‘Thrashed’ for Phoning Delhi Police Helpline, Muslim Man Needs Spinal Surgery

Wasim Khan had simply wanted the police to break up a fight in his neighbourhood. But when he was taken to the police station to give a statement, he was allegedly beaten with lathis.

New Delhi: Lying in bed at his Chhatarpur home, 29-year-old Wasim Khan is barely able to move. The spinal support belt wrapped around his waist does not help him much. On the night of May 18, 2021, Khan had been “thrashed” by three policemen at the Fatehpur Beri Police Station, Delhi. Since then, he said, he has “been in pain even when going to the washroom”.

All Khan had done was phone the Delhi Police helpline number 100 when a fight that had broken out in his neighbourhood seemed to have got out of control. Little did he know that merely reporting this incident to the police as a Muslim man would lead him to be beaten so badly with lathis that he would need surgery.

According to Khan’s uncle, Ahmed Ali, who lives in the same neighbourhood as Khan, Chandan Hulla in south Delhi’s Chhatarpur, around 9 pm on May 17, 2021, two brothers from the area got into a fight outside his nephew’s home.

The fight escalated and others from the neighbourhood got involved. The two sides even threw stones at each other, Khan recounted. “This was when some people, including me, tried to intervene by calling the police helpline no. 100,” Khan said.

The police from the nearby Fatehpur Beri police station finally arrived at the neighbourhood at around 10 pm, broke up the fight and dispersed the crowd, said Ali. At around 11:30 pm the same night, the police knocked at Wasim Khan’s door. They reportedly told him he needed to accompany them to the police station to give his statement as a witness.

“The police gathered six of us, all Muslims, including the three of us who had tried calling the 100 helpline number. They said they needed us to give a statement about the fight. It was very late, but we went,” Khan said.

The ordeal

Speaking to The Wire over the phone, Khan’s voice started shaking as he described the ordeal that followed. When they reached the Fatehpur Beri police station, he said, the police seized his phone and three or four policemen took him to a separate room.

“They simply took me aside and started beating me,” said Khan, his voice now cracking. “They beat me with their lathis. Sub-inspector Satender Guliya hit me with his elbows and kept striking a lathi on my back. The other two men, Praveen and Jitender, kicked me, beat me and even held me upside down.”

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The three policemen in question, sub-inspector Satender Guliya, head constable Praveen and constable Jitender, also allegedly used communal, anti-Muslim slurs.

Khan recounts them yelling: “Bh*****d, ab karega call? Karega call 100 number par? Tum logon ne naak mein dum kar rakha hai, Mullon saalon (S*****-f****r, now tell us whether you’ll call? Will you dare to call the 100 helpline number? You people have created a nuisance, you bloody Mullahs).

The three policemen finally let Khan go at around 2:30 am. “I came home in serious pain. I was also numbed by what had happened. I took some painkillers before I could sleep,” Khan said.

The aftermath

Over the next few days as the pain in his back refused to subside, Khan and his family, including his uncle Ahmed Ali, decided to visit doctors at the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre. At the centre, Khan was advised to apply for a medico-legal certificate which is issued in cases when doctors, after examining a patient, believe that the investigation of a law enforcement agency is required.

Copies of a CT scan, MRI scan and digital skiagram accessed by The Wire reveal injuries to Khan’s spine, including a fracture on the vertebra and a “small, detached bone fragment”.

Activist Nadeem Khan from the civil society group United Against Hate, which has been in touch with Khan’s family, said, “Wasim’s doctor has advised the need for an operation of L3 and L4 of the vertebrae (of his spine).”

Ahmed Ali also said that when they went to the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre for the MLC (medico-legal certificate), the hospital staff there called the 100 helpline and informed the police that they had a case of violence at the centre.

“After the hospital made the phone call, people from the Vasant Kunj police station came and recorded Wasim’s name. Later we went to the station ourselves and tried to register a complaint, but they told us to go to Fatehpur Beri station as they did not have jurisdiction in that area. After much pleading they took Wasim’s complaint in writing,” Ali said.

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In his complaint, Khan stated that “these injuries could have caused my death” and appealed for a criminal case against the policemen concerned under Sections 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide), 326 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means), 331 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt to extort confession) and 342 and 348 (pertaining to wrongful confinement) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The complaint asking for a vigilance enquiry was registered by the police on May 20, 2021 and Khan even got a message on his mobile phone confirming that the complaint had been registered.

No action yet

However, there has been no update on the case in the two weeks since then. Fatehpur Beri’s station house officer (SHO) Kuldeep Singh declined to comment on the status of the vigilance enquiry, maintaining that the matter was under the jurisdiction of the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) South Delhi. When The Wire contacted DCP Atul Kumar Thakur, he simply said that “the enquiry is ongoing”.

“The family has filed a complaint with the police and we have the details of the vigilance enquiry complaint,” said Nadeem Khan. “We’ll first try pursuing this complaint with the police to see what action is being taken and at the same time register a petition with the National Human Rights Commission. If despite this no action is taken, we will engage lawyers and file a petition in the local court against the police perpetrators.”

But for Wasim Khan, even the possibility of action against the three policemen seems to offer no closure. “It was my first time calling the police,” he said. “I never dreamed they would treat me like this. Mujhe kitna mehenga parh gaya yeh 100 number emergency helpline call (This 100 emergency helpline call proved deadly for me).”

Sabah Gurmat is a student of law at the University of Delhi and a freelance journalist.