Police Terror in Vidarbha
On receipt of information from Nagpur about the spate of arrests of young students and trade union activists in the districts of Yavatmal, Chandrapur and Nagpur in Vidarbha on suspicion of they being supporters of Naxalite movement, and information in local Press about the harassment of the suspects and their relatives by the Police CPDR decided to send a Fact-Finding Team with the following terms –of- references:
The team comprised the following members:
The team visited Nagpur, Yavatmal, Wani and Chadrapur on September 26 /27, 2004 and released its interim finding in the Press Conference held at Nagpur.
The team met Mr. Pankaj Gupta, I.G. (Naxal), Nagpur; Mr. Amitesh Kumar, S.P. Yavatmal Distrct; M/s Satish Telang, Laxmikant Bhagvat, journalists at Wani; Mr. Vinayak Kakade, counsels for the arrested students; Mr. Vilas Teltumbde, father of Viplav Teltumbde, one of the two students who were arrested from Wani; Mr. D. P. Kale, President, Bar Association, Wani. The team also met kins of other three students arrested in Wani. On September 27, 2004, the team went to Chandrapur and interviewed Mr. A. P. Pillai, Principal, Shantaram Potdukhe Law College, where Viplav is reading for his LL B (Final). The team met Mr. Ravi Wadhai, Trade Union activists and an employee of Western Coalfields Ltd. and his colleagues most of whom were recently arrested on charges of being Naxalite sympathizers.
The team could not meet the arrested students in Jail and take their version. The team wanted to meet some students at Wani, to get information on the college election which was being linked with Viplav’s arrest but no student come forward to speak on this issue. The fear of plight being endured by Viplav still pervaded and was palpable in our interaction with the people. At the outset the team could feel the terror let loose by the police from the way the responses to team were coming in a feeble and hushed maner.
Interview with the IG (Police), Nagpur
The team met Mr. Pankaj Gupta at his office on 25/9/04 at 12 noon. The IG after exchanging pleasantries expressed his dislike towards bodies such as CPDR venturing into domains which is exclusive to police and judiciary, moreover, he attributed that such bodies normally do not come up with open mind. He appeared surprised at CPDR’s current visit because he had assumed it to be dormant after the emergency and it taking such interest in ‘militant movement’ matters did not go down well with him. After jotting down particulars of each member of the team he reluctantly went on to speak making apparent that his doubts whether CPDR is existent or not is to be verified! He went on repeating that CPDR is non functional now and was evading any issues of harassment of trade union activists at Chandrapur on the pretext that CPDR is approaching him after filing a writ petition in the court. For him, after lodging the writ petition for the rights of the accused CPDR had no locus standi to probe. ‘It has burnt the boats, we will reply them in Court’, was his bursque reply. He refused to comment on anything intrinsic to the probe but had words of caution that CPDR could well canvass like: An organization which did not contest elections was not democratic, Student should study and not indulge in politics and they should do business. He said he would not divulge anything that is concerned in the response to the writ petition. He was at the same time concentrating on how poll boycott posters were displayed in some villages adjoining Chadrapur district in April 2004, at the time of the election campaign for Lok Sabha. He also told us that these people believed in ‘power flows from the barrel of the gun’.
