Chandigarh: On March 4, a day after Shiv Kumar, a 24-year-old Dalit labour rights’ activist, was released from the Sonepat Jail, he visited the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh (PGIMER) for a full medical check-up.
Last month, a medical examination report, sought by the Punjab and Haryana high court, had revealed large-scale torture was perpetrated against the 24-year-old by the Haryana police. Kumar visited the medical institute in Chandigarh for another set of tests. “I met the psychiatrist, he checked how I am doing mentally after my period in jail,” Shiv Kumar said.
Sitting under the shadow of large trees at the Punjab University campus on March 5, a day after his check-up at the PGIMER, Kumar met with journalists and narrated the story of his arrest and time inside jail. He sat on a plastic chair with his left leg plastered up to his knee to support his multiple fractures.
Narrating the day of his arrest he said: “I was relieving myself near the KFC mall at the Singhu protest site on January 16. That’s when some men in plainclothes kidnapped me and took me away. They took me to an undisclosed location and beat me ruthlessly. Only after a couple of hours, I realised that I had been arrested by the Haryana police.”
Kumar is convinced that he was arrested and tortured in jail only because he spoke for the rights of workers and demanded their dues be paid by the factory association. He said that he did nothing to provoke the police or the industry.
“I wasn’t even present when the police and the workers of the Kundli Industrial Association (KIA) got into clashes on January 12. But I was still picked up,” he added.
“They don’t want workers to form a union. We have all read the constitution, but looks like we can’t exercise any rights granted to us under it,” he said. “Other workers saw us and joined us in the protest, this was too problematic for the company owners.”
Alleging that the station house officer (SHO) of Kundli and the chief of the Kundli Industry Association have colluded, Kumar said that the powerful detest the empowerment of the poor and powerless.
Kumar said that the KIA and Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan (MAS) have fought my cases in the last three years ever since the MAS was founded by him and a few others in 2018. “In the early days, after the MAS was established in 2018, I remember that workers celebrated Labour Day. Even back then they used to tell us to not do all this. Clearly, they did want us to unionise,” Kumar said.
Kumar added that after the KIA saw that the farmers and workers’ unity increased day by day because of the farmers’ protest at the Kundli border, they tried to nip their mobilisation in the bud. “But we won’t let it happen”, Kumar said.
Speaking about his time in jail, Kumar said that the police openly used casteist slurs against him. “I was verbally and physically abused… I was singled out because of my caste,” he said. “The scale of caste discrimination in Indian jails is the highest.”
Kumar said that the police tortured him for at least three hours every day. “For the first three-four days, they did not even let me sleep,” he added.
Kumar’s left leg is fractured and his toenails are still bruised. He said that the police tried to extirpate the nails of his left toe.
“Some people in the jail were nice to me as well. They said that ‘they at least did petty crimes and landed there, but you are here because you help people’ they told me. Sometimes their support helped me survive the hell which I was living,” he said.
Shiv Kumar plans to meet as many journalists as he can in Sonepat and in Delhi in the coming days and tell his story to as many people as he can. He is ready to join the protest and stressed the need to build workers’ and farmers’ unity like he did before his arrest.
When asked if the KIA and other factories will blacklist him he said, “I don’t mind if I am not taken back by any factory. I will do what needs to be done,” he said casually. An avid reader and an admirer of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Shiv Kumar wants to keep fighting his fight against the exploitation of farmers and workers.