Custodial torture, surveillance: How Telangana cops breached rights for ‘law and order’

The Telangana police under the BRS government has been criticised for its heavy handedness, and incidents of human rights violations.

WrittenBy:Anjana Meenakshi
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Telangana was ranked third among 18 states in the India Justice Report 2022, which analyses data on police, prison, judiciary and legal aid. It also had the “best policing score” as per the report. But the policing system in the state has been widely criticised for use of custodial torture and human rights violations through preventive detention and violation of citizens’ privacy through technology and high-handed search operations.

With the state assembly elections scheduled for November 30, The News Minute examined how the system of policing has fared in Telangana under the Bharat Rashtra Samithi-led state government.

In the last three years, there have been three instances of custodial torture by the Telangana police. Two of them involved women from marginalised communities.

Three incidents of custodial torture

In August 2023, the LB Nagar police in Hyderabad’s Telangana was accused of torturing Laxmi, a woman from the scheduled tribe of Lambada. 

On her way back to her home after visiting a relative, Laxmi was illegally detained for an entire night on charges of soliciting, which she denied. Her medical reports said she suffered severe contusions or bruises on her thighs, back, forearms, and hands. 

Unlike Laxmi, Mariamma and Mohammed Khadeer Khan did not survive the custodial torture. 

Ambadipudli Mariamma, a woman belonging to the Mala scheduled caste, along with her 21-year-old son Uday was subjected to brutal violence by the Addagudur police under the Rachakonda commissionerate limits in June 2021. 

A resident of Chintakani in Telangana’s Khammam district, Mariamma was employed as a cook in the house of priest, Father Balashouri, who accused her of stealing Rs 2 lakh from his house. After the FIR was registered, Mariamma was taken into custody, and a police official allegedly assaulted her by kicking her in the stomach. Mariamma soon fell ill and passed away. 

Khadeer Khan, who was detained by the Medak police on charges of theft also experienced brutal torture at the hands of police. 

In a video statement which went viral, Khadeer described alleged torture in graphic detail. “They hung me upside down for two hours and assaulted me. They beat me on my legs, hands… and all over my body. Now my hands and legs are not functioning,” he had said. 

His wife said Khadeer suffered multiple fractures, including renal fracture, and dislocation of the spine. He subsequently died on February 16 while availing treatment at Hyderabd’s Gandhi hospital. 

In August 2023, a group of civil rights activists submitted a representation to the Telangana State Legal Services Authority, alleging that trans women were picked up, taken to the police stations where they were stripped, and then forced into “male clothes” bought with the money taken from them. Photographs of the arrested trans women wearing shirts and T-shirts also appeared on social media.

While speaking to The News Minute, deputy commissioner of police North Zone Chandana Deepthi said trans persons are people with “biological deformities”. The officer also said that they do not have “fully developed (genital) organs”, or are “not of any particular gender”, or both. She further said transgender persons have a “tendency to dress up like women,” revealing her inadequate understanding of gender. 

Police crack down, arbitrary raids

The state police has been conducting cordon and searches in Telangana’s capital Hyderabad with police officials arguing that it is an attempt to monitor criminals and clamp down on crime. 

A cordon and search operation is one wherein police officials cordon off an area and search it either to “catch criminals”, “clamp down on drugs” or “retrieve stolen property”. 

These operations are a controversial military exercise which was used by the Indian security forces in the early 1990s in the Kashmir Valley. After a pause, it was re-started in 2017. They are termed as human rights violations by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

A fact finding committee in November 2021, comprising activists from Human Rights Forum, Chatianya Mahila Samakhya and Dalit Womens’ Collective said that invariably the areas searched are slums inhabited by working class Dalits and Muslims.

“These neighbourhoods included Chandraiah Huts, Hanumanthu huts and Narsaiah huts, which is a settlement of 236 huts, along the banks of the Musi. A large number of dwellers here, the team said, were Madigas, and a few families belonging to Scheduled Tribes, and Muslims. The committee also interacted with residents of Nawab Sahab Kunta and Teegal Kunta which also saw cordon and search operations,” the report observed. 

The committee observed that several women who lived in these slums were frightened by the enormous police presence. “Such operations enable a range of human rights violations, including physical intimidation and assault, invasion of privacy, arbitrary and unlawful detention, collective punishment and destruction of private property’, and underscored that such areas tend to be projected as ‘criminal areas’,” the report said.

In the Kala Patthar area of Hyderabad, the city police conducted a search operation on May 31 this year, between 1 am and 4 am and entered households without a warrant. 

Activists then alleged that the police action qualified as a vexatious search under the Hyderabad Police Act as they were done arbitrarily and without any rationale. 

The operation was led by south zone deputy commissioner of police Sai Chaitanya, along with 250 police personnel. In July, the officer told The News Minute that cordon and search operations were done to nab 20 accused who were issued non-bailable warrants but refused to appear before the court. They were accused in housebreaking, burglary, and criminal assault cases. 

“The operations are carried out mainly at night because the accused can abscond easily during the day.  There is nothing illegal or arbitrary about this move. We had the warrant issued by Hyderabad commissioner of police CV Anand, who is empowered to act in a magisterial capacity if the need arises,” he said.

Surveillance state, invasion of privacy 

In August 2022, a police Command Control Centre was inaugurated in Hyderabad. 

CV Anand, who was then the commissioner of police, had said that the $75 million-worth CCC will serve as the city’s “third eye”. “If we need to control crime, we need to have surveillance.”

In November 2021, international human rights organisation Amnesty International raised concerns over the extensive surveillance in Hyderabad. It stated that the surveillance was putting human rights at risk. 

In its report, Amnesty noted that Hyderabad is one of the most surveilled cities in the world and the setting up of the CCC, intended to connect the state’s vast facial recognition-capable CCTV infrastructure in real-time could have disastrous effects on human rights.

 Another study by the Internet Freedom Foundation found that Telangana state has the highest number of facial recognition technology projects in India. 

Apart from the mass surveillance and use of CCTV cameras, the city police have also invaded citizens’ privacy on various counts. 

In October 2021, the city police in its bid to “eradicate ganja or marijuana from Hyderabad” conducted raids wherein they would stop people at random on the streets and check their WhatsApp chats for the words “ganja” and “drugs” to purportedly check if they were either involved in “peddling or consumption of cannabis”. 

Police officials in Hyderabad can also be seen going around with Android tablets taking photos and verifying identities of the citizens using the TSCOP application. 

Inaugurating the app in 2018, Telangana director general of police M Mahender Reddy said that the app has been envisaged to facilitate easy access of critical information “anytime, anywhere” to the police officers in the state. 

“All the 54 services of the department are integrated into the app. The app will be useful to identify suspects in an offence by verifying Aadhaar number, voter ID, driving licence, vehicle registration or mobile phone number,” he said. 

Misuse of Preventive Detention  Act 

The Supreme Court had recently criticised the Telangana police for invoking the preventive detention law without any real need to do so. 

The apex court made the observation in the Ameena Begum v State of Telangana case, while quashing a preventive detention order against the appellant’s husband. 

“While the nation celebrates Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav to commemorate 75 years of independence from foreign rule, some police officers of the said state who are enjoined with the duty to prevent crimes and are equally responsible for protecting the rights of citizens as well, seem to be oblivious of the Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the Constitution and are curbing the liberty and freedom of the people,” the SC had observed while noting that police “cannot use the PD act at the drop of a hat”.

This report has been published as part of the joint NL-TNM Election Fund and is supported by hundreds of readers. Click here to power our ground reports.

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