Interview with the SP, Yavatmal
The team later met Mr. Amitesh Kumar, SP, Yavatmal. The team found the SP responding to our queries in a point to point manner. At the outset he tried to plead that CPDR had a closed mind in this enquiry. While presenting the details of the arrest of the students he defended the police action. He stated that the police have maintained a high quality of investigation and carefully followed the provisions of arrest as prescribed under D. K. Basu judgment in every respect. He said that the student leader Viplav Teltumbde was arrested at 10.30 P.M in the night of Saturday (21/08/04) and was produced before the judicial magistrate, first class (JMFC) at 8 P.M. the next day much before the 24 hours condition as provided in the law. He informed the team that ‘highly incriminating materials’ like pamphlets (handbills), booklets were collected from the raids at the house of the students. On questioning as to whether the family members of Viplav were informed about these materials confiscated from his house in the raid at 02.30 am on 21.09.2004, he did not have the answer. He was categorical in stating that the high amount of bail was purely the discretion of the SDO/JMFC and police had no role in that. He also informed the team that there was no harassment of the students in the police hands. He showed the team a hand bill printed in the name of the CPI (ML) (PWG). This he said was collected from the raids of the students’ houses. It carried slogans for boycotting elections, driving away multinationals that loot the workers and render them jobless, driving out the parliamentary parties that support globalization, calling for joining PGA. It also condemned the Hindu Fascist organization for brewing trouble in the country and feeling good about it. He said the students have been arrested for pasting these handbills during the last Lok Sabha election. He said that he intended using POTA but it has been repealed. He also said there were more evidences with him that he would not divulge now and indicated that the students were found attending the training camps that were conducted in an adjacent district. When queried by the team about the kind of training given at the camp, the SP replied that it was not a weapons training camp but merely an ideological indoctrination hub. He also said that the students were using Badminton rackets as mock guns during that training camp. He categorically denied any charge of casteist overtones in the arrests of the students or the harassment of the press reporter Mr. Satish Telang. He said that the reporter was not a noted person and he had intruded into the limits of police cordon without permission and tried to meet the ‘dreaded’ detunes. He said that the said reporter had previous several cases against him. He surprised us by voluntarily giving us unsolicited information that there was no political interference of any kind in the arrest of the students. While leaving the room after the interview, he was suggestively verifying if the team had met Mr. Laxmikant Bhagwat. The team did not know at that time who this Bhagwat was? The SP informed the team that apart from him no subordinate officer in the district is permitted to speak to the media or to the probe bodies, as such the team was barred from an in-person talk with the PSO Wani, though he was present when this conversation with the SP went on. Lastly, the SP proudly claimed to come up with some sensational arrests soon.
Interview with the local press persons
Later in the day the team met Mr. Satish Telang and Mr. Laxmikant Baghwat, (whom the SP, Yavatmal had referred during our meeting) the next day for collecting the details of harassment of the press persons. Satish Telang was a student some time back at Wani college studying for his BA in mass communications. Now he is a local correspondent for the major Marathi daily in Vidarbha- Lokmat. On hearing the news on that day (on 21.08.2004) that some member of a local coal mafia was arrested he went to the police station to collect the details. The policemen over there identified him as the press person and allowed him entry in to the police station. There he found a person in remand calling out his name. It was Bashkar Bhure, whom he knew as they had studied together. He informed the police person at the desk and went to talk with Bhaskar. Suddenly the Police Station Officer (PSO), Awadesh Tripathi, who was around all this while came to him and started abusing him for speaking with a dreaded person in remand without his permission. Satish explained that he had informed the police personnel beforehand and with their permission only he came to speak with him. But it did not satisfy the PSO. He started interrogating Satish about his object in being Journalism. When Satish replied inter alia that he was a follower of Babasaheb Ambedkar, the PSO angrily blurted out a volley of provocative fulminations. He abused him in casteist terms and used filthy and unseemly words even for Ambedkar. When the team tried to get the verbatim version of this part, Satish could not even repeat the filthy words that PSO Tripathy used for his ‘revered’ Dr. Ambedkar. He was seemingly disturbed to repeat the abuse through his mouth. On probing whether he has made a complaint under the Atrocity Act, he said he has informed this matter to his association but is afraid about the consequences at the hand of Tripathy if he escalates it.
The next day the team met Mr. Laxmikant Bhagvat, a long time local correspondent of widely circulated Lokmat. He had learnt about our visit and came forward to meet us. We understood from Bhagawat that the arrest and remand of Satish Telang by the PSO, Wani was not intimated either to the Lokmat office or to his family. Instead the PSO chose to send a message to the police station at Satish’s native place. He told the team that Satish hailed from a village where a few years back a bus was set on fire allegedly by Naxalite sympathizers. The arrested student Mr. Bashkar Bhure also hailed from the same village. According to Bhagawat, the PSO, Tripathy and Satish had an encounter some time back when Tripathy had arrested Satish when he was talking to his cousin sister in front of the police station. At that time, he was released after the cousin’s family came to the police station and identified him. Bhagawat told us that Tripathy was known to be arrogant and foul mouthed even with the Press. He was casteist and openly took sides in local politics. He had called the local antisocial elements during the last election and asked them to campaign for the BJP. Bhagawat told us that there was always a caste bias in the police behaviour towards dalits. Tripathy was known to be against dalits. It was interesting to know that all the students arrested in Wani were belonging to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities. We were told that Viplav had graduated from the Wani college and had a hold on student politics. He was identified with the leadership of a student panel, Yuva Kranti Dal. In the last college election all the arrested students had actively worked with him for the victory of this panel. Interestingly, the opposition had a son of local MLA, Mr. Wamanrao Kasawar of Congress (I). The day they were arrested, their panel was declared as elected.
