Police State: Terror in Uniform
Anand Soondas , TIMES OF INDIA Crest, 16 January 2010, 11:33am IST
The youngest of Meera Yadav’s three daughters , Parul, just 4, was still crying, unhappy with the frugal dinner of some rough rice and boiled potatoes, when she heard a soft knock on the rickety tin fence that served as a door for her shapeless little shack. A burly man stood outside, somewhat unsteady on his legs due to what smelled like freshly consumed alcohol. There were two others behind him, laughing at a crude joke one of them had just cracked. “Is that your husband,” asked the first policeman. Before she could answer, they had dragged him out in the open. By now, all the three kids were screaming with fear. The blows kept raining. It stopped long after the villagers in one of Chandigarh’s slums had collected in numbers and gathered enough courage to demand from the assaulters a reason for the battering. It was only the next day that Meera would know what their crime was – her husband had taken off the Shiromani Akali Dal flag someone had planted on the roof of their hut and replaced it with the one belonging to a party he would vote for in the Assembly elections. “But when I rushed to the cops to complain, they pushed me out of the thana. One of them threatened to file a case against me instead,” Meera would later say, shuddering more at the menace in the policemen’s voice than at the incident. “They said the next time I came with a complaint against the goons, they would beat me and the children.” Meera was lucky she didn’t go back to the cops – a mistake Sarita made. The desperate 22-year-old had gone to the Rohtak police station for the umpteenth time, pleading with the officers to let her husband, who was framed in a cooked-up motorcycle theft case, go. It was then that the constables on duty thought they had tolerated her enough. They gang-raped her. Sarita committed suicide at the Haryana police headquarters on June 9, 2008. When her distraught husband and small child sat on a dharna to ask for justice, the police promptly picked them up and had them locked up.
A 45-year-old mother and her 24-year-old son would kill themselves a year later in Jind, Haryana again, unable to take the harassment and torture of the police. “They were just petitioning for action on the murder of my elder son,” Ramdiya said, recounting the death of his wife Dayawanti and son Sandeep in October last year. “Both were forcibly thrown into Ambala jail on August 11, 2009, like hardened criminals. They couldn’t take it anymore. I had such a happy family. I have no one left now. Everybody’s dead.” In neighbouring Punjab, on a cold January day in 2001, Avtar Singh, the only son of his parents, asked three men blocking a narrow Ludhiana street with their car – they were drinking and eating to let him pass. That was an affront police inspector Gurmit Singh Pinky could not digest. He pumped a fistful of bullets into the young man’s chest. Equally heinous was the case of Swaran Singh Hundal, who killed promising folk singer Dilshad Akhtar with an AK-47 after the artist declined to sing a song the cop wanted him to. Hundal was dismissed from service and was jailed for a while, but the police top brass later reinstated him and the killer retired as DSP in 2002. It’s a different matter that Hundal, who was charged in other cases as well, committed suicide in 2008.
SWAGGER OF THE DEPRAVED
But if what Pinky and Hundal did was dastardly, Ajit Singh Bains, a retired judge of the Punjab and Haryana high court, recounts a horrifying incident which was depraved. “In October 1991, some policemen killed a one-and-a-half-year-old baby and seven other members of the family, including three women,” he said.”Their method of murder was atrocious and they actually peeled off the victims’ skin and poured hot tar and diesel on their wounds. No action was taken against these cops.”
There’s an unmistakable swagger in modern day cops as they increasingly turn into a brutal and brutalising force. Armed with the knowledge that a mostly corrupt lot of MPs, MLAs and ministers, with skeletons in their own cupboards, will not be able to wield the moral lathi to rein them in, the conduct of officers and even lower-ranked men in the police has only become more brazen, more bizarre. It is perhaps this that allows men like SPS Rathore to believe they can first molest a young girl and then browbeat her family into submission. And the way the former Haryana DGP turned the entire system into accomplices – ministers, local netas, school authorities, his minions in the department – as he hounded Ruchika Girhotra into committing suicide is a case study of how top cops have the power to do what they want with the lives of the truly disenfranchised, which in India is anyone who doesn’t have a real “connection” to make his voice heard.
The Rathore shame – his cronies during a torture session went to the extent of offering Ruchika’s brother urine when he asked for water – played out even as a Rajasthani tribal woman, who was allegedly raped by a police officer 13 years ago, cried again for justice. The case involved a former DIG of Rajasthan police, Madhukar Tandon, who took advantage of his influence and managed to evade the law for 13 years. After the ongoing hue and cry over the Ruchika case, and subsequent protests by the Alwar-based victim, the state government appointed teams to nab the culprit. Not surprisingly, Tandon has managed to evade arrest. It is also this cocky belligerence that allows a DGP like B B Mohanty to indefinitely shield his son, Bitti, accused of raping a German tourist in Rajasthan. And though the government of Naveen Patnaik suspended Mohanty, who was heading the home guards then, the punishment was revoked later. Bitti, granted a 14-day parole on November 20, 2006, jumped it and has been on the loose since.
Or take the case of the string of officers who played host to fake stamps kingpin Abdul Karim Telgi, even offering him chicken biryani once while he was in their custody. Something which was never reported, but widely heard by crime reporters doing the rounds of the Crawford Market police headquarters in Mumbai, was that the wife of a police commissioner in the ’90s would book a room in a city hotel once every month for officers under her husband to come with their “collections” of the last 30 days. So confident are cops that they can get away with anything, they don’t seem to care a whit about normal ethics or morality- like the Mumbai policemen who were caught having fun at a Christmas-eve party sponsored by the Chhota Rajan gang. An embarrassed Ashok Chavan government in Maharashtra quickly suspended five errant men, among them DCP V N Salve and ACP Prakash Wani.
