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India: Illegal Arrests and Custodial Violence of Dalit Labour Activists Nodeep Kaur, Shiv Kumar in Haryana - Selected Statements and Reports (Jan - March 2021)

Free Shiv Kumar of Majdoor Adhikar Sanghatan labour union activist held in Karnal Jail in Haryana

3 March

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(press release issued after the press conference held on March 1, 2021 by Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) condemning the incarceration of Shiv Kumar of Majdoor Adhikar Sanghatan and hailing Majdoor-Kisan Ekta. It was addressed by Nodeep Kaur, Shiv Kumar’s father, Mandeep Punia and representatives of Kisan unions, trade unions, teacher’s organisation, women’s organisation, democratic rights organisations and student organisations. Please also find attached a statement issued by CASR condemning the custodial violence faced by Shiv Kumar and demanding his release along with the release of all peasants arrested in the wake of the January 26th Kisan Tractor Rally.

Campaign Against State Repression is a platform with over 36 organisations, including democratic rights organisations, student’s organisations, teacher’s organisations, trade unions and women’s organisations, who have come together against increasing state repression, targeting of academics, activists, journalists, lawyers, trade unionists and all such voices of democracy.)

Campaign Against State Repression (CASR)

Press Release: Nodeep Kaur, Shiv Kumar, Custodial Violence and Majdoor-Kisan Ekta

March 1st 2021

Condemning the custodial torture of Shiv Kumar by the Haryana Police, the Campaign Against State Repression organised a press conference today at the Press Club of India, Delhi against custodial violence and hailing Majdoor-Kisan Ekta. The Press conference was addressed by Surjit Singh Phool of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Krantikari), Joginder Singh of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan), Vidya Sagar Giri of All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Sucheta De of All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), Rajveer Kaur of Bhagat Singh Chatra Ekta Manch (BSCEM), Ishwar Singh Rathi of Nagrik Adhikar Manch (NAM), Sanjeev Mathur of Bahujan Samajwadi Manch (BSM), Nandita Narain of the Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA), Rinchin of Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), journalist Mandeep Punia, Shiv Kumar’s father Rajbir and Shiv Kumar’s fellow arrestee, Nodeep Kaur of the Majdoor Adhikar Sanghatan (MAS).

Surjit Singh Phool of the BKU (Krantikari) spoke of how Nodeep Kaur and MAS were instrumental in building worker-peasant solidarity and that this was the reason they were targeted. Besides workers and peasants, the government was also targeting intellectuals and journalists, an example of which is Mandeep Punia whom he dubbed a courageous son. He said there is a need to expose the falsities of the government and to demand the immediate release of all arrested alongside the quashing of the FIR on Nodeep Kaur and other activists of MAS. Joginder Singh of BKU (Ekta Ugrahan) spoke of how the Modi government falsely used the term democracy to introduce anti-people laws. Lamenting the plight of workers forced into twelve-hour shifts, Joginder Singh spoke of how people undertaking peaceful protests were routinely arrested under false charges. Taking the example of Nodeep Kaur, he said all she did was raise the issue of workers, peasants and women for which she was brutally targeted, arrested and tortured.

Reiterating how rights of workers and peasants are intertwined and represent the interests of the people of this country, Vidya Sagar Giri of AITUC compared undemocratic legislation of th three Farm Laws to the replacement of forty-four labour laws by four Labour Codes. He said, “the ways in which laws are made reveal how the practice of debate and discussion has been buried to steam roll new laws that serve big industry. It is significant that the Wage Code was consciously passed during the uproar resulting from the abrogation of Article 370 to circumvent debate and discussion. Furthermore, the other three labour codes received presidential assent on September 28th 2020, the birth anniversary of Bhagat Singh, in effect making a mockery of all that he fought for.” Sucheta De of AICCTU remarked on the deplorable conditions of workers and peasants across the country and how the slowdown in industry post the COVID-19 lockdown has been used to sack workers and deny them wages. Comparing the state of workers to that of bonded labour, Sucheta De referred to the incident at the Wistron Factory in Karnataka where workers were exploited in direct violation of the law. However, when they struggled for their rights, the police conducted a brutal crackdown with mass arrests. She considered the work of Shiv Kumar, Nodeep Kaur and MAS as the need of day and particularly referred to Nodeep Kaur as an example of workers unafraid to demand their rights. She also compared the manner in which those who fought for people’s rights were regularly arrested, including many involved in the protests against the CAA, NRC and NPR while those who openly resorted to violence like Kapil Mishra remained free.