On his reflection over the case of the students arrested at Wani, Bhagawat had much to offer. He said that through his sources learnt that the three primary time mentioning registers at the police station i.e. the Station House Diary, the arrest register and the lock up register all have a noted difference in mentioning the time of arrest of Viplav and Bhaskar.
Interviews with the family members of the students
The team met the family members of Viplav, Titre and Nagrale. The family members of Viplav, particularly Viplav’s father narrated the entire sequence of the arrest: In the wee hours of 21st September, 2004 some 12-14 people in plain clothes, claiming to be policemen forced into the house and began searching for something all over. They did not even give time for my wife and daughter to neat up their clothes. They did not seem to get anything. They picked up some book and left. We were not told anything about the book. Later in the morning, at around 10.30 am the policemen in plain clothes came again and took away Viplav. That day the results of the college election were announced and Viplav and his friends were happy that their panel- Yuva Kranti Dal had won. Police did not tell us anything –for what crime they arrested him and where they were taking him. After that we did not hear anything about Viplav and were obviously worried. Later in the day, his father learnt that he was taken away to Yavatmal.
His father could meet Viplav only on 23rd September when he was produced before the JMFC. He told the team that when produced before the court he understood that his son was mentally harassed and threatened that his sister and father would be booked under POTA or MCOCA if he did not co operate with the police.
The team met the brother of Nagrale who narrated the similar story about his brother’s arrest. He informed that his brother was taken away by the police at 4.30 am on the same day and the police party did not inform them of the reasons of arrest. They met him at the Wani police station at 8.30 am. The same was the response from the family of Titre. They were not well informed of the details of the arrest. Even the kins of the arrested were not willing to talk to us because of the fear of the police reprisal. The other students gathered there were so terror- struck that none would come forward to speak with us.
Interview with the counsel and the President, Bar association, Wani
Mr. Vinayak Kakade, the counsel for Viplav Teltumbde, had to muster courage to take up this case. Not many members at the Wani Bar will take up such cases, as it displeases the police. He told, at times the police itself reach out to the members of the Bar and ask them to refrain from taking up such cases.
Since he had taken up this case, he expressed, the surveillance over him has increased. The locality in which he resides has shown an increased patrolling by the local police. He received an enveloped threat that he too will be implicated in this case if he continues canvassing press support for the arrested.
According to him it was quite common in Wani for the police to take remand, at times, even without case diaries and other documents. He has recently filed a complaint against the JMFC apprehending his close nexus with the local police.
The team met Mr. D.P. Kale, the President, Bar Association, Wani. He expressed that unlike the urbs the rural law practitioners do face some meddling in their profession by the police. Police forcing lawyers to withdraw from cases is not so uncommon. He informed the team that these students were struggling for the cause of SC/ST students and they participated in student elections under the banner of Yuva Kranti Dal. According to him, the caste prejudice of the local police and political dynamics of the college elections were certainly behind this action. He told us that the police exerted pressure even on advocates to tap privilege information from the lawyers. While discussing the unusual bail condition asked by the police and granted by the JMFC, Mr. Kale informed the team that there exists a practice in Wani and Yavatmal of insisting on bail surety from ‘respectable’ persons belonging to ‘different community’.
Interviews with the Trade Union activists at Chandrapur
The team met the trade union leaders and their activists belonging to AITUC and HMS, all of whom were the regular employees of Western Coalfields Ltd., a Govt. of India Undertaking.