In all this, what is most disconcerting is the parallel business policemen, across ranks and departments, run in the name of dispensing justice or tackling crime. A textile businessman’s vehicle was recently stopped in Mumbai by cops who wanted him to pay them hafta (protection money). The police had already gathered information on him from his rivals and demanded Rs 2.5 lakh every month. The deal did not work out and soon the businessman was booked for “carrying arms”.
“I know of several instances where our own personnel pursue business interests with people of questionable background,” a senior officer admitted wryly. IPS officerturned-lawyer Y P Singh said, “They do this because they have no fear of punishment and there is total lack of accountability. Plus, they are sure that seniors will support them.”
The arrest of encounter specialist Pradeep Sharma, with whom the law finally caught up for staging fake encounters, is a case in point. “He had a free run till some years ago,’’ a colleague said. “Senior police officers gave him the go-ahead for encounters without ascertaining the real reason. He was running a parallel force. Sharma, in return, helped his friends get plum postings through his political connections.”
Then there was a builder who got his rival booked through IPS officer Bipin Bihari for attempted murder. “We took action by suspending the team involved. But I agree that they believed they could manage the criminal justice system. It is alarming that officers are being used to settle scores,” a senior police officer said.
But it is the poor across India who are most at risk from a rampaging force. It is they who cower, almost at all times, from the unpredictable, brute violence the men in uniform are capable of unleashing. K Guruviah, a farmer, and his wife Angammal, of M Kallupatti near Usilampatti in Tamil Nadu, were picked up by the police in July 1998 on the suspicion that they had received some stolen goods from a gang of thieves. Both were tortured for seven days, and at Oomachikulam police station they were undressed and made to simulate sex in the presence of police officials. Some of them later physically abused Angammal. Guruviah died moments after he was admitted to hospital.
Far from Chennai, Rajendra Yadav, a resident of Telari in Jharkhand, was taken into custody by the Chhatarpur police on December 30 last year. There was no arrest warrant. Barely 24 hours after he was taken to IPS officer Jatin Narwal’s residence in Palamau — where he complained of severe stomach pain — he was dead. A postmortem revealed severe assault had led to his death.
In the infamous and widely-publicised Rizwanur Rahman case, Justice Dipankar Dutta of Calcutta high court said, “It is an inescapable conclusion that there are two police stations. Lalbazar (police headquarters) is for the influential ones. And local police stations are for the aam aadmi. It is disgraceful that people have to knock on the high court’s door to lodge an FIR.”
Rahman, who was in love with Priyanka, the daughter of industrialist Ashok Todi, was found dead on the railway tracks on the outskirts of Kolkata on September 21, 2007. The CBI named seven accused in its chargesheet — Ashok Todi, his brothers Pradip and Anil Saraogi, IPS officer Ajoy Kumar, police officers Sukanti Chakraborti and Krishnendu Das, and S K Moinuddin alias Pappu, a social worker. In an equally shocking incident, Kaimur district police, in Bihar, procured arrest warrants against six-year-old Chaniya Khatun and her five-year-old sister Soni after they found them “guilty of killing” their 18-year-old sister-in-law for dowry last July.
It’s probably worse in the northeast, where the mainstream media doesn’t really reach, and people remain cut off from “mainland India” due to culture, infrastructure and distance. A startling 150 people were allegedly killed in fake encounters by Manipur Police Commandos last year alone. Police excesses in the state known for its rampant extra-judicial killings grabbed national attention when Chungkham Sanjit Singh, a reformed militant, was shot dead in Imphal on July 23, 2009 in broad daylight. A photographer captured the murder on camera and the photos found their way to magazines and newspapers across the country. Though the police claimed Sanjit had a gun, the images clearly showed an unarmed Sanjit talking politely to police commandos minutes before he was dragged inside a pharmacy. Besides Singh, a pregnant Rabina Devi was also killed.
The national capital Delhi is no better. Recently, a head constable beat up a 17-yearold boy, accused of stealing a mobile phone, so badly that he succumbed to his injuries. American journalist Jose Elliott had a taste of the Indian police’s barbarity when he was allegedly beaten up by men at the Hazrat Nizamuddin police station on October 8 last year. Elliott claimed cops thrashed him for “intervening” when someone was being kicked around.
Amazingly, Delhi Police officers told TOICrest there is “minimum cruelty and highhandedness” that can actually be attributed to their personnel. “We keep sanitizing our force. They are always being trained in manners and courtesy,’’ a senior officer said. “There is hardly any case in which a wrong person has been framed or jailed.” Tell that to Meera Yadav, Chungkham Sanjit’s bereaved family, Ruchika’s distraught brother, Sarita’s orphaned child and the countless others who are kicked and shoved around.
WITH INPUTS FROM RAHUL TRIPATHI, S AHMED ALI, K PRAVEEN KUMAR, RAJ KUMAR, SANJAY SHARMA, OINAM SUNIL, IP SINGH, JAIDEEP DEOGHARIA, ARNAB GANGULY, AKHILESH SINGH, SOUMITTRA S BOSE