17 years since custodial death, family of Khwaja Yunus still awaits justice

Mumbai: The Thootukudi custodial deaths of Jayaraj and Bennicks have brought the spotlight back on such deaths in custody. The Khwaja Yunus custodial death case, as it is called, last saw a witness in January 2018 - the only witness to be examined till date.

27-year-old software engineer Khwaja Yunus had been arrested in December 25, 2002 in connection with the Ghatkopar BEST bus blast case. Police claim he had escaped from their custody when being taken to Aurangabad for investigation. It took Khwaja Ayub - his father - over a year to file a writ petition before the Bombay High Court and a HC order to get an FIR registered in connection with his disappearance.

Yunus’s father had run pillar to post to make this happen. Being from Parbhani, for the 68-year-old, the repeated trips to Mumbai and the loss of his son had made his blood pressure condition worse. He died a few days after the HC order in April 2004. Thereafter, it has been his mother Asiya Begam, now 73, who is carrying forward the family’s fight for justice.

Over the years, the case has seen three special public prosecutors (SPP). While two prosecutors resigned, the last one, Dhiraj Mirajkar, was suddenly removed. No appointment has been made in his place for over two years now. Yunus’s mother has filed a petition in the HC challenging Mirajkar’s removal.

Says Yug Mohit Chaudhary who was the SPP before Mirajkar and handled the case between 2013 and 2015, before resigning, “Mirajkar was removed because he was doing a fantastic job. The state does not want success in this case.”

Mirajkar was removed from the case after he had made a plea under Section 319 of the CrPC, seeking police officers who had been named by Dr Abdul Mateen - a key witness – but were not among the accused facing trial, be tried too. Dr. Abdul Mateen was the first prosecution witness and a co-accused of Yunus who had been in custody along with him and had seen the assault. In his deposition he had named retired ACP Prafulla Bhosale and inspector Hemant Desai as the ones who had assaulted Yunus, and senior inspector Rajaram Vhanmane and inspector Ashok Khot as present in the room. They had been among the 14 policemen the CID had sought to prosecute in the case. The state government had, however, given sanction to prosecute only four of the 14 - Assistant police inspector Sachin Vaze and three constables Rajendra Tiwari, Sunil Desai, Rajaram Nikam - who now face trial.

Mirajkar was in court to argue the plea when he was informed that he has been removed. “It was sudden. They had my email ID, my phone number, they could have told me earlier. The way things were going, it was to be expected. But I had to do my job,” Mirajkar says.

Younus had returned from Dubai where he had been working for 18 months then, for a month’s vacation, his elder brother Sayed Hussain said. Police had come looking for him to their home one night. “They didn’t have any details except his name. It is we who gave them his photo - everything,” he says. At that time, Yunus had been for a picnic with his friends to the hill station of Chikaldhara. He was arrested and taken to Mumbai. A few days later, the police claim they were taking Yunus to Aurangabad for further investigation, when their jeep fell into a gorge having met with an accident and while the police jumped out just in time, Yunus escaped. The Parner police station where they filed the FIR against Yunus for escaping from custody filed a B summary report in court - meaning they found the complaint to be false, filed with malicious purpose.

Advocate Chetan Mali has been representing Yunus’s mother for a decade now. He does not see hope of the case being concluded for another 10 years. Mali recalls that every time they lost a prosecutor, it had taken about a year and a half to get another. This time though, the wait has been the longest.

Says Hussain, “Justice is so delayed, it seems the government doesn’t want us to get justice.”

Of the 19 accused in the Ghatkopar blast case, 10 had been discharged earlier and others acquitted in 2005, with the court calling the prosecution case ‘weak’ in its judgment.

Principal Secretary, state Law and judiciary department RN Laddha did not respond to queries despite calls and messages.

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