They told us that at some places posters were pasted for boycotting elections during the last Lok Sabha election and police had registered crime against unknown persons. On April 14, 2004, police arrested M/s Madhukar Thakre and Bhaurao Lokhande (both union office bearers of the Gowri Opencast Mine No. 2- branch). Their houses were searched and some books were confiscated. Police never gave the details of these books, however. The next day, i.e., on April 15, 2004, the houses of Ravi Wadhai and Shyam Kutarmare were raided by breakopening the locks on them. Police took away the files of the Jan Sangharsh Manch and other printed books etc. Both Ravi and Shyam are the leading activists of the Jan Sangharsh Manch- a front of the unions and other organizations in Chandrapur area. On April 21, 2004 the case was dismissed by the Rajura court and both of them were freed. The next day, i.e., April 22, 2004, Police arrested Madhukar Thakre fronm his house at 2.00 am. He was badly beaten at Rajura police station. Since their houses were raided and sealed by the Police, Ravi Wadhai and Shyam Kutarmare apprehending arrest obtained a preemptive bail from the sessions Court on April 21, 2004. As per the condition of this preemptive bail, when they went to rajura Police station to mark their attendance, they were made to sit there for the entire day without food and eventually handed over to Virur police. They were interrogated and sent to Chnadrapur jail upto 29.04.2004 under PCR. They were produced by Ballarpur Police before the court on 04.05.2004 and were again sent to the jail. On 13.05.2004, Ravi Wadhai and on 20.05.2004 Madhukar Thakre got bailed out from the jail respectively. Both were however required to report to Rajura and Virur police stations once a week. Although they had obtained a bail from the sessions Court before arrest for the crimes in Rajura police station, police continued calling Ravi Wadhai, Shyam Kutarmare, Nandkishor Mhaske and Bhaurao Lokhande, to police station at odd hours in night that they should present themselves at the police station the next day. In July they again called them for interrogation. Again after 15-20 days they were called with an alibi that they have to show their arrests. They were again called for taking fingerprints. Every time they were notified in the wee hours of night, around 1.00 or 2.00 am. On 03,09.2004, they were taken to police station for identifying the students arrested at Wani. They recorded their supplementary statements. On 12.09.2004, D. B. Meshram was taken to police station while he was on duty in his second shift. After interrogation, he along with Rangrao Kulsange was taken next day, i.e., 13.09.2004 to the Naxal Cell in Chandrapur. They were threatened that their telephone number was found in a diary of some Naxalite and made to sit there the entire day. They searched the house of D. B. Meshram without any search warrant and confiscated some books. On 18.09.2004, at 12.00 pm in night, police went to Ravi Wadhai and Bahurao Lokhande that they come at the police station next day at 09.00 am. They did the same to Kutarmare and Thakre. The next day, i.e., 19.09.2004, they were made to wait there whole day without food and eventually presented to SDPO’s court in the evening showing arrest under sec. 110 (E). The next day the process in ditto was repeated for Nandkishor Mhaske, Rangrao Kulsange, Railing Jhupaka, D. B. Meshram. They were issued a Show Cause Notice and released. The Ishtegasha registered in this connection is absolutely fake. On 07.09.2004 and 10.09.2004, a ‘C’ form was taken from all the above persons as Naxal supporters.
All these people have been active in the area organizing the workers for a wage hike, uniting all trade union with different political affiliations like INTUC, AITUC, CITU and HMS on a single platform under Jan Sangharsh Samiti which took up the anti globalization campaign in the area and even succeeded in blocking the efforts of management in contracting out certain in-house tasks. The above details of the police action clearly speak about their harassment. While the police had their contact numbers, they would come in a posse in late night deliberately to create terror in the colony.
These trade unionists had approached the District Collector along with the local PWP party leader to complain about the police harassment. Though the collector assured restraint in police action, the harassment continued as before.
The team was shown the photographs of Madhukar Thakre showing how he was beaten in the police station. The marks of beatings could be easily seen even though the photographs were taken reportedly after a week.
Interview with the Principal, S.P. Law College, Chandrapur
The team met Mr. Pillai, Principal, S.P. law College at Chandrapur, where Viplav Teltumbde was reading Law for his LL B (Final). He knew Viplav well. He had very clear idea that the student Viplav was studious and concentrated on his studies and involved in no political activity in the campus. He said at this age involving in political activity is not a bad thing and holding ideological views is healthy and in no way it becomes a crime. He expressed that delaying bails to the students only amount to their harassment as they would not be able to resume their studies normally. He was insistent that the students should be permitted to continue their studies in jail and take examinations. He said that he himself intends to see SP, Yavatmal and other police authorities to apprise them of Viplav’s antecedents.
1. The arrest registers of the students, the police diary etc. show different timings.
2. The students were arrested and kept in illegal detention for more than 24 hours, while Viplav’s house the Court and the police station are not even 100 yards distance. The safeguard in the code of criminal procedure does not say that even in such circumstance the accused should be produced within 24 hrs. Fairness would have demanded immediate production so that the family of the accused could have known it and immediate legal help was provided.
