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“You had a long beard, that is why police officials beat you up. They thought you were a Muslim. The man who thrashed you is a kattar (staunch) Hindu.”
This is how two policemen in Madhya Pradesh’s Betul apologised to lawyer Deepak Bandele and asked him to take back his case against police officials who thrashed him ruthlessly on 23 March, while he was going to a hospital.
What Had Happened?
On 23 March, two days before nationwide lockdown came into force, Bandele was going to a hospital for treatment when he was stopped by some policemen who were on patrolling duty.
Bandele tried to explain that he has a history of high blood pressure and sugar and needed to go to the hospital for regular treatment, but one police official slapped him without listening to what he had to say.
I told them to act within constitutional limits but the police officer started abusing not just me, but also the Indian Constitution. Within minutes, other police officers also started beating me up brutally.Deepak Bundele, Lawyer
The thrashing stopped only after Bandele told them he is a lawyer and will complain against them to the senior in-charges. He called his friend and brother after the incident who took them to the hospital and got a medicolegal (MLC) report done.
‘Police Is Pressurising Me to Take Back Complaint; Threatening of Persecution in False Cases’
The next morning, Bandele complained to the district Superintendent of Police, D.S. Bhadoria, and the state Director General of Police, Vivek Johri. He subsequently also wrote to the chief minister, state’s human rights commission, the bar council and other top government officials. He also filed an RTI to retrieve the CCTV footage of the day. Two months after the incident, neither was he given access to the CCTV footage nor has his FIR been lodged. Instead, Bandele says he is being constantly pressurised to take back the complaint.
“One police official told me that since I am a lawyer, it will bode me well to cooperate with police officials instead of messing with them. He said, if I irk the policemen, they can entrap me in a false case as well.”Deepak Bundele
‘Police Said Man Who Beat Me up Was a Kattar Hindu and Mistook Me for a Muslim’
In his complaint to the SP on 24 March, Bandele had asked for an FIR to be registered. In connection with that, two police officials reached his residence on 17 May, almost two months after the incident. The officials had come to record his version, instead they revealed the “real reason” behind beating him up.
This is when the police officials, in their defence, told Bandele that he was beaten up because he was wrongly identified as a Muslim. Bandele had recorded the audio of the conversation which he shared with The Quint.
According to the recording, voices allegedly belonging to the police officials, initially try to convince Bandele to not lodge an FIR.
One of the officers can be heard saying, “You are like my son, I am making a heartfelt request to you to write, "the police officials did not behave indecently with me.” You must adhere to our request....We are all living in Gandhi’s country, we are Gandhi’s children.”
When Bandele refuses to budge, the officer further says, “I have at least 50 friends from your caste.”
Bandele still refuses to go back on his word. That is when one of the officers say, “Whenever there a Hindu-Muslim riot, police always take the side of Hindus. Even Muslims know that.”
Bandele retorts, “That day there were no Hindu-Muslim riots.”
The officer explains, “There were some incidents before you that day, that is why the police was a little hassled. And they mistook you for a Muslim because of your long beard.”
The second officer adds, “The man who beat you up is a kattar (staunch) Hindu. Whenever there is a Hindu-Muslim riots and the Muslims are arrested, he always beats them up brutally. I am not boasting. You can test him yourself someday.”
Bandele still refused to withdraw his complaint and said he has been a professional journalist before becoming a lawyer. He told them he has decided to pursue the complaint since he has already notified top government officials.
What is Police Saying About the Matter?
The Quint spoke to Additional SP Shraddha Joshi who said there are two aspects being explored in relation to the case.
- Deepak Bandele had himself misbehaved with the police on 23 March. However, there is no CCTV footage of the incident since the recordings are stored only for 30 days. Additional SP Joshi said, “Had we been able to recover the footage, the truth from both the sides would have come to light.”
- The second aspect being investigated is that the sub-inspector had not given information of the incident to the top officials and instead had just mentioned it in the diary, according to Additional SP Joshi.
SP Joshi further said that Bandele could not identify the faces of the policemen who thrashed him. But, what stops them from finding out which police officer was deployed at the location as mentioned by Bundele?
When further asked about the FIR not being registered and the police officials presenting a defence on the lines of communal bias, Additional SP Joshi said, “Because of COVID-19, all police officials are on ground duty. Our first priority is to enforce the lockdown properly. We are occupied with too many COVID-19 cases.”
On the communal remarks, Additional SP Joshi further said:
I have been informed about the incident where two policemen have talked about religious divisions. The officials who submitted the report to us have not informed us anything, I got to know from journalists. If something like this has indeed been said, an investigation will be launched.
After the matter came to light, one of the policemen who went to Bandele’s house was suspend on Wednesday, 20 May.