The death of a young Muslim man in police custody in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and the subsequent clarification by the police has triggered outrage in India.
Police on Wednesday said 22-year-old Mohammad Altaf hanged himself after he went to the washroom in a police station at Kasganj district in Uttar Pradesh – India’s most populous state governed by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
A photograph showing Altaf hanging from a water pipe in the washroom went viral on social media.
Washroom of the police lock up in UP's Kasganj where 21-year-old Altaf allegedly hanged himself from the tap using a hood drawstring. pic.twitter.com/tLYWC9zYhX
— Piyush Rai (@Benarasiyaa) November 10, 2021
Altaf, a resident of Ahroli village in Kasganj, was taken into police custody on Tuesday morning in a case related to the alleged kidnapping of a minor Hindu girl.
Police say he asked to go to the washroom during the interrogation, where he hanged himself using his jacket’s string which he tied to a water tap.
“During investigation, he [Altaf] asked the cops that he needs to use a washroom. He was taken to the lock-up washroom, where he hanged himself to a tap using the drawstring of his jacket hood,” said Rohan Pramod Botre, the superintendent of police at Kasganj.
The Times of India newspaper on Thursday reported that Altaf was about 5ft 6 inches (167cm) tall and the water pipe was less than three feet (91.4cm) from the ground.
Five police officers have been suspended for negligence in the case and police said it was investigating the incident.
But Altaf’s family has demanded an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into his death.
“I am an illiterate person. I don’t know anything about what happened to my son in police custody,” Altaf’s father Chand Miyan told Al Jazeera. “My only demand is that we should be given justice. There should be a CBI inquiry into the incident.”
On Wednesday, Miyan told reporters he had handed over his son to police himself and that he only came to know about his son’s death through media reporters.
This is Altaf. He was only 21.
He was taken into custody, and within 24 hours, found dead. Police claim he killed himself — a likely cover up for murder.
— Khaled Beydoun (@KhaledBeydoun) November 10, 2021
Rights activists and opposition parties have questioned the police theory behind Altaf’s death.
“This is clearly a custodial death. And custodial deaths should be prima facie treated as custodial murder. The onus has to be on the police to prove that it was not a murder but a suicide,” Kavita Krishnan, a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), told Al Jazeera.
Krishnan said suspending local police officers was not enough and that action should be taken against senior police officers in Kasganj.
“The Uttar Pradesh police is known to suspend people and later promote them and send them to other jurisdictions, so that really means nothing. Just suspending the local cops is not enough. There is a chain of command responsibility here so it is the senior police officers in charge of the district who should be punished.”
Uttar Pradesh’s main opposition party, the Samajwadi Party, attacked the BJP government over yet another “misdeed” by the state’s “trigger-happy police”.
“The guilty policemen should face a murder case and must be punished,” the party said in a statement.
Many on Indian social media used hashtags such as #UP_police_murdered_Altaf and #WeDemandJusticeForAltaf to vent their outrage over the incident.
Earlier this year, India’s home ministry said in the Indian parliament that 348 people died in police custody and 5,221 died in judicial custody in the last three years.
In Uttar Pradesh, 23 people have died in police custody and 1,295 in judicial custody in the same period.