3. SP Yavatmal had directly taken upon himself the arrest matters and investigations of the students. The fairness of a Investigation depends largely upon the objective approach of the Investigating Officer but when an Investigating Officer is merely reduced to a pawn in the hands of superior officers and merely carries out their instruction as it is, it jettisons the fairness of Investigation. Here, the IO seems only to be for namesake. The shots are called by the SP, carte-blanche, such unprecedented meddling in a case reflects the SP’s special interest. Moreover, his attitude came clear during our interview with him. He was unusually interested in causing maximum possible damage to the students. No wonder his personal prejudice found expression in the unruly behaviour of his PSO, Tripathy.
4. When the students were interrogated at Yavatmal, whether they were briefed about the availability of lawyers to them or not is nowhere recorded.
5. The bare minimum requirement of informing the family and the counsel for the arrested as per the provisions and guidelines of D.K. Basu case judgment were not followed. The disregard for the guidelines of the hon’ble Apex Court as set out in DK Basu’s case and other cases is quite obvious. It has not only ignored but had been flouted too.
6. Though the Police station and the JMFC office fall in the same complex the students were detained and taken away to Yavatmal for investigation without producing them at the earliest hour before the magistrate.
7. The fact that the arrested were students, was not brought to the notice of the court intentionally.
8. The SP response to the team evoked the doubt if the whole arrest was as a response to the student election result or on the eve of the coming assembly election.
9. The SP’s repeated statements that ‘I am just seeing whether their offence would come under POTA, ‘since POTA has lapsed their activity could not be brought under that law’ leaves doubt on the impassioned response of the SP in handling the case. His passion to cause maximum possible damage to the students, against whom he does not have (by his own admission) a single evidence than a pamphlet and a printed book allegedly recovered from their houses, does not bode well for his rank as a senior police officer. His behaviour and statements clearly reflected his personal prejudice against the students.
10. The Press person Satish Telang’s arrest exhibits absolute highhandedness of the Wani PSO Tripathy which is impossible without the support from his higher up. His relationship with his boss- Amitesh Kumar, SP, Yavatmal was much discussed in the local Press in some other context. Awadsh Tripathy is known to be arrogant, casteist, corrupt and foul- tounged as reported in the Press. (A local paper Vidarbhanchal in its issue dated August 15-21, 2004 has carried a full page expose on him). He has insulted Satish Telang on a castiest basis and even used his foul tounge against Dr. Ambedkar. The local union of journalists have lodged a complaint in this respect with the SDO, Wani, with copies to all including the Chief Minister. There is no action so far on such a serious complaint by a Press body.
11. There is a certain caste overtone to this episode, as all the students arrested belong to the Scheduled caste and Scheduled tribe communities. The manner in which the Police behaved also leaves scope to smell casteist prejudice.
12. Harassment of the trade union leaders and activists at Chandrapur is also unwarranted. The police conduct reflects a clear intention to damage the social prestige these people enjoyed and also to create terror in the locale so that workers shun fighting for their rights. The police highhandedness has gone so far as to torture one worker in the Police station. Police had no grounds to indulge in such third degree methods. As their FIR states they only suspect them to be supporters of Naxalites. Their activity in uniting all trade unions in the fight against globalization and contracting out is being viewed with vengeance and they are being harassed on the eve of poll. Though they belong to govt. undertaking unnecessarily they are being harassed to dissuade them from holding a given ideological hold.
13. Yavatmal district has the practice of asking for ‘bail surety from respectable persons belonging to different community’. This is at clear variance with the provisions of bail conditions and is unconstitutional in nature.
1. Release the students immediately on a personal bond without any stringent conditions so that they can continue their studies normally.
2. Action should be initiated under Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe Prevention of Attrocities Act against the PSO, Wani Awadesh Tripathi for his casteist behaviour with Satish Telang.
3. The harassment of trade union leaders at Chandrapur should be stopped forthwith.
4. Initiate action against extra judicial methods and tortures adopted by the police at Chandrapur.
5. The practice at Yavatmal district asking for ‘Bail surety from respectable person from different community’ should be inquired into and action initiated on those who served such notices.
6. Institute a judicial enquiry into the prejudicial police conduct in the case of arrests of the Wani students and their harassment.By Dr. Anand