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regular-article-logo Monday, 24 June 2024

Hit, humiliated, not allowed to sleep: Activist

Brutalised but not defeated, Shiv Kumar says from hospital he will keep fighting for labour rights

Pheroze L. Vincent New Delhi Published 06.03.21, 02:16 AM
Shiv Kumar before his arrest.

Shiv Kumar before his arrest. File picture

Shiv Kumar is under treatment in hospital for injuries caused allegedly by police torture in custody but the 24-year-old labour rights activist said he would take the police up on a threat against ever setting foot in the industrial town where he worked.

“While in their custody, police warned me never to be seen in Kundli if I am released or they would pick me up again. But I shall go back. Workers have to fight for their rights because the police are a tool in the hands of the capitalists and we can’t expect justice from them,” Kumar said over the phone from the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh.

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The young man, who says he was picked up by plainclothes policemen from the Singhu farmers’ protest site on January 16, was freed on bail on Thursday and taken to hospital for treatment of broken toenail beds, fractures and symptoms of post-traumatic disorder.

“I was abducted, not arrested,” he told The Telegraph. “I was at the farmers’ protest site when they suddenly pounced on me and took me away. I remember being taken into the Criminal Investigation Agency-1 (police unit) in Sonipat’s Gur Mandi. From January 16 to 23, I was constantly hit with sticks, abused and humiliated referring to my caste. I was not allowed to sleep. They were inhuman. They were always in plainclothes. None offered me first aid,” Kumar, a Dalit, said.

The police say they arrested Kumar on January 23 as part of the investigation into a protest on January 12 by the Majdoor Adhikar Sanghatan, of which he is the president, in Kundli in which seven policemen were allegedly injured. Three FIRs have been filed against him, accusing him of attempt to murder and extortion.

His arrest and that of fellow activist Nodeep Kaur drew international attention after American activist Meena Harris, niece of US Vice-President Kamala Harris, tweeted about Kaur’s alleged torture in custody. Kaur has also been freed on bail.

“I was beaten and then shown videos of the protest (on January 12) and asked to identify people. I asked them how I could identify people when I was not there. At the time, I was at the Singhu border protest. People have taken footage of me at Singhu border. They would keep hitting me on my toes with lathis. They did all kinds of brutality and I was constantly in pain.”

Kumar’s father Rajbir, a landless Dalit from Sonipat district, moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which ordered a five-member medical board to examine him in Chandigarh on February 20.

The youth’s statement recorded by the board says: “They tied both his feet, lay him on the ground, and hit him on the soles. His 2nd, 3rd and 5th toe nails of the right foot were torn and the nail of big toe of left foot became blue. They also hit him on the buttocks with flat sticks, then they tied his hands and stretched his legs. He was made to lie on the ground with both legs straight and a metal pipe was placed on his thigh and rolled over the thighs by two people. They also hit him on both hands and palms and also on the back of his head. He was not allowed to sleep for three days, the C.l staff took his statement and asked him to give names and when he could not do so. They tied him to a chair and poured water to his head... He was mentally and physically abused in the police remand and they also poured hot water on his feet and any blisters that formed were burst by them.”

Besides the fractures and three torn toenails, the board observed “post traumatic disorder” symptoms.

An acquaintance who has accompanied him to PGIMER told this paper: “His toes are blue-ish and he seems to be psychologically affected. He is in shock and doesn’t respond to things the way he used to. Several tests have been conducted here and the doctors will tell us what to do after the results come.”

During the interview with this paper over the phone, Kumar blanked out several times but then collected himself and spoke on.

He said he was taken to Sonipat Civil Hospital on January 24 for what was supposed to be a medical check-up. “There was no check-up. Policemen forced me to put my thumb impression on some paper. I was later told that they have obtained my remand for 10 days,” the activist said.

From January 29 to January 31, he said, he was taken on a road trip, supposedly as part of the investigation into his links with suspects in other states.

“I was first taken to Samalkha police station in Panipat district, then to some other police post in that district. At night they took me to some restaurant on a highway and handcuffed me while they drank liquor and made merry. The next morning we went to Haridwar where I was kept in an ashram all day while the policemen were again drinking. I was not questioned on this trip. They were busy partying,” he said.

On the way back to Sonipat the next day, they stopped to see a relative of a policeman in Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat district, Kumar said. On February 2, he was sent to judicial custody in Sonipat’s district jail.

“I was still in pain but I was scared to ask anyone for help in jail after what the police had done to me. No doctor examined me nor was I offered any first aid,” the activist added.

Sonipat superintendent of police J.S. Randhawa has not responded to questions from this paper about Kumar.

Kumar, who started working in Kundli in 2018 after finishing a diploma from Sonipat’s Industrial Training Institute, said he started organising workers in 2019 because as he was “disappointed with existing unions whose leaders are rude to workers and have spoilt the name of trade unions.”

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