‘Death in detention;’ Dalit woman subjected to cruel treatment died in police custody

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A Dalit woman from Telangana died as a consequence of injuries received during a beating while being held in custody at the Addagudur police station in the Yadadri-Bhongir district four days ago.

Mariyamma and her son, Udaykiran, were taken from their house in Komatlagudem, Madhira, on June 16 by plainclothes Addagudur police officers on suspicion of theft.

According to Telangana Today, Mariyamma was allegedly tortured in Chintakani police station before being transferred to Addagudur police station the next day, where she was assaulted again in front of her daughter by six plainclothes policemen through the night on June 17.

Unable to bear the assault, Mariyamma died of injuries in front of her son, who was also beaten with lathis and leather belt, at Addagudur police station in the early hours of June 18.

“The shocking incident bears testimony to the flagrant violation of human rights and unabated violence against Dalits and other downtrodden sections in the State under the present TRS dispensation,” Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka told reporters at the hospital entrance where Udaykiran is being treated for "caning injuries."

“The mother-son duo was subjected to cruel treatment in the lock-up,” Vikramarka said, calling for harsh punishment for those responsible as well as those allegedly attempting to cover up the heinous crime.

He further urged that the State government take urgent action to prosecute the officers involved in the woman's killing under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, as well as offer a government position and compensation to the victim's family members.

Christian leaders have condemned the police brutality as a "heinous crime" and have raised their voices in support of justice.

“This heinous crime against Mariyamma, a Dalit Christian woman, must be condemned in the strongest way,” Jesuit Father AXJ Bosco, activist for Dalits, told the AsiaNews. He demanded “justice and compensation” for the family as a result of this grave injustice.

“The death in detention of the Dalit woman is a horrible and disgusting fact,” said Father Devasagayaraj M. Zackarias, former national secretary of the commission for disadvantaged castes of the Bishops' Conference of India.

He told the AsiaNews that the incident is “nothing more than a police murder.”

“Vulnerable people face discrimination from society and even those who, like law enforcement, should be neutral are on the side of the oppressors."

"Death in detention has become frequent, and minorities and Dalits are the most affected” Father Zackarias added, citing the case of P Jeyaraj and Emmanuel Bennix, another father and son who were beaten to death in police custody in Sathankulam, Thoothukudi, last June for violating COVID-19 rules.

“Since the poor and the marginalized are voiceless, the police become brutal to the point of killing. This is to be condemned and must stop immediately,” he concluded.

According to Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), “The police have violated the law that no woman can be arrested after dark.”

He told the AsiaNews that ”the Dalits are not only affected in their rights and dignity, but also in their own life. This country is in serious need of police reform. Caste-based violence reached new levels in some southern Indian states during the Covid-19 emergency. There has been a rapid escalation of crimes against Dalit communities which has added to the dehumanization.”

Dalits are the lowest caste in India. According to government statistics, India has more than 200 million Dalits. They are highly vulnerable to discrimination and pushed to the bottom of the Hindu caste structure. Despite the presence of laws safeguarding the lowest castes in society, Dalits, especially women, are subjected to social discrimination across the country, irrespective of their religion.