Punjab Police Allegedly Assault Villagers, Then Arrest Them For 'Attempt to Murder'

Senior officials in the Punjab police have said the Mansa incident is being investigated and action will be taken.

New Delhi: Amidst the COVID-19 lockdown, a horde of Punjabi policemen, packed in about 30 vehicles, allegedly stormed into houses of landless farm labourers in Mansa and assaulted them in the early hours of April 12. Many children, women and men were left bleeding and bruised. Two attacks allegedly occurred within a span of less than 12 hours, with the first assault coming the previous night around 8 pm. It reportedly began when five policemen chased some strolling boys back into their houses, thrashing them with canes.

The provocation for April 12 morning’s illegitimate operation was the previous night’s melee, in which an assistant sub-inspector had also sustained a severe cut on his face reportedly from a shovel used by one of the boys while resisting police violence.

“Some 5-6 policemen stormed into our house. I was cooking and my daughter was serving her brothers and father when they barged in and started abusing and beating my son Hardeep*, who sustained a head injury,” said Hardeep’s mother.

“They kept beating us and all my pleadings and asking for reasoning was of no use, and when my sister from across the little wall started raising alarms, she was also not spared,” she said.

“I couldn’t walk for two days as they hit me with dangaa (cane batons) on my thighs and legs,” said Hardeep’s aunt.

“Yes I can identify those policemen. How could I forget?” his aunt said, when asked whether she would identify and give her witness in case of any inquiry.

A poor widow labourer said she was also beaten with lathis when she tried to save her sons Noman* (19) and Pawan* (16).

This episode went largely unreported, except for a brief in a section in the local Punjabi media.

To cover up the assault, the police registered a case under Section 307 (attempt to murder) and other sections related to violence and stopping a government official from performing their duty against 24 identified villagers, all poor Dalits from the Thutheawali village cluster. It was here that the alleged police violence had taken place. The men and boys have been arrested.

The policeman who wan injured in the April 11 violence was made a complainant in the case, while the villagers were not allowed to reach the Mansa civil hospital. “They threatened us after the attack that night that we all will be arrested for violating the curfew rules if we move out for medical aid at the Mansa civil hospital,” Balbir said.

Also read: Migrant Workers Beaten, Stuffed Into Container Trucks by Police at Gujarat-Maharashtra Border

The police labelled 13-year-old Hardeep as an adult while charging him under IPC Section 307. The Wire has seen documents that prove Hardeep is a juvenile.

Advocate-activist Jaswant Singh Grewal, who has taken up the matter to bail out the arrested villagers, told The Wire that the Mansa police registered the said case against the villagers after assaulting them.

In the FIR, accessed by The Wire, the column for ‘Place of occurrence of the crime’ was left blank and village Thutheawali was not mentioned. This is probably because it would reveal that the police entered the victims’ homes.

Legal proceedings initiated against erring cops, say Punjab police top brass

While the Mansa senior superintendent of police (SSP) Narinder Bhargava would not talk on the issue, a senior police officer at the Punjab police headquarters, ADGP A.S. Rai, said, “Legal proceedings have been initiated against the policemen who exceeded their brief.”

“It is an unfortunate incident due to miscommunication,” Rai told The Wire.

The Mansa SSP cut the call in the middle of a conversation with this correspondent when asked for his version of events.

On April 11, villagers told The Wire, trouble began at night when the police chased a group of boys into their houses and then badly trashed them with the batons.

Also read: Amidst a Lockdown, Why Must Cops Wield the Lathi With Such Impunity and Callousness?

“One of the men who resisted the assault attacked a policeman (an assistant sub-inspector) in self-defence, and that probably provoked the police to attack us again the next morning,” said Hardeep’s aunt.

All the victims are Mazhbi Sikhs (a Scheduled Caste community). Eyewitnesses say the police abused them using their caste names.

The victims said they were not aware of whether higher authorities are pursuing the matter. “We know only that our men are now in jail for no fault of theirs,” said Hardeep’s mother.

*Names have been changed to protect identities of minors and all their relatives.