Drawing parallels between the Bhima Koregaon, the protests against the CAA, NRC and NPR and the Kisan Andolan underway, Rajveer Kaur of BSCEM revealed the pattern by which the State routinely used fake charges to incarcerate those who stood against its anti-people and pro-corporate agenda. These fake charges are used alongside police violence and unleashing right wing goons to crush peoples’ movements. All three tactics were deployed against the MAS in Kundli with fake extortion charges, attacks by the police and the Hindu Jagriti Manch. Rajveer further expanded on the issue of fake charges referring to Rona Wilson arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case in whose laptop the State inserted fabricated documents. She also spoke of the brutal torture and casteist abuse Shiv Kumar suffered while in illegal custody and demanded his release alongside all those arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case and the North-East Delhi pogrom. She considered it the duty of all students and workers to join the peasants struggling for their rights today. Ishwar Singh Rathi of NAM, whose organisation had led protests against the arrest of Nodeep Kaur and Shiv Kumar in Sonipet, spoke of how all resources of the country were utilised only for the benefit of a few large corporate houses. When workers can be sacked at a whim and peasants fined over Rs. 1 crore for burning their own crops, Rathi said there was no option but to protest. He referred to the Kisan Andolan as a historic protest and hoped the implementation of the anti-worker labour codes on April 1st would draw a similar response.

Nandita Narain of DUTA said that the words independence, freedom and democracy had no meaning today and those who wanted these things needed to fight for them. She considered unacceptable the Prime Minister’s mocking of those who struggled for their rights as Andolanjeevi. She condemned the attempts at communally dividing people and spoke of the hypocrisy in treatment meted out to Pragya Thakur and Maya Kodnani while Prof. GN Saibaba, a person with 90% disability, was condemned to rot in jail and suffer COVID-19 exposure without bail. Rinchin of WSS spoke of the extent of police impunity in cases of sexual violence against women, especially dalit women. She saw the custodial sexual violence suffered by Nodeep Kaur coming in the wake of the custodial rape of a 19-year-old dalit girl in Butana, Haryana, the rape and murder of the minor dalit girl and subsequent cover-up by the police including forcibly cremating the body in Hathras, UP and Gurmandi, Delhi. These incidents reflected the misogynistic and casteist mentality of the police.

Sanjeev Mathur of BSM considered the questions raised today to be in essence concerning democracy. Speaking of the need to hold the government accountable, he bemoaned the fact that the media was not playing its role. He reiterated the need for people like Nodeep Kaur and Shiv Kumar, linking their dreams and struggles to our survival as a democracy. Journalist Mandeep Punia spoke of the coordinated targeting of journalists underway across the country. Be it Utkarsh Kumar Singh in Bihar, the three reporters in Kashmir, Siddique Kappan in UP or the raiding of the NewsClick office, the targeting of those who refuse to toe the line set by government is becoming rampant. Narrating the torture he underwent, Mandeep Punia spoke of how he was stripped, doused in water, beaten relentlessly, abused and denied access to legal counsel. He said the fundamental rights of journalists are being trampled.

Shiv Kumar’s father Rajbir spoke of how the police did not even bother to inform him of his son’s arrest. In fact, while holding Shiv Kumar in illegal custody, the Police demanded that he and his wife produce Shiv Kumar in two days. After hearing of his arrest, when Rajbir tried to meet Shiv Kumar, he was denied access with the police stating quarantine requirements. Rajbir finally saw his son only when he was brought for a medical examination. He remarked that Shiv Kumar could barely walk and that his fingers and hands were bruised. Nodeep Kaur of MAS thanked all those who struggled for her release, recognising that without their efforts she would not be here today. She spoke of the pathetic condition of workers in Kundli and demanded that rights existing currently under labour law be implemented while the new labour codes be opposed. She spoke of how the police accused them of using the Kisan Andolan to organise workers, asking if the right to association has been banned and if workers demanding their due wages is extortion. She said the most pressing issue today is state repression and how it is on the upswing. She spoke of the branding as anti-national and targeting and arresting under draconian laws like the UAPA and NSA of all those who struggle for the rights of the people, particularly those coming from marginalised castes, communities and nationalities. These actions, according to the Nodeep Kaur are aimed at crushing peoples’ movements but in fact reflect the weakness, fear and paranoia of the State. This fear, she felt, was aggravated by the threat to its relationship with foreign powers for whom the State brokered lucrative deals. She was confident in the power of the masses, that if worker, peasants, students, women, adivasis, dalits and Muslims all rose for their rights, the State will collapse instantly. Furthermore, as witnessed in her case, the arrest of activists spurs the masses into renewed and intensified struggles. She referred to the State, irrespective of the party in power, is an agent of big corporations, domestic and foreign and that State policy is mainly aimed at enslaving the masses to these interests. She described the police as a tool used to attack the people and mentioned Prof. GN Saibaba as an example of the countless people languishing in jail today for raising the issues of the people. She felt that there is no true freedom or democracy for the people today; these can only be achieved through struggle against the State which is in truth anti-people and anti-national.

