On 25 August 2019, Amar, a 19-year-old accountant was having a cigarette outside a tea shop near his house when two men approached him. Dressed in casual clothes, one of them tapped Amar’s right shoulder from behind. As he turned, the other man gripped his left arm tightly and started dragging him towards a white Mahindra Scorpio. Amar was unable to process what was happening. Who were these men? Why were they dragging him? He had never seen them before. When he tried to ask, he was slapped and pushed into the car. Amar wondered whether he was being abducted by goons sent by the local peddler of drugs.
Pushed into the car, Amar started crying in fear. It was only after the car left the area that the two men revealed their identity.
“Tu police se panga lega? Tu dekh, ab kya hota hai! (You dared to mess with the police? Now you see what we’ll do to you!)“
Amar realised that he had been nabbed by the police for something he had done two weeks earlier: Shoot a video of two constables extorting protection money from drug peddlers and street hawkers.
A Video That Led To Custodial Torture
Amar was apprehended by two policemen, who were not even in uniform, in broad daylight. Payback for a video he shot on 10 August 2019, capturing two constables from Delhi's Adarsh Nagar Police Station running an extortion racket, on camera.
“I wanted to bring an end to this menace (peddling of drugs). I wanted to show how police is involved in all this. How police does nothing to prevent such activities from taking place in our area.”Amar
After that video went viral on WhatsApp, constables from Adarsh Nagar Police Station started hunting for the person who shot it. When a local informer led them to Amar, they wasted no time in “teaching him a lesson”.
9 Hours of Torture and Fear
At 10:30 am, after picking Amar up, without providing him with any information, the two policemen took him to a “room” in Adarsh Nagar's Jhanda Chowk area. Amar described the room as very small (only 12 gaz), with no windows, and lit with two tube-lights on opposite walls. Five minutes later, another constable entered the room with a green water pipe in his hand. Even as the other two policemen brandished dandas.
Amar claims that he was thrashed and abused in that room, by the three policemen for the next 90 minutes. He says one of the constables lashed him with the green pipe, while the other two kept kicking and beating him with their dandas.
Amar recollects that he was verbally and physically thrashed. He says the constables called him ‘chhot jaat’ (lower-caste), and ‘naali ke keede jo sadte rahenge’ (gutter pests who’ll keep rotting).
“I can’t describe the pain! I couldn’t even cry or scream as it made the pain worse. As the kept abusing me, I curled up and tried to protect my head, while exposing my back. They even spat on my face.”Amar
A Law Student Being Taught a 'Lesson of Lifetime'
After being subjected to hours of thrashing in that “room”, Amar was finally taken to the Adarsh Nagar Police Station. When the police was preparing for this transit, he managed to make a call to Praveen (name changed), his paternal uncle. With a faint voice, he briefly informed Praveen about his destination.
At around 2 pm, Praveen, who was a final year law student at the Delhi University at the time, reached the Adarsh Nagar Police Station to inquire about his nephew. He asked the Station House Officer to tell him the whereabouts of Amar, why he was arrested, and asked what procedures were followed during and after the arrest.
When Praveen confronted the police officer about his nephew’s legal rights, he was himself “taught a lesson in law”, a process which entailed third degree torture.
Praveen said that the concerned police officer got offended by absolutely valid inquiries about someone’s arrest. He feels that his assertion of a legal right made him vulnerable to the “darkest side of law enforcement agencies”.
“The policemen got really angry when I told them that I’m a law student. They grabbed me by the back of my neck, pushed me against the wall and said, “ab hum sikhaenge tujhe kanoon” (now we’ll teach you the law).”Praveen
Day That Shook My Conscience
During an interview with The Quint, Praveen hesitantly revisited the day that “shook his conscience”. He said he was taken to a room on the first floor where three police constables subjected him to “third-degree torture”.
Praveen claims that he was forced to undress and squat in front of his nephew. He was then beaten up with lathis. Two of the constables also stomped their feet on his back and chest, and didn’t stop until he coughed blood. Later, the unimaginable happened. Praveen further revealed that one of the constables tried to sodomise him with his lathi. All this happened right in front of his nephew, Amar.
Praveen claims that he was tortured by the police constables for over four hours. He was later released by 7 in the evening but the police refused to return his mobile phone. Praveen felt too ashamed to even go to a doctor for his injuries, so he somehow made his way back home. Meanwhile, Amar still remained in the custody of Adarsh Nagar Police without any case levelled against him.
Manufacturing A Criminal
After Praveen’s ordeal came to an end, Amar got to know that the said constables have registered a case against him under the Arms Act. In the FIR, it was stated that Amar attempted to extort 500 rupees from a man at gunpoint. This supposed victim was Amar’s neighbour Rohit (name changed) who lived just two houses away.
