Ridiculed, Isolated: Men Arrested for AAP's Anti-PM Posters Still Paying a Price
AAP's Sanjay Chaudhary, who had asked the men to put the posters up, says the police is trying to weaken the party.
(This is the second story in our series of over twenty men who were arrested by Delhi Police for putting up anti-PM Modi posters on the behest of the Aam Aadmi Party in mid-May, during the second wave of the COVID pandemic. The poster asked why the PM had exported vaccines meant for the children in the country. The first of the series can be read here.)
"The headlines regarding our arrests for putting up posters critical of PM Modi must have vanished. We were used as a political stunt, but we are real people. Our problems only began that day, and no one cares."
These are the words of 39-year-old Rajni, who is still waiting for someone from the AAP leadership to come to her home and give her husband the assurance that everything will be fine. Her husband, Mayank Pathak, was picked up by Delhi Police two months ago on 15 May in the controversy over putting up posters critical of PM Narendra Modi that asked, "Modiji, humare bachon ke vaccine videsh kyun bhej diye? (Modiji, why did you export the vaccines meant for our children?)"
The 42-year-old, who has since been grappling with 'depression', was not the only one. With him, booked under the same FIR at the Neb Sarai police station, is 41-year-old Santosh. Both were asked by former candidate of AAP for 2017 MCD polls, Sanjay Chaudhary, to put up the posters. While these two men were arrested and subsequently let off, Sanjay Chaudhary has not been arrested or questioned in the case yet.
While the politicians and headlines have moved on to other issues, Santosh and Mayank have been left to grapple with the real consequences of a legal case breathing down their neck. Our first ground report was on three men in Mongolpuri area who felt 'abandoned by the AAP' in the aftermath of the arrest. This ground report is from Delhi's Khanpur area and shows how they continue to be affected by the case.
'My Husband is Depressed, I'm Scared for His Well-Being'
"Why should 20-22 policemen show up to pick my husband? Why was the entire police station at my door step? They did not tell us why, produce any warrant or order, or tell us which police station he was being taken to. They lied to us, they lied to us," said Rajni, her tone betraying disappointment at the way her husband was whisked away.
But Rajni was not always this candid with this reporter. The first time this reporter met them on a day when the skies had opened up, peering through the window from their cramped flat in Khanpur extension, she had said Mayank was not home. It took a few exchanges and queries for them to muster faith, and share their story with The Quint.
"No one from the media has even tried to meet us, which is why when we saw you, we got worried and said he was not home," they explained their reluctance.
Opening up, she said that since the policemen left the home with Mayank, the entire society has been talking about them. "There is no solidarity here. People are saying things like fights keep happening at our home, or how there is violence here and how we have links with criminals. Our image has been ruined for good," Mayank's father, 70-year-old Vinay and his mother 62-year-old Sunita, told me in distress.
Vinay is a retired official afflicted with polio, while Sunita has persistent pain in her knees.
Their biggest concern is neither the apathy of AAP, nor the fact their confiscated phones will never be returned – but that Mayank is no longer his usual self. "He is in depression since the incident. Mayank barely goes out, meets his friends. He lost his phone and number and has not even tried to get his number back. He was a comparatively talkative happy person, now he falls sick every other day.They say he is always tensed and does not share what is going on in his head," his mother, Sunita, said.
"We are worried for him," she added, looking distraught and wary.
They do not know if there's been any progress in the investigation and have not been contacted since.
The only time she looks sternly at this reporter, a departure from the otherwise worried face, was when she uttered the following words, "We live in a democracy last I checked. Asking questions is akin to being a criminal?" This is the only time her eyes widened with anger – "What is so wrong about asking questions?"
For any other queries, she directed us to former AAP candidate Sanjay Chaudhary. "He is the one who asked my husband about the posters, he is the one who is taking care of everything," she said.
A few kilometers away, we met Santosh in his office, also in Khanpur.
'Police Trying to Weaken AAP Unity From Within': Sanjay Chaudhary
Sanjay is not shy to accept he was the one who asked Mayank and Santosh to get the posters out. "Whatever they say, I have stood by them. I told them as well as the police, that they can call me whenever they like and I will be here as I asked for the posters to be put up. Despite that, I have not even been called for questioning once," the former candidate for MCD polls, who is locally known in the area, said.
In a bid to understand the motive behind the FIR, he said:
"The AAP cadre is strong and resulted in us being re-elected in Delhi with a thumping majority in 2020. I believe by going after our local workers they are trying to break the unity of the party from within. Their aim is to scare the AAP worker, which they have achieved I think."
While Mayank has considerably reduced his work with the party, Santosh's work with the party continues; but he has stopped communicating with Sanjay. "I'll be honest with you, he does not pick up my calls like he used to. Maybe he thinks that I am the one responsible for getting him into this mess, as I was the one who asked him to put the posters up...?"
'He Was Tense, But Realises This is the Price of Politics'
Recalling how Santosh had called Chaudhary the next morning after his arrest, Sanjay said, "After 12 we brought them home, he came to my home, we chatted. Santosh said his head was hurting and left for home. The next day he called me up and said he vomited several times at home all night and was never even given food. He went on and on, he sounded mentally disturbed."
Other than working with AAP, Santosh also works as a real estate agent and is financially stable, his wife, Sunita, told us.
She said, he understands what it takes to be in politics, "People want AAP leaders to get shamed, but this is resulting in him getting more publicity. It is a good thing and not a bad thing. Things like this keep happening anyway."
Despite keeping a distance from Sanjay, Santosh's Facebook profile is constantly teeming with updates on meeting local AAP leaders nearly every day.
They live in a joint family and have four children – three girls and a boy.
Recalling the day he came home, she said, "he was hesitant, scared of how society would now address him, so I was constantly telling him that what had happened was not a bad thing. Over time he stopped getting scared. He also went back to work for the party soon enough. I was never scared. When a person is doing a good job, like my husband is, then why should we be scared?"
'Case is Under Investigation': Delhi Police
Despite repeated attempts, none of them have been given a copy of the FIR, The Quint has ascertained.
Both men were booked under Section 3 of the Delhi Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, Section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) and 269 (negligent act likely to spread the infection of disease dangerous to life) of the Indian Penal Code, Section 51 (1)B (punishment for obstruction) and Section 54 (punishment for false alarm or warning) of the Disaster Management Act and lastly, Section 3 of Press and Registration of Books Act (which asks for the name of the printer and place of printing be visible clearly) on 15 May.
We contacted Neb Sarai SHO who said he will not speak about the investigation. "Ye Dilli hai, yahaan DCP ke illava aur koi nahi baat kar sakta. (This is Delhi, here no one lower than the rank of the DSP can speak.)" We then reached out to DCP South Atul Kumar Thakur, who merely said, "The case is under investigation."
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