New Delhi: A day after The Wire reported that police officials told the Betul-based lawyer Deepak Bundele that he was allegedly beaten up because beat guards mistook him for a Muslim, the Madhya Pradesh police suspended an assistant-sub-inspector (ASI) rank police official. Bundele, however, said the suspension of the official who had no direct involvement in his assault was far from a satisfactory outcome.
Bundele said that the police have responded half-heartedly. “While the official who came to my house to record my statement has been suspended, no action has been taken against his senior who is the primary accused in the case,” he said.
The state police shot into action, almost immediately after Bundele’s plight came to notice. Quoting The Wire story, the Madhya Pradesh home department said that the Betul incident was not a reflection of the police functioning in the state. While announcing that one police official had been suspended, it said that the police have been ordered to conduct an inquiry into the lawyer’s complaint.
Betul incident is an aberration. Painting such one off incident on entire MP Police force is unacceptable.
— Home Department, MP (@mohdept) May 20, 2020
Bundele, a diabetic and high blood pressure patient, was stopped by beat police officials on March 23 when he was on his way to the district hospital for treatment. Although a national lockdown had not been imposed then, one of the cops slapped him for being outside. Bundele told the police officials that he was on his way to get medicines from the hospital, and reminded the police to stay within constitutional limits. Apparently piqued by his awareness, the cops brutally beat him.
When Bundele complained to various state officials about the incident, filed an unsuccessful RTI application to access the CCTV footage of the incident, and refused to budge under pressure, two police officials on May 17 finally came to his house to record his statement. However, they kept requesting Bundele to withdraw the case and apologised on the behalf of the beat cops who had assaulted him.
Bundele shared with The Wire an audio clip in which the ASI B.S. Patel is heard telling him that the policemen who beat him up on March 23 had mistaken him for a Muslim, implying that had they known that he was a Hindu he would have been spared. Bundele, however, refused to withdraw the case.
District police’s response
Although Betul Superintendent of Police D.S. Bhadoria is yet to respond to The Wire’s request for a comment, the district’s Additional Superintendent of Police Shraddha Joshi responded to The Quint.
Joshi alleged that Bundele had misbehaved with the police on March 23 before getting beaten up, but to present both sides of the story, she would need to access CCTV footage, which may have been deleted as they are usually stored only for 30 days. “Had we been able to recover the footage, the truth from both the sides would have come to light,” she told The Quint.
In her defence, she said that the accused sub-inspector had not informed top officials of the incident and had merely mentioned it in the diary. She also said that Bundele had not identified the police officer who was deployed at the location Bundele was beaten up.
She added that the officials who submitted a report to her in the said case did not inform her about the audio clip in which two alleged policemen are heard representing the police in a communal light. “I got to know from journalists. If something like this has indeed been said, an investigation will be launched,” she said.
She added that an FIR was not registered in the case as the whole of the district police force had been preoccupied with enforcing the lockdown properly. “We are occupied with too many COVID-19 cases,” she said.
Speaking to The Wire on Thursday, Joshi said that if there was indeed any improper behaviour by some police officials, it was “unfortunate”. “We have already initiated an inquiry into the incident, and plan to finish it as soon as possible,” Joshi said, adding that the inquiry team will be constituted soon.
However, she contended that the version of the accused police officials will also have to be taken into account. “Deepak Bundele hasn’t identified the police official who allegedly beat him up. On the other hand, the station diary report says that he may have indulged in indecent behaviour with police, when some officers asked him to wear a mask.” She also said that the audio clip released by Bundele also has to be looked into for authenticity.
Bundele has come on record to say that he has already written to the SP that one of the cops who assaulted him on March 23 was a sub-inspector rank official Kapil Saurashtriya. However, Joshi said that he still has to identify him in the presence of other police officials.
While defending his position, Bundele said he had made multiple complaints to various senior officials of the state police, and also the state’s human rights commission, bar associations and the Chief Justice of the Madhya Pradesh high court. Yet, the police department responded two months after the incident, when the media reported it.
Bundele said that while no action has been taken against the primary accused in the complaint, the one who came to defend him at my home has been suspended.
He shared a copy of his letter that he wrote to Bhadoria, Betul’s SP, on May 16, a day before the police officials came to record his statement at his home. In the letter, he clearly identifies Kapil Saurashtriya as the assaulter. He also showed the official’s Facebook page in which he had posted veiled threats to the public to stay indoors during lockdown, or be ready to get beaten up.
He said that he had filed a RTI application to access CCTV footage of the incident within a week of his assault. “But I was denied any information regarding the incident. The RTI reply said that since I had not mentioned why I wanted the CCTV footage, I won’t get it,” the lawyer said.
“If the police officials now claim that they may have deleted the CCTV footage now, then they also have to answer why I was denied information about the same despite multiple complaints on the matter,” he added.
Bundele said he has written to the Director General of Police, Vivek Johri, again on Thursday to expedite the inquiry. “I have resolved to go through the justice process, come what may,” said the resilient lawyer.