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Should accused locked in police cells be kept naked or in underwear to prevent suicide? The Meghalaya home minister Roshan Warjri’s reply to a question about custodial deaths signals such kind of a message. The minister did not directly say that something needs to be done with the pajamas with which the accused commit suicide in police lock-ups. She revealed the ‘fact’ that around 10 persons died in police lock-ups in the past five years in the state. Most of the ten deaths are suicide cases, according to the government. The minister’s remark bears importance in the wake of incidents of two custodial deaths within eight days in Garo Hills recently. Aftershocks of the deaths of Balsan Marak in judicial custody and Wiston Sangma, a Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) worker, inside a police lock-up, are yet to die down in Garo Hills.

Even if the minister’s reply is taken on its face value, the stress laid on the piece of cloth with which the accused commit suicide is uncalled for. Rather the stress should be laid on the reasons for the suicide. There must be something wrong on the part of police which prompted the accused to commit suicide. Normally, such accused who commit suicide due to ‘shame’ are not hard core criminals. If the country’s law can allow even murderers skip death sentence with some years of jail term, should there be no provision for preventing such deaths of petty criminals? Can’t it be understood as police inefficiency in dealing with different types of offenders?

It is often seen that the men in uniform tend to bully the petty offenders. Cops are seen openly beating up auto drivers, rickshaw pullers, roadside vendors for minor offenses. Of course, it is a normal human tendency to attack somebody who cannot fight back. But should the so-called peacekeepers too indulge in the barbaric tendency? India’s Constitution says every citizen has equal rights. They know it better because they swear by the Constitution to protect the law at any cost. We never come across a cop beating up a BMW driver on the street even for any major traffic offenses. Warjri’s remark in the assembly trying to brand the ‘pajama’ as culprit behind custodial deaths is highly insensitive. She should rather tell the police to train their men as to how to deal with accused persons.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on June 14, 2014)