Prabhjit Singh and Shahid Tantray
Two women and a teenager, all residents of Subhash Mohalla in northeast Delhi’s North Ghonda neighbourhood, accused officials of Delhi’s Bhajanpura police station of beating and sexually assaulting them in the station premises on the night of 8 August. That evening, a group of around ten women—including Shaheen Khan, Shanno, and the latter’s 17-year-old daughter—visited the police station to seek the registration of a first-information report against offences identified in a complaint they had filed two days earlier. As the other women waited in the compound, the three of them went inside the station and demanded an FIR. But the police refused and attacked them, the trio told us. All of them, including the minor, said that they were violently and repeatedly slapped, manhandled and threatened, and further accused the police officials of sexual assault—charges that the Delhi Police denied. Ashok Sharma, the Bhajanpura station-house officer, said he informed the women that an FIR could only be registered after an enquiry, and dismissed all allegations of violence at the station.
“I saw this, I was there,” Khan said. “They put their hands on the girl’s chest, they misbehaved with her and Shanno. They even tore Shanno’s clothes over here,” she added, pointing to her collar bone. Her own neck had a prominent scratch mark below it. We spoke to the three of them late on the night intervening 8 and 9 August. Shanno’s kurta was still torn at the time. She broke into tears at multiple points while speaking to us. After one such occasion, she took a deep breath to compose herself and said that policemen pulled her daughter by her hair and “tried to drag her into a dark corner.” Pointing to her own chest, she added in between sobs, “Meri beti ko galat-galat jaga haath lagaya”—They touched my daughter in wrong places. Her daughter repeated the same. “They misbehaved with us a lot—with me, my mother and another woman who was with us,” the 17-year-old said. “They misbehaved with us so much, I can’t tell you.”
The women had gone to the police station in relation to an incident that took place on the intervening night of 5 and 6 August. At around 1 am that night, as part of their celebrations over the stone-laying ceremony of the Ram temple at Ayodhya that had taken place earlier in the day, a group of Hindu residents of the area roamed the streets hailing the development and raising communal slogans. “They came on the night of 5 August, challenging us by raising slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram,’ and many even hurled abuses, asking the Muslims to leave the neighbourhood,” Salim, Shanno’s husband, told us. “This is what the complaint was all about, for which they were not ready to register the FIR. We live in a state of panic every day and night now.” Shanno has previously filed a complaint relating to attacks, looting and arson she witnessed in Delhi during the February violence, and she said her family had faced attacks in relation to this in June this year.
As noted in a Newslaundry report about the incident, in the lane number 2 of Subhash Mohalla, where Khan resides, a narrow road separates the Muslim and the Hindu households. Following the violence that swept northeast Delhi in February, the Delhi Police had installed a gate at the entrance to the Muslim side of the lane. During the Ram temple celebrations, the Hindu group had tied flags of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on the gate. “We even saw them tie a bijli bomb”—a loud firecracker—“on the lock of the gate of a street that leads to the mosque,” Salim said.
On 6 August, a group of women residents had filed a complaint about this incident at the Bhajanpura police station, but, according to Khan, the police did not formally record it—that is, they did not provide a signed copy of the complaint to acknowledge its receipt. The women’s lawyer, Mehmood Pracha, told us that his office repeatedly called the police station the next day to ask why the women’s complaint had not been accepted. According to Khan, the police ultimately called her on the morning of 8 August and asked the women to come to the station with a copy of her complaint. But Pracha’s office only sent the complaint by 7 pm, she said, and after printing it the group of women reached Bhajanpura police station only at 9 pm that night. “It was urgent for us, the FIR had to be produced in the court the coming Monday,” Shanno said, referring to 10 August. “Our lawyers have been asking us to get it from the police station for the same to be produced in court.” At the Bhajanpura station, the police gave the women a signed copy of the complaint, with the entry number recorded in the station’s daily diary, but declined to register an FIR against the complaint.
“We asked them for a copy of the FIR,” Khan told us. “They said that there would be an inquiry first and an FIR would only be registered after that. I asked them to give this in writing and they refused.” Khan said the police official then adopted an aggressive and dismissive tone. “Leave from here, get out,” the police snapped at them, she said. Khan then called Sharma, the Bhajanpura SHO, who repeated that an inquiry would be conducted first. According to Khan, he, too, spoke to her in the same way. She quoted him as having said, “I’ve told you what I had to, don’t talk rubbish with me.” Khan said that while she was speaking to Sharma, a police official snatched her phone away from her and pushed her to the ground. According to her, the policeman said, “Seize her phone, she’s speaking too much.”
“When I tried to take my phone back from him, he pushed me again and slapped me,” Khan continued. “Seeing this, Shanno and her daughter rushed to help me. They slapped Shanno hard and raised their hands against her daughter as well.” She continued, “Bahut galat-galat jaga haath maara gandi tareeke se”—They touched her inappropriately in a reprehensible manner. “Shanno was pulling her daughter to herself, and a policeman was pulling her to him. They behaved so terribly. They had all come together to attack three women.”
