Mohali: The arrest and alleged custodial torture of Dalit labour rights activists Nodeep Kaur and Shiv Kumar – who had been mobilising support for the ongoing farmers’ agitation by highlighting the need for farmer-worker unity at the Kundli protest site between Punjab and Haryana – has raised many questions about the alleged nexus between the Kundli Industrial Association (KIA), the Haryana government and its police.
Both Kaur and Kumar were workers at different factories under the KIA. They were members of the Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan (MAS), a workers’ union which fought for timely payment of wages and better working conditions for workers in the area.
While this unionisation irked the KIA, their presence in the larger farmers’ movement irked the Haryana government. So much so that both activists were jailed and reportedly brutalised in police custody.
Nodeep’s sister had told The Wire that the KIA and the Haryana government feared the rise of young leaders like her and Kumar in Kundli and in the farmers’ movement.
Speaking to The Wire a day after Shiv Kumar’s medical report revealed the scale of torture perpetrated on him, his father Rajbir said that the family is quite taken aback by all that’s going on.
“He was a worker at Kundli, I don’t know much about how he got arrested,” he said. Talking about himself, Rajbir said that they are a family of five and have been living in Haryana all their life. “I’m a daily wage worker and live with my wife, two sons and one daughter. We’re a poor family.”
Talking about the custodial torture revealed by the medical report, his father said, “I was told by a friend of [Shiv Kumar’s] that he was beaten up brutally. But during my video call with him in jail, he said, ‘Papa I am fine’. I think he said this so that we don’t worry,” he said. “I haven’t told any of this to my wife and my daughter. They will feel heartbroken,” he added.
While Nodeep Kaur has been granted bail in all three FIRs filed against her, Kumar is still in custody. Speaking to The Wire hours after Kaur was granted bail by the Punjab and Haryana high court, her counsel, senior advocate Harinder Bains, exclaimed, “Justice has been served!”
Bains added that in addition to Kaur’s bail, they have been successful in seeking directions from the court to conduct the medico-legal examination of Kumar. It was as a result of this order that the brutal treatment of Kumar while in police custody was revealed. Bains is hopeful that this medical report will become a ground for Kumar’s bail and he will be served justice, just like Kaur has been.
Meanwhile, civil rights activists held a demonstration in Sonipat against the arrest of Shiv Kumar on February 26. At the protest, Ishwar Rathi, convener of the Civil Rights Forum, condemned the arrest of young activists and dissenters. He, along with other members of the group, demanded that Kumar should be admitted to a hospital as soon as possible. His harassment – both physical and mental – should be stopped immediately and action should be taken against the policemen who might have been involved in physically and mentally harassing the activist, they demanded.
Kumar has been named along with Kaur in the three FIRs filed against her. Bains and his team of lawyers will appeal for bail on all three FIRs in the sessions court this week. One of the FIRs has been registered by a Haryana police officer, another by an accountant at one of the factories under the KIA and the third one by a private complainant.
Both Kaur and Kumar were picked up by the Haryana police in January. While Kaur was picked up on January 12, the day factory workers in KIA approached the management over the issue of non-payment of dues. The workers were allegedly baton-charged by the Quick Response Team of the KIA.
According to the medico-legal report, Kumar’s right foot had swelling and the nail beds of the second and third toe of the right foot were broken. The left big toe showed blackish discolouration and the nails of the left thumb and index finger showed bluish-black discolouration.
The report quotes Kumar as saying that after his arrest on January 16, he was “taken to old Kacheri, Sonepat, where the C.I. staff assaulted him”. Kumar says that the police “tied both his feet, laid him on the ground, and hit him on the soles”.
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 on the back of his head,” the report says
The report details other methods of torture allegedly meted out to Kumar, including not allowing him to sleep, pouring water on his head and pouring hot water on his feet.
Doctors from the orthopaedic, psychiatry, general surgery, radio diagnosis, forensic medicine and toxicology departments were part of the team which prepared the report.
Advocate Bains is hopeful that the revelation of such high degree torture will become the ground for Kumar’s bail very soon.