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Prosecute those guilty of Custodial Torture of Dalit labour activist

27 Feb 2021

PUDR strongly condemns the custodial torture of young dalit labour activist Shiv Kumar working in the Kundli Industrial Area by Haryana police. Shiv Kumar was arrested under 3 FIRs (no. 649 of 28/12/20 and nos. 25 and 26 of 12/1/21, Kundli PS) against workers who were protesting to demand their pending wages in Kundli Industrial Area, Haryana. The details of Shiv Kumar’s custodial torture came to light only after his father, a labourer, applied in the Punjab and Haryana High Court for his son’s thorough medical examination. This was done only after Shiv Kumar’s family and lawyer could finally meet him, weeks after he had been picked up by the police. The results of the Court ordered medical examination, conducted by the Government Medical College Hospital (GMCH) in Chandigarh came on 24 February and proved the gruesome torture that Shiv Kumar had alleged. Shiv Kumar also recorded his testimony before the doctors’ team during his medical examination, giving details of time/place and the custodial torture he had undergone. He stated that he had actually been picked up on 16 January between 2 and 3 pm from Kundli by the police and tortured brutally thereafter. He was finally presented before the magistrate on 24 January, remanded to further police custody till 2 February when he was sent to jail, where he still remains.

The nature of the injuries which showed up in a medical examination weeks after being inflicted include blunt force and grievous injuries, with specific details (such as “right foot swelling” which showed a large “blackish discolouration area” and toe nails that were blue and tender, among others) that were in consonance with the injuries Shiv Kumar narrated in his testimony of torture before the doctors, and reflect the severity and degree of the assault by the police. Shiv Kumar also displayed symptoms of mental post-traumatic stress at the time of the medical examination, though the doctors noted that he did not have any “ideas/plans of self-harm”.

It is remarkable that despite this obvious physical state of Shiv Kumar, it required a High Court intervention to actually carry out a medical test. There is no doubt that those who inflicted these injuries are criminally liable.

These brutal acts of ‘commission’ by the Haryana police were perpetrated along with other crucial acts of omission – i.e. their failure to inform Shiv Kumar’s family of his being picked up, or of his being presented before the magistrate, or of their failure to comply with arrest guidelines laid down in law (and D.K. Basu vs. State of West Bengal and Union of India, 1997).

That allegations of custodial violence, and sexual assault were also made by Nodeep Kaur, Shiv Kumar’s fellow labour activist with Mazdur Adhikar Sangathan (MAS) in Kundli, who was arrested on 12 January under the same cases, indicates that this is a pattern. The police appear to be using these means – of custodial violence and torture – as the main tool of investigation into these cases against labour activists organizing to demand pending wages of workers in Kundli. ‘Evidence’ gathered in these cases by the police through custodial torture and violence is bound to be suspect and the possibility of fair trial shall become fainter if the same police continue to investigate. 

The Haryana police might attempt to deny or downplay Shiv Kumar’s testimony of custodial torture as police do in all instances (except occasionally when custodial torture results in death). The reason is that there are almost never any independent witnesses in instances of torture in police custody, and the imbalance of power between the survivor of custodial torture and the police is usually too great, so most instances do not get reported. Where they do, the police investigate their own crimes, routinely granting themselves impunity as PUDR’s findings in monitoring custodial violence over the last 40 years reveal.

In this case however, owing to the courage of the victim, intervention by the lawyer and the assessment by a team of Government doctors, there is medical evidence of torture, and also a formal record of the victim’s own account of it. There is also the evidence of blatant flouting of law and procedure on arrest by the police. These provide ample basis to question the role of the police, and prosecute the guilty.

PUDR demands:

  1. Criminal prosecution of guilty police personnel for the custodial violence inflicted on Shiv Kumar and Nodeep Kaur.
  2. Investigation by an independent agency/authority into the role of the police in these cases.
  3. Immediate release of Shiv Kumar and his hospitalization and medical treatment initiated in GMCH, Chandigarh.
  4. Payment of pending wages of workers in Kundli Industrial Area and guaranteeing labour rights of workers.

 

Radhika Chitkara

Vikas Kumar

Secretaries

[email protected]