Shanno faltered as she spoke about the incident. She said they reached the station at 9 pm, and that around five or six police officials were present there. One policeman directed them to give their complaint to the only woman official present at the station. “She snatched the complaint from us and told us to go wait outside,” Shanno said, adding that the policewoman said, “Keep waiting outside till as long as it takes, even if it takes the whole night.” The three of them went back inside at 11 pm to ask about the complaint, and that is when the police attacked them, Shanno said. “They beat us a lot,” she told us. “They kept slapping us. They tore my shirt and held me by the collar.”
“We were beaten and sexually assaulted,” she continued. “Humaari beti ki izzat pe bhi humla kara unhone”—They sexually assaulted my daughter as well. “They held her by her hair and ruthlessly beat her and me as well.” Shanno said the police threatened to kill them. She told us a police official said, “We will beat you to death if you keep coming here with complaints, get out.” The 17-year-old, too, reiterated this and told us that after the police gave a signed copy of the complaint with the daily diary number, one official told them, “Get out of here, you got this number, that’s more than enough, get out or we’ll kill you.”
“They slapped my mother hard and they misbehaved with me a lot,” the teenager said. She described that the policemen were putting their hands on their chests when the pushed her and the women around. “A lot of policemen came and started to push us around. They were pushing me the same way they were pushing my mother. Then a lady official came from behind and she held up my hand and repeatedly beat me on the head.”
The teenager added that she had tried to intervene when the police started slapping her mother. “I said that ‘you are men, you cannot raise your hand on a woman like this.’ That’s when they began hitting me.” She continued, “They tore my mother’s kurta and with me … I cannot tell you, they treated me very badly. All the police personnel who were there misbehaved with me.”
Shanno’s family told us that they are now living in fear. Given the ordeals that they have endured since the Delhi violence, their concerns are well founded. On 18 April, Shanno had filed a complaint at the Bhajanpura police station identifying Hindu rioters who had attacked Muslims and looted and burnt down shops. She wrote in her complaint that she also had video evidence of her allegations, which she had recorded on her husband Salim’s phone. The police did not register an FIR against her complaint. On 12 June, two men accosted Salim at gunpoint and snatched his phone from him. The next day, Shanno and Salim’s son and four-year-old grandson met with a road accident and suffered severe injuries.
Until 30 June, Shanno thought her son and grandson had met with an accident. That day, she said, one Sonu—a resident of Subhash Mohalla whom she had named in her 18 April complaint—approached her and told her that her “son and grandson had survived the accident that day, but they would not survive the next time if we didn’t withdraw our complaint.” The next day, Shanno moved the Delhi High Court seeking police protection, and, on 17 July, the court directed the deputy commissioner of police, Ved Prakash Surya, to “evaluate the threat perception and provide such security to the petitioner and her family as he considers warranted.” Shanno and Salim met the DCP in person the following day, and since then the police have installed CCTV cameras in the area and deputed two police officials to regularly patrol there.
On the night of 8 August, the women said, they left the station at around 11.30 pm and returned home. Soon after, Salim called one of us to inform us about the incident. We immediately called Surya and Sharma—the SHO—to ask them about the incident. Neither answered our calls. I spoke to Sharma the next day. At the outset, he questioned the necessity of filing a complaint on the original matter in the first place. “What was wrong in the 5 August incident?” he asked. “Every person was doing it on 5 August. And Hindus and Muslims both live in that area.”
Sharma said that he told the women that they were still free to file a complaint. When Khan asked for the registration of an FIR, Sharma said he told her, “Madam, you’ve given us this complaint. We’ll verify with our team, but no offence is made out here. If someone hoists a flag outside the gate, or lights a diya, or bursts a cracker—no offence is made out.” Yet, the alleged communal slogans and the hostile atmosphere created during the incident could prima facie constitute the offence of promoting religious enmity—a cognisable offence that demands the registration of an FIR, according to the law laid down by the Supreme Court.
Sharma denied that the police had attacked or sexually assaulted the women. “Their allegations are wrong,” he said. He also claimed that he was at the police station during the assault, though Khan said that she had called him on the phone to speak to him. Sharma blamed the women for the incident. “It is their own fault,” he said. “They came to the station and then unnecessarily made an issue out of it, and claimed that the SHO and the staff misbehaved with them. Why would we do that? Why did they need to come to the station at 11 pm in the first place? You tell me.” He dithered when we pointed out that the women said they had reached at 9 pm. Surya, the DCP, did not respond to written questions sent to him over WhatsApp.
Following the events of 8 August, however, Shanno’s family has little faith in the local police. Salim told us he was now even more worried for his family than he was after he had been held at gunpoint for his phone. He said that he had not accompanied Shanno to the station because they feared what the police might do to men. “If this is what they did to these women, you can imagine what would have happened to us.” Khan articulated the sense of anger and despair they felt after the incident. “The police station had old people and young people, and they were all pushing us. They held us at gunpoint and threatened us to leave.” She added, “They were laughing as they asked us to leave.”
“These policemen are vultures,” she said. “There is no humanity in them. These people will save women? They will rob them of their dignity. They will attack us whenever they get the opportunity. They are vultures. Do they not have the decency to understand how they are behaving with a girl? If you want to be a man, then pick your fights with men. Are they showing their masculinity by raising their hands on women?”
This story first appeared on August 10, 2020 in The Caravan here.