I Was Beaten & Locked up for Covering Kathputli Colony Demolition
The Quint’s Kshitij Kumar was among several who were roughed up & detained during the Kathputli Colony demolition.
At around 2pm on 30 October, I parked my car under the Shadipur flyover in Delhi. The road was dug up and there were e-rickshaws parked near a stream of sewage. Women were washing clothes by the water and a policeman seemed to be basking in the glory of his surroundings. I asked him if I could leave my car there, while I covered the demolition drive at Kathputli Colony. He said if the e-rickshaw drivers had no problem with it, he didn’t give a damn either.
Meanwhile, Kathputli Colony, still neatly hidden from my view by a cement wall covered with DMRC logos, was facing its final blow.
As I walked past the walls, I phoned Sunil (name changed). He asked me to come to the other end, where the JCB machines were breaking the houses down. He called me in the morning, to say that they were told their houses would be demolished that day.
The residents began protesting, but the policemen had their lathis. Some of the residents picked up stones. And everyone else got caught in the crossfire.
As I was looking for Sunil, I saw people carrying their belongings on their backs — a tv, a cupboard, a charpoy. I first saw an injured woman, sitting with a bandage around her head. Her house was already demolished, she could not carry out her belongings fast enough.
Watch: The Quint speaks to settlers of Kathputli Colony after the demolition drive
I saw three or four families squatting on the debris, next to a pile of the few items they could salvage before the demolition. “What have you come to do here now,” they asked me. “How will you save our house now?”
Suddenly, we heard a gunshot from the other side, where houses were still standing. There was panic. Someone said they were using teargas on the other side, someone said a resident of one of the blocks had set fire to his cylinder.
Sunil phoned and told me that a person attempted suicide by hanging. I should try looking for the “Pradhan’s” house, he said. While looking for that house, I reached the Kalakar trust office — the NGO that provides community management in Kathputli. There were lists put up outside the office. I asked a man if these lists were for transitory housing.
While I was recording his answer, two DDA officials apprehended me and tried to snatch my phone. When I said I was a journalist, they asked me to delete whatever I had recorded. I told them to stop snatching my phone and listen to me. They looked at the policemen standing by and said, “le jaao isko (take him away)”.
I tried calling my office but a policeman snatched my phone and dragged me with his elbow around my neck. He pushed me and threw me on the road, hitting me with his hands and legs and pulling on my neck.
He dragged me to the police van parked in a corner. There was already a boy sitting inside. “What is it to you? Why do you get mixed up with these pests,” a cop asked as the car started moving. “Was your mother or your sister being assaulted there that you were making a video? For four years you media people have been a pain in our asses. Egging on all these illegal freeloaders”.
When we reached the police station, the other boy and I joined four others – two men, two girls and a five-year-old – who were picked up on allegations of stone-pelting.
A policeman walked up to me. He was holding a thick pipe in his hand. He asked me what I was doing there and asked me to stretch out my hands.
I told him I am a journalist and that I was sent to cover the demolition. He did not listen to me and struck my palms with the pipe. A head constable sitting on a chair said I had no business covering the demolition if I did not come seek their permission before going there.
They then began to beat the other boy who was brought in with me. I showed them my ID and asked them to let me call my office, they simply noted down our names and continued bringing in more and more men.
They asked a boy his age as they beat him. When he said he was 15, they made him lie down on his back, with a policeman sitting on his chest and another one lashing the soles of his feet with the rubber pipe. “We will hit you. Say you are 18,” he said.
Every time they brought in a person or two, everyone else except me got a few fresh blows. This went on till there were 11 of us, not counting the five-year-old witness.
At around 4:30 pm, one and a half hour after sitting there, the head constable called me and asked me to unlock my phone.
“Policemen are getting injured and you want to shoot videos,” he said, mocking me.
I told him I shot no video of the stone-pelting. In fact, I did not see any incident for the hour I was there. But the head constable and other cops there were very angry about it. “Tonight when they come back from the demolition they will teach all of you a lesson,” we were told repeatedly.
Through the six hours that I was there, numerous policemen came to look at the alleged stone-pelters. One of them pointed at me and said, “he isn’t from Kathputli, why is he here?” The head constable replied, he was reporting. “Bahut shaunk hai reporting ka na, ab report kar”.
At one point a cop came to me and asked which website I work for. When I told him, he took out his phone and called someone. He asked the person the name of the website he works with, saying he wanted to confirm if I am an "inside man". When the person told him some different name, the policeman grinned at me and walked away.
When I asked them to let me go or make a phone call, they said the SHO would decide when I get to do that. When I said let me speak to the SHO, they said he would come and talk to me when he wanted to.
Inside the room, the 11 of us stared at each other. There was a man who had moved away from Kathputli. He came back and was picked up. Another man, a 20-year-old, said the policemen entered his house and picked him up.
Two people who had just returned from work and had no idea the houses were being demolished; a girl who climbed up the roof of her house for a better look at what was happening; a mother who began arguing with a cop after her house was demolished.
“All my belongings must have been scattered, who will take care of them,” she asked, cradling her five-year-old. “I made rotis in the morning and went outside and saw the vans. I couldn’t even take the rotis out of the house when they struck my house.”
The policemen made all eleven of us stand in a corner and took our photographs with a mobile phone. They were talking among themselves, saying they will share the photos of the stone throwers on a Whatsapp group with other policemen.
Everytime I tried to reason with the policemen, or even try to say something to them, they would lash out and threaten to beat me up like the others. “You wanted to mix with them, report their stories, now you will eat with them in jail.”
Around 7pm, my father found my car under the flyover. He was looking for me in Kathputli after my office informed him that they had lost contact with me while I was out reporting.
After searching for me for over two hours, he found me in the lockup of the Ranjith Nagar police station.
I was let off at around 10pm, with a sincere apology from the SHO and a note on how the police have a “very hard time”. “Today was particularly bad because of stone pelting injuries. It was a mix-up, we are sorry.”
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