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People’s Union For Democratic Rights (PUDR)

Prosecute those guilty of Custodial Torture of Dalit labour activist

27 Feb 2021

PUDR strongly condemns the custodial torture of young dalit labour activist Shiv Kumar working in the Kundli Industrial Area by Haryana police. Shiv Kumar was arrested under 3 FIRs (no. 649 of 28/12/20 and nos. 25 and 26 of 12/1/21, Kundli PS) against workers who were protesting to demand their pending wages in Kundli Industrial Area, Haryana. The details of Shiv Kumar’s custodial torture came to light only after his father, a labourer, applied in the Punjab and Haryana High Court for his son’s thorough medical examination. This was done only after Shiv Kumar’s family and lawyer could finally meet him, weeks after he had been picked up by the police. The results of the Court ordered medical examination, conducted by the Government Medical College Hospital (GMCH) in Chandigarh came on 24 February and proved the gruesome torture that Shiv Kumar had alleged. Shiv Kumar also recorded his testimony before the doctors’ team during his medical examination, giving details of time/place and the custodial torture he had undergone. He stated that he had actually been picked up on 16 January between 2 and 3 pm from Kundli by the police and tortured brutally thereafter. He was finally presented before the magistrate on 24 January, remanded to further police custody till 2 February when he was sent to jail, where he still remains.

The nature of the injuries which showed up in a medical examination weeks after being inflicted include blunt force and grievous injuries, with specific details (such as “right foot swelling” which showed a large “blackish discolouration area” and toe nails that were blue and tender, among others) that were in consonance with the injuries Shiv Kumar narrated in his testimony of torture before the doctors, and reflect the severity and degree of the assault by the police. Shiv Kumar also displayed symptoms of mental post-traumatic stress at the time of the medical examination, though the doctors noted that he did not have any “ideas/plans of self-harm”.

It is remarkable that despite this obvious physical state of Shiv Kumar, it required a High Court intervention to actually carry out a medical test. There is no doubt that those who inflicted these injuries are criminally liable.

These brutal acts of ‘commission’ by the Haryana police were perpetrated along with other crucial acts of omission – i.e. their failure to inform Shiv Kumar’s family of his being picked up, or of his being presented before the magistrate, or of their failure to comply with arrest guidelines laid down in law (and D.K. Basu vs. State of West Bengal and Union of India, 1997).

That allegations of custodial violence, and sexual assault were also made by Nodeep Kaur, Shiv Kumar’s fellow labour activist with Mazdur Adhikar Sangathan (MAS) in Kundli, who was arrested on 12 January under the same cases, indicates that this is a pattern. The police appear to be using these means – of custodial violence and torture – as the main tool of investigation into these cases against labour activists organizing to demand pending wages of workers in Kundli. ‘Evidence’ gathered in these cases by the police through custodial torture and violence is bound to be suspect and the possibility of fair trial shall become fainter if the same police continue to investigate.

The Haryana police might attempt to deny or downplay Shiv Kumar’s testimony of custodial torture as police do in all instances (except occasionally when custodial torture results in death). The reason is that there are almost never any independent witnesses in instances of torture in police custody, and the imbalance of power between the survivor of custodial torture and the police is usually too great, so most instances do not get reported. Where they do, the police investigate their own crimes, routinely granting themselves impunity as PUDR’s findings in monitoring custodial violence over the last 40 years reveal.

In this case however, owing to the courage of the victim, intervention by the lawyer and the assessment by a team of Government doctors, there is medical evidence of torture, and also a formal record of the victim’s own account of it. There is also the evidence of blatant flouting of law and procedure on arrest by the police. These provide ample basis to question the role of the police, and prosecute the guilty.

PUDR demands:

  • Criminal prosecution of guilty police personnel for the custodial violence inflicted on Shiv Kumar and Nodeep Kaur.
  • Investigation by an independent agency/authority into the role of the police in these cases.
  • Immediate release of Shiv Kumar and his hospitalization and medical treatment initiated in GMCH, Chandigarh.
  • Payment of pending wages of workers in Kundli Industrial Area and guaranteeing labour rights of workers.

Radhika Chitkara
Vikas Kumar
Secretaries
pudr[at]pudr.org

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WSS Statement condemning the arrest and custodial sexual violence by the Haryana Police against labour organiser Nodeep Kaur [Feb 2, 2021] http://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article10484.html

“I was arrested because I raised the voice of other people”: Activist Nodeep Kaur by Mandeep Punia (02 March 2021) https://caravanmagazine.in/crime/nodeep-kaur-labour-rights-dalit-activist-interview

Someone like Shiv Kumar had to be tamed By JYOTI PUNWANI (March 01, 2021) ’At 23, he has experienced what very few of his age have: Poverty at home, a stint in jail for his student activism.’ ’His experience told him that if you want your rights, you have to fight for them.’ https://m.rediff.com/news/special/someone-like-shiv-kumar-had-to-be-tamed/20210301.htm

Sonepat court grants bail to labour activist Shiv Kumar in two cases https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/haryana/sonepat-court-grants-bail-to-labour-activist-shiv-kumar-in-two-cases-220023

Punjab and Haryana High Court grants bail to activist Nodeep Kaur Kaur was arrested in Haryana’s Sonipat on January 12, had maintained she was ’targeted and falsely implicated’ https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/punjab-and-haryana-high-court-grants-bail-to-activist-nodeep-kaur-217761