“The police officers stripped me naked, tied my hands, asked me to stretch my legs, stood next to my private parts, and hit my thighs with a six-feet-long rod,” claimed 27-year-old Shiv Kumar, a Dalit and labour rights activist.
On a cold December afternoon, Kumar met The Quint in his modest two-room house in Kundli, a small town along the Delhi-Haryana border. Kumar is associated with Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan — a labour union working in Haryana -- and was at the forefront of the farmers' protest in 2020 and 2021.
On 16 January 2021, Kumar was arrested by the Haryana police for protesting against the Kundli Industrial Association over alleged unpaid wages and harassment of workers. He was let out on bail on 4 March 2021.
At the time, Kumar had alleged custodial torture.
Now, a year later, Kumar’s case and claims are back in the news after an inquiry report submitted before the Punjab and Haryana High Court by Panchkula District and Sessions Judge Deepak Gupta on 21 December confirmed the activist’s claims that Haryana police kept him in “illegal confinement and tortured him.”
Three FIRs were filed against Kumar at the Kundli police station in Sonipat – one on 28 December 2020 and the other two FIRs on 12 January 2021 -- over multiple protests against the Kundli Industrial association.
All three FIRs were filed under multiple sections of 148 (rioting), 149 (participating in unlawful assembly), 384 (extortion), and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Apart from decoding the 23-page inquiry report, this piece also attempts to understand the impact of this on Kumar's life and work, his allegations of torture due to his Dalit identity, and why he won't stop fighting for justice.
But First, What Does the Inquiry Report Say?
The report, accessed by The Quint, is based on the statements of 15 witnesses including Nikita Khattar, the IPS officer in-charge of the Special Investigative Team (SIT) constituted to investigate three cases against Kumar, Kundli Station House Officer (SHO) Shamsher Singh, and medical officer in Sonipat District jail, Kapil Yadav.
The report states findings of Kumar’s “illegal police confinement” from 16 January-23 January 2021, and then on the intervening night of 23 and 24 January 2021.
On 27 December, at his house in Kundli, Kumar said, “I don’t want to go back to thinking about those days." He claimed that the medical reports have suggested that the torture (in custody) has resulted in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
As per findings of the medical board of Chandigarh-based Government Medical College and Hospital, dated 20 February 2021, Kumar suffered “multiple fractures, swelling in feet, broken nails, discolouration in limbs, and PTSD” while in police custody.
Interestingly, as per the High Court monitored-inquiry, before being taken to Chandigarh, Kumar was examined at least five times by doctors at the Sonipat Government hospital and Sonipat district jail.
None of these injuries mentioned in the latest inquiry report, however, made it to any of the medical reports prepared by Sonipat Government hospital or the district jail.
'Jail Officials and Doctors Danced to Tunes of Police': Inquiry Report
The inquiry report concluded that doctors at the Sonipat Government Hospital and those deputed in Sonipat jail "failed to perform their duty" and "danced to the tune of the police officials."
The report added that Vinay Kakran, posted as Judicial Magistrate First Class, Sonipat, also "apparently did not perform his duty as required."
Besides, the report said Sub Inspector Shamsher Singh, then additional SHO; Inspector Ravi Kumar, then SHO, Kundli; and Inspector Ravinder Kumar, incharge of the CIA, were “responsible” for Kumar’s torture.
The inquiry report concluded that when Kumar was examined at the Government Medical Hospital in Chandigarh, there were as many as eight serious injuries on his body including those on left thigh, right thigh, left foot, and right wrist. "Nail beds of second and third toe were found broken with underlying skin as reddish in colour. Nails of the left thumb and index finger revealed bluish black discolouration and tenderness," the report said.
'Money Can't Make Up for Torture I Faced': Shiv Kumar
About this report, Kumar told The Quint,"The inquiry report has confirmed what I was saying all along. I hope I get justice now."
Kumar said that justice isn't merely giving monetary compensation. "No amount of money can make up for the physical and the mental torture I faced when I was in jail and the threats my family faced outside," he said.
His hope is that for starters, "the police and medical officials who tortured me should be suspended."
Shiv Kumar on Days in Jail, Farmers’ Protest, Childhood
In his interview with The Quint, Kumar claimed that he was brutally tortured by the officials first during his "illegal confinement from 16 January-23 January 2021" and then when he was in Magistrate-ordered police remand from 23 January-20 February 2021.
"On 16 January 2021, I was picked up from the Singhu border protest site and taken to the office of the Central Investigation Agency in Sonipat," he claimed.
"A police officer, who I later identified as Inspector Ravi Kumar, the SHO of the police station, stripped me naked, tied my hands, and stretched my legs. Unhone mere pairon ke beech ek danda fansa diya. Two officers then hit me from the left, and two from the right side. At the same time one person would hit me with a belt on my feet," alleged Kumar.
This torture, he claimed, went on till 23 January -- with police personnel hitting him with rods.
It was only on 5 February, 20 days after he was arrested, that Kumar managed to send a message to his family through a jail staffer who hailed from his village Devru. "I wasn't allowed to see my family or my lawyer. It was on 19 February that I learnt about my father's petition demanding that a medical check-up be conducted at Chandigarh-based Government Medical College and Hospital," he told The Quint.
After 47 days in custody, Kumar was let out on bail by a local court in Haryana.
On Why Caste is Central To Shiv Kumar's Politics
Born to landless Dalit farm labourers in Haryana's Sonipat, Kumar said that since early childhood, poverty and caste discrimination shaped how he looked at society. "I grew up in a very poor household. My parents are landless farm labourers in Sonipat. After much difficulty, they managed to get me admitted to a private school in the city. I was often pulled up in front of the entire class because my parents were never able to deposit my tuition fee on time," he said.
These hardships pushed Kumar towards the Naujawan Bharat Sabha, a Marxist organisation founded by Bhagat Singh.
The walls of Kumar's house, which also doubles up as the office of his labour union — the Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan (MAS) — are flanked with posters of Bhagat Singh and Dr BR Ambedkar.
"In school, when we were asked about our idols, my friends named film or sport stars. My idol, however, has always been Bhagat Singh. His ideology helped me channelise my rage against the atrocities I faced as a Dalit coming from a poor background," said Kumar, as he posed for a photograph next to one of those posters.
He claimed that even during his time in prison, the police used casteist slurs against him. "Each time I cried for help, they abused me. They passed lewd comments in the name of my mother and sister. Casteist slurs were frequent. I remember them saying, "S**le C****r! Tu dilayega mazdooron ko unka paisa?" he alleged.
Nodeep Kaur, Kumar's fellow rights' activist, who was arrested on 12 January 2021 — four days before Kumar — had also accused Kundli SHO Ravi Kumar of using casteist slurs. In an interview to news website The Print, Kaur alleged that the SHO had said "Dalits can’t rise so high in society that they become the voice of the people."
'No Source of Income, Got Rejected from Jobs Due to Court Cases Against Me'
In addition to the physical and mental impact, the alleged torture in custody meted out to Kumar has severely impacted his livelihood.
"I don't have any source of income. I applied for a job but got rejected because of the court case against me. I am surviving on donations which come for our sangathan and support from the intellectuals in our society," he told The Quint.
He added that monetary help alone cannot be enough to compensate for his loss.
Kumar is now actively working with his labour union. "I will continue raising voice for the rights of the workers," he said.