New Delhi, Dec. 25: Again and again, the 19-year-old dialled the number of the Delhi police women’s unit. There was no response.
Then she tweeted: “…terrified please help”.
Shambhavi Saxena was terrified. Earlier in the afternoon, a policewoman had apparently dragged the student of English honours by her hair into Parliament Street police station.
Her crime? According to the police, she was part of a group of 20 people, mostly school students, who were inciting crowds at Jantar Mantar and were marching towards Parliament Street where prohibitory orders were in force.
The alleged police action against Shambhavi — and some of the others — came on a day a Delhi cop succumbed to injuries suffered during the anti-rape protests in the capital.
The police said the girls were detained and kept in “preventive custody” but not roughed up.
Police sources present inside the police station, however, said the girls had indeed been roughed up — “but only by female cops”.
The sources said the girls were detained around 3 in the afternoon and released around 6.45pm.
Under sections 46(4) and 160 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the police cannot arrest or detain a woman between dusk and dawn. In winter, dusk would have fallen well before 6pm.
The girls, all between 16 and 19, some of whom were accompanied by their mothers, were hauled to the police station and allegedly locked up in a room before being allowed to go after nearly four hours.
Shambhavi, whose tweets perhaps led to their release, recounted their experience after the cops realised the matter was out in the media. “They called us names, threatened us and beat us up,” she told The Telegraph just after she had been let off.
“We don’t know what we did. We were all girls, peacefully protesting. They didn’t even have the decency to tell us what they were picking us up for. They told us not to tell anyone once we were outside what happened with us.”
A 16-year-old, one of those detained, said their mobile phones were taken away. “They took down our names and addresses and even the contact details of our fathers, giving us a veiled threat that if we opened our mouths, they would do more than just slap us around,” said the girl who had bruises on her face and shivered in the winter evening chill as she stood outside the police station after being released.
One woman constable, she said, told them “yahan law nahi chalta (the law doesn’t work here)”.
Among those detained was another 16-year-old who had been protesting against the bus gang rape for the past three days and whose parents are currently out of Delhi.
“I have been coming here every day. Never have I been violent. I don’t know why this happened to us. They wouldn’t even tell us why they were treating us like this. Some of the parents who had turned up to take their kids were threatened with dire consequences if they allowed their daughters to be at any protest from now on,” she said.
Shambhavi, a student of Lady Shri Ram College for Women, is a volunteer activist with Greenpeace India and describes herself as a wildlife lover on her Facebook page.
Her last tweets before her detention reflected her anger at political parties. “Don’t let this movement be hijacked or split into factions. This is student agitation not a mob, please. If you are here, be here as concerned parents, children, siblings. Not for political mileage. Protesters booing (BJP youth wing) ABVP and political hand in these protests. STAY OUT OF OUR PROTESTS!” she tweeted from Jantar Mantar hours before she was hauled off to the police station.
Her 47-year-old mother, who was with her at the protests, was so shaken by the police action that she couldn’t even give her name. “Just save my daughter, please,” she cried. “Don’t let them harm her.”
Shambhavi said the cops also told them they would be released only if they signed a document saying that they (the girls) had turned violent.
“Police were trying to get us to admit we were wrong,” she had tweeted from inside the police station. “They were the ones who were violent. Police pushed a barricade on one woman, ripped her clothes and dragged her away. This is safety, Mr Singh?”