IN GRAINY FOOTAGE, and a tearful sombre Telugu, Mohammed Khadeer Khan described his ordeal. “For two hours, they hung me upside down and beat me. They beat me with belts, then with sticks.” A few days before Khan’s tearful video went viral, a case of jewellery theft, caught on CCTV cameras, had occurred in Medak, a town in northern Telangana. Medak Police had used unclear footage to claim that Khan was the thief, promptly tracing him down to a Hyderabad suburb and taking him into custody.
For five days, the Medak police tortured Khan, before finding, through his call data records, that he had not been at the site of the crime and that their criminal profiling algorithm, had malfunctioned. He was taken to hospital, where he recorded the viral video. He died shortly after, from his wounds. Khan’s death, on 16 February this year, became what is likely the first case of custodial killing caused by an algorithm.
While Khan’s death rang alarm bells for privacy activists and human-rights organisations, the rapid digitisation of every aspect of the Telangana government is not something the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi is vary of in the slightest. To the contrary, through its last decade in power, digitisation has become the party’s primary pitch to the people of India’s youngest state. Hyderabad’s rapidly growing IT sector, coupled with investment from the world’s largest companies, is something the scion of this inching technocracy and Telangana’s minister of information technology, Kalvakuntla Taraka Rama Rao leverages as his main argument in his party’s underdog fight against the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress. Its visible in his every public speech, and in his Twitter spats. Just months before Khan’s death, KTR, as he popularly known, responded on Twitter to a start-up director angry with the state of Bengaluru’s infrastructure by asking him to pack his bags and “move to Hyderabad, we have better physical infrastructure, and equally good social infrastructure.” He said that his state which had only three mantras, “innovation, infrastructure and inclusive growth.”