“They registered a fake case against me. In the FIR they’ve said that I committed robbery of 500 rupees at gunpoint at 7 pm. How is it even possible when I was in their custody since 10 am? Also, why would I try to extort 500 rupees, and that too from my neighbour?”Amar
The next day, Amar was taken to a Magistrate at Rohini district court. Despite noticing visible signs of violence on his body, and hearing his narrative of torture, the Magistrate remanded Amar to 14 days of judicial custody. Amar was not even provided with a lawyer during his remand proceedings.
“Magistrate Sahiba could see my swollen arms, swollen face, and marks on my neck. I had even told her about my plight. I had narrated my story to her despite strict intimidation from the police.”Amar
Amar claims that he was made to sign 20-25 blank papers before he was taken to the Magistrate. He was produced before the Magistrate more than 30 hours after his arrest, a violation of both his fundamental right under Article 22 of the Constitution and statutory right under section 57 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Amar further said that the police threatened him with ‘35 criminal cases’ if he dared to raise his voice before the Magistrate.
Amar was remanded to Tihar’s Jail No. 5, where he spent around a month before being released on bail. The experience of incarceration scarred Amar for life.
“In Jail, they made us clean gutters, clog toilets. The ‘newcomers’ were assigned such menial tasks, while the ‘older ones’ rested. One day, I woke up to find a dead boy in my barrack. He had committed suicide as he could not ‘take it anynore’. They (jail staff) were making him put his hand to unclog the toliets. Till date, no one knows about his suicide; the Superintendent ensured that no one gets to read his suicide note.”Amar
The Struggle to Seek Justice
Praveen and Amar toiled for days to even get an FIR registered against the three police constables who allegedly subjected them to “inhumane treatment”. A protest march was held by Praveen’s fellow law students from the Delhi University, who approached the Adarsh Nagar Police Station and urged the Station House Officer to lodge a complaint against his erring constables.
Praveen claims that he received no help from the authorities. Rather, they did everything they could to protect their officers. He said that the police also destroyed the relevant CCTV footage that could’ve implicated the constables. National Human Rights Commission also corroborates Praveen’s allegation of police authorities impeding his demand for a disciplinary inquiry against the concerned officers.
On 2 March 2020, the National Human Rights Commission had issued a notice to the Commissioner of Delhi Police on the issue of disciplinary inquiry against the accused police constables, giving six weeks to respond. When the Commission received no reply, it issued a last warning to the police department to respond by its order dated 4 September 2020. Finally, the Commission received a reply from the Deputy Commissioner of Police (North-West District) on December 14 2020.
In that response, the Deputy Police Commissioner stated that the allegations made in the complaint are “false”. He further contended that since the case is already pending before the court, no compensation can be granted to Praveen and his nephew.
While directing a compensation for Rs 3 lakh for Praveen and Amar, NHRC noted that the DCP’s response “does not inspire confidence” and is “unsatisfactory”. The Commission further held that the reason given for not instituting disciplinary proceedings against the accused police constables is also “fallacious”.
Wounds Heal, Scars Not
As Praveen and Amar continue to fight their case in the court, they believe that they shouldn’t have been subjected to such a process in the first place. They feel they’ve been wronged by the system, to such an extent that their lives can’t be the same anymore.
Amar said that his time in jail made him lose his job as an accountant in a mall. Now, with a criminal case pending against him, it is near impossible for him to find a job elsewhere.
“Due to this false case against me, no one is willing to give me a job. Wherever I apply, they ask for police verification. Even when I applied for driving a cab for Uber, they rejected me for having a pending case against me. The police also ran a false and maligning campaign against me in media. My reputation is damaged, no one wants to give me a job, no girl will want to marry me.”Amar
However, Praveen went on to complete his law degree and is now a practising advocate. He believes that his experience of custodial torture actually “taught him a lesson”.
“That day, I learnt how the police can make a criminal out of an innocent man, how they can ruin lives. I got exposed to the horrors of our criminal justice system, and I can never unlearn that.”Praveen
Praveen’s criminal case against his alleged abusers is still pending before the trial court in Rohini. He has never missed a date of hearing and ensures that his counsel never asks for an adjournment. However, being an advocate himself, he’s aware of how seeking justice through India’s criminal justice can be a long-drawn, demanding, and exhausting affair.
To date, both Praveen and Amar have not received a rupee as compensation. Although, they don’t consider compensation as a justifiable remedy for the wrongs committed against them. “I just need those constables to get punishment, no monetary compensation can evaluate the torture that was committed against me,” said Praveen with a voice faint with disdain.
(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)