My problems with the Gujarat police started in August 2018 when I was closely associated with human rights organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace.
On the eve of Independence Day, student leaders from AISA were sitting on a peaceful dharna to protest the cancellation of their candidate’s nomination in the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda Students Union (MSUSU) elections. The dean, in reaction to the peaceful protest, called the police.
What took place next can only be described as police brutality. There was no warning before the police began a lathi charge, pushing students and striking them with batons despite there being no retaliation.
Ashutosh Gupta, a juvenile, was hit hard in the chest by a constable who manhandled him. The police failed to follow the Juvenile Act while dealing with him. Denish Kothadiya, a first year BSc student, was pulled by his hair and dragged on the ground. The police then took Dinesh to the local police station and allegedly asked him to write an apology letter that said that he was guilty of getting violent with the police – a common tactic employed by the police to compromise certain cases by fielding the victim as culprit.
I sent an e-mail to the commissioner of police demanding an explanation. I finally received a notification on September 10 though I had filed the complaint on August 14. No FIR was registered against the police and vigilance officers even though the incident had been recorded.
I then publicly released 10 questions to the Gujarat police, which put me on their radar even though they could not do anything to a person who had no immediate connect with the case.
In response to my RTI, the police said that there was no lathi charge at all. I was ready to approach the high court, but the victims in the case turned hostile under pressure, as the police allegedly threatened to book them for rioting. The effort may have been wasted, but the rot within the Gujarat police had been made visible.
Another year, another demonstration of the Gujarat police’s true face. This time, the demonstration fell right within a jurisdiction the Gujarat police is infamous for: Islamophobia.
Former NSUI Vadodara district president and MSU Baroda student leader Zubair Khan Pathan was arrested by the police after right-wing student organisations and the media peddled propaganda stories of how he was guilty of committing ‘Love Jihad’.
Pathan was produced before a judge on April 27, but as none of the sections attracted the requirement of custody, he was given bail.
But he was once again asked to present himself at the Sayajigunj police station under Section 151 (assembly of five or more persons after being asked to disperse). He was told that he would be produced before an executive magistrate, but that didn’t happen.
Instead, two members of the Gujarat Crime Branch turned up and took Pathan away without proper sanctions to the crime branch where they allegedly physically assaulted and humiliated him. The police also made him record a video where he confesses to being a goonda. Pathan was allegedly forced to make this confession at gun point. A video of his where he says he won’t harass women was shared by the crime branch with the media, against the prescribed Supreme Court guidelines.
When his health deteriorated severely, he was taken to the SSG Hospital by a 108 EMRI emergency van which his lawyer called and was kept in the emergency ward.
Speaking to mediapersons after being brought to the hospital on April 29, Pathan said, “I was picked up from the Sayajigunj police station by two Crime Branch men and taken to a closed room at the Crime Branch. There I was beaten and asked to produce a passport. They accused me of being a terrorist. Then they forced me at gun point to confess that I was a goonda and that I like harassing women.”
Pathan further accused the police of defaming the Muslim community. The policemen, he said, kept saying,”Have miyaaon karse netagiri, ane badha miyaaon lukhaj hoye chhe.” (Will Muslims do politics here now? All Muslims are like that…goondas.) The magistrate didn’t even allow medical custody under CrPc 53, 54, 55.
When the news spread, I was in Baroda. I ran to the local hospital where he was admitted in the emergency ward.
As the ACP and PI came out of the ward, I approached them to ask about the status of the case. They got irritated by my constant questioning.
“What is the status of the case, sir? Why are you here in the hospital? Is Zubair on remand?” I had asked.
The ACP saw one of Pathan’s acquaintances filming the interaction and shouted, “Oye, band kar ye shooting! Band kar! Band kar ise! Abhi ke abhi andar kar dungi, time nahi lagega. Cyber law lag jayega bina permission ke shooting ke. ( Stop this shooting! Stop it! Stop it now! I can put you behind the bar just now, it will not take much time. You will be prosecuted under cyber law for filming an officer without permission)”.
“Don’t stop,” I said. ”Keep at it.”
The ACP then shouted at me: “Who the hell are you? Why are you asking him to film him? Don’t teach me protocol.”
“Please, don’t teach me media ethics,” I replied. The ACP left the area.
A PSI rank policeman then came forward and asked me to come with the police as the ACP wanted to see me.
At the other end of the hospital, which was more secluded, the ACP and PI were waiting for me.
“Your career will finish. IPC? Heard?”, I was told.
I asked, “What did I do wrong?”
My question angered them. The ACP asked a constable to put me in a vehicle and take me to Raopura police station. My phone rang suddenly. As I picked up the call, they twisted my hand and took my phone.
At Raopura police station, I was taken to the PI’s office. The ACP and a plainclothes policeman were in the room. “Do you want to create JNU here?”, I was asked. I retorted, “What is wrong in JNU?”
The ACP then asked me to sit on the floor but I did not. The PI then entered the room and asked for the audio recording. He took my phone and deleted it. He then removed my glasses, and I knew what was coming next.
He punched me in the face. I was lost for a moment.
My ‘name’, which sounds ecstatically Hindu, didn’t let the police believe that I could support minority rights in spite of my repartees. I heard stuff like: “Ye todhi mullah hai… ye kyun un logo ke saath hoga… Hindu naam hai… Baap ka naam me bhi Jha hai… Bihari hai (His name doesn’t look Muslim, why would he support them?)”
He then forced me to write an apology letter. The same vicious cycle had moved from Denish to me.
Despite suffering the blow to my face, I wrote out the apology letter, expressing my regret that I recorded the honourable ACP without their permission so that testimony would remain to show that the police appeared to not know the law. Which law says that recording an officer in uniform is a crime?
My colleague by then had managed to locate me via the control room. The ACP was startled by the intervention and let me go after getting the apology letter was written.
Now, the police have booked Pathan afresh on charges under the brutal Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (PASA). On April 30, Pathan was picked up from the hospital and sent to Bhuj Central Jail.
I have requested the National Human Rights Commission chairperson to look into this heinous crime where the fundamental human rights of the accused stand curtailed. IPC Sections 143, 147, 149, 246(KH), 506(2) applied against him aren’t generally considered under the PASA Act. The magistrate also didn’t allow medical custody under CrPc 53, 54, 55. My complaint demands that the NHRC probe the police brutality and suspend the officers responsible, and that Zubair Pathan be tried neutrally.
What did I learn from these episodes?
Muslims in Gujarat are just vote banks, not human beings. They are mere objects used as political capital. The marginalisation and atrocities committed against Muslims and dissenters at the hands of the Gujarat government are not conspiracy theories. They are very real.
Vadodara is small city with a rich history. It was Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III of Baroda State who once harboured Dr B.R. Ambedkar, K.M. Munshi, Sri Aurobindo, Hansa Mehta, Vinoba Bhave, Raja Ravi Varma, Dadasaheb Phalke and many other iconic leaders who helped shape India.
After almost a century of his regime, Baroda is now a city with ghettos and hooligans.
The writer is a freelance journalist