismissing the first two bail applications filed on behalf of the accused; then granting conditional bail on production of a surety of Rs 20,000 without regard to the socioeconomic circumstances of the accused; in not taking any material cognizance of non-production of the accused in two consecutive hearings; in overlooking the fact that despite having been granted bail, why Jishan continued to languish in jail; and then issuing his release order on personal bond in the classic manner of too little, too late, the learned ACMM may still have satisfied the system he serves, as also his own conscience, for having done his duty.”

On 17 February, Delhi Police handed over the body of Malik to the family after the postmortem. Back at home, as ablution was being performed on the body before burial, the family members said they saw that Malik’s bones had been broken at several places, including ribs and elbows, etc. Before the burial, the family took pictures of the body to have a record of the injuries. The fact-finding team released the images in their report.

When the fact-finding team approached the Director-General of Prison Services, Sandeep Goyal he claimed that he didn’t have any knowledge regarding the matter and directed them to speak with Hukum Chand, the superintendent of Central Jail 5, where zeeshan had been lodged. Chand refused to talk to the team.

Meanwhile, a senior doctor at DDU hospital told the group that there were multiple injury marks on his body that were four to five days old. “At the time of writing the report, the forensic report on the internal body organs was still awaited,” read the fact-finding report.

The fact-finding report concluded that the conduct of the jail authorities in this entire episode bordered on criminality, as indeed it has in many other cases of deaths in judicial custody. According to reports, there have been numerous statutory guidelines laid down by NHRC that were being flagrantly violated in cases of deaths in police or judicial custody.

Janhastakshep has demanded an inquest be ordered immediately under the supervision of NHRC and the jail superintendent of Central Jail 5 at Tihar should be immediately suspended for having failed to uphold the safety of the prisoners under his watch.

“They killed my only hope. They murdered my son. No one can return my son to me now. At least punish those who killed him,” Malik’s mother said to Maktoob.

She works as a domestic worker to help support the family.

“What can I say now? They have ruined my family. For the past six days, I’ve hardly eaten anything. I only think of my baccha [son] and how he was murdered. Help us get justice for him,” Malik’s father, Mohammad Yakub Malik said to Maktoob.

He rides a cycle rickshaw in Preet Vihar area.

This article first appeared on maktoobmedia.com