BHU final-year student Ashutosh Kumar, who was one of the students involved.

By Akanksha Kumar

Two students of Banaras Hindu University were allegedly arrested and “tortured” by the police on the grounds of attempting to “block” the prime minister’s cavalcade in Varanasi on July 15. Both students were subsequently suspended by the university administration.

Ashutosh Kumar, 21, is a final-year student at BHU. The second student told Newslaundry he wants to remain anonymous. Both of them told this reporter they had merely been on the way to the college library when the police picked them up.

Prime minister Narendra Modi was in Varanasi that day to inaugurate multiple development projects. At around 9.30 am, Ashutosh and the second student, who is also his roommate in the university hostel, were on their way to the library. Their plan was to check their marks at the library’s central office since the university portal hadn’t been updated.

Ashutosh said a police officer at a barricade told them that students were allowed to walk through on foot. However, before they got to the next barricade, he and his roommate were stopped by a team of six policemen.

“The prime minister’s cavalcade hadn’t arrived at the campus yet,” Ashutosh said, “so we requested the police to let us go.” He “tried to engage” with the police, he added, and cited a court ruling on how routes could not be blocked for more than 10 minutes for a VIP’s passage.

While he was talking to the police, he said, sub-inspector Rajkumar Pandey arrived. “He called us motherfuckers and said ‘arrest them,’” Ashutosh said. “He then pulled my hair.” He claimed Pandey was accompanied by an officer from a local intelligence unit who “pleaded” that the students be allowed to go on their way, but Pandey purportedly refused.

The police allegedly “arrested” both students at this point, Ashutosh said, “ on the basis of a mere suspicion that we might cause some sort of disruption”.

His theory is that the police knew his background – he was associated with the All India Students’ Association in BHU in 2019 and had led protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act on campus. He left the organisation in January but claimed the police were “targeting him” regardless.

At that point, it was around 10.30 am. Ashutosh and his roommate were taken in a jeep to Seer chowki, the nearest police outpost, along with five other students who had been detained from elsewhere. He claimed they were “slapped and punched”.

At around 3 pm, they were taken to Lanka police station where an FIR was filed based on a complaint by Rajkumar Pandey.

Pandey’s complaint said, “While [we] were on duty awaiting the arrival of the prime minister near the BHU amphitheatre, Ashutosh and [friend] tried to interfere in our work. When they were stopped by police force, these students abused us…” The complaint added that Ashutosh and his roommate were not wearing facemasks in violation of Covid guidelines.

Ashutosh and his friend were charged under sections 353, 504, 270 and 271 of the Indian Penal Code. The charges included assault or criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of duty, criminal intimidation, and disobedience to quarantine rules.

Ashutosh said he did not verbally abuse the police.

In police custody

But even before the FIR was filed at Lanka police station, Ashutosh said, he and his roommate were first “tortured”.

“I was stripped naked and the hair around my genitals was pulled,” he said. “They pressed my genitals as well.” He was also “beaten”, he said, and his mouth and nose were “blocked in an attempt to asphyxiate”. One of the police personnel also “punched a key” into his hand.

His roommate corroborated these details. He said he was in another room with the five other BHU students who had been detained.

“All of us were beaten for around three hours by policemen, some of whom were in plain clothes,” the roommate said. “Then they brought Ashutosh into the room where we were being beaten with plastic pipes. His pants were pulled down. Our hair was pulled as they continued to beat us using all sorts of verbal abuse, asking why we were trying to disrupt the prime minister’s event. Some thrashed us with their feet.”

He added, “I was carrying only a wallet but Ashutosh had a bag. One of the policemen even suggested planting a pistol in his bag.”

Ashutosh and his friend alleged that they were finally released on bail at 10 am on July 16. The roommate said they were made to sign a notice of appearance under section 41A of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Before they left the police station, Ashutosh alleged that a constable told him, “If you admit to getting injured in police custody during medico-legal examination, you could be arrested again.”

Ashutosh and his roommate were then taken to Varanasi’s Bhelupur district hospital for the medico-legal examination. It’s unclear whether the doctor who examined him made note of his injuries. He then went to a friend’s place in Varanasi.

Later that day, Ashutosh contacted his lawyer, Rustam Qureshi. On Qureshi’s advice, he went to the Kabir Chaura district hospital.

“As soon as I reached the gate of Kabir Chaura hospital, I saw a policeman making a call and staring at me,” he said. “So I ran from there and stayed at an undisclosed location for a few days.” Ashutosh said he went to his hometown in Uttar Pradesh’s Chandauli by July 19. He still hadn’t approached the university administration about what had happened.

On July 20, Ashutosh of his own accord went for a medico-legal examination at Pandit Kamlapati Tripathi district hospital in Chandauli. The injury report, accessed by Newslaundry, concluded that he had sustained injuries “three to four days ago” by a “hard and blunt object”.

Suspended without notice

Ashutosh returned to the BHU campus on July 21.

On July 30, he wrote a letter addressed to the National Human Rights Commission.

The letter, a copy of which was accessed by Newslaundry, named six police officials – station house officer Mahesh Pandey, sub-inspector Rajkumar Pandey, and unnamed constables – of “custodial third degree torture that included merciless beatings and strangulation for a minute, pulling of genital hairs, inserting a key in the right hand, along with false implication by police staff in Lanka of Varanasi Commissionerate.”

In the letter, Ashutosh wrote that the cops “abused him under the impression that he belongs to the Yadav community”, an OBC community.

The next development was a local reporter purportedly telling Ashutosh he had been suspended. He was living on campus at the time and had not been sent a suspension letter.

However, a suspension letter dated September 2, and signed by BHU’s joint registrar (academic) Sanjay Kumar, had been leaked to the media. The letter, addressed to Ashutosh and his roommate, cited a rule under the BHU ordinance which said, “Any student who is accused of or is involved in an offence involving moral turpitude or heinous crime and is wanted by the police, or against whom police investigation or criminal prosecution is pending, shall stay suspended from all the privileges of the university and hostel.”

Noting the FIR filed against Ashutosh and his roommate, the letter said the suspension would stand until they were “discharged or acquitted by a court of law or let off on submission of final report by the police”.

Newslaundry accessed a copy of this letter. It was published by local media houses on September 5.

This was how Ashutosh said he found out that he had been suspended. He approached Sanjay Kumar the next day but Kumar “denied having any knowledge about such an order”, Ashutosh told Newslaundry.

“This is unconstitutional,” Ashutosh told Newslaundry. “We feel the suspension followed after we wrote a letter to the NHRC. They [the university] wanted to push us on the backfoot and break our morale. There are precedents that whenever a student is suspended, both sides are heard. We were not given an opportunity to present our version. Even the notice has not been served to us officially.”

Newslaundry contacted the Lanka police station and Varanasi police commissioner A Satish Ganesh but received no response. Newslaundry also contacted the office of the joint registrar (academic) at BHU. This report will be updated if they respond.

Meanwhile, Ashutosh is planning to petition the Allahabad High Court over his suspension, and also serve the university administration with a legal presentation. His lawyer, Rustam Qureshi, told Newslaundry that the police’s allegations are “concocted”.

“If they were arrested at around 11 am on July 15, why was the FIR filed at 2 am on July 16?” Qureshi said. On Ashutosh being accused of flouting Covid guidelines, he said, “If these students were without a mask, then why were they allowed to proceed at the first barricade?”

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