Palakkad: On the evening of 24 August, Palakkad North Division police turned up at the house of two brothers, Abdurrahman (18) and Bilal (20), to question them in connection with a physical assault attempt on an RSS worker. Soon, they were taken into custody and tortured. “They were unaware of this assault incident and continuously asserted their innocence to the police”, said their lawyer Advocate Mohammad Rashid.
One week after his arrest, Abdurrahman was still in the hospital suffering from serious injuries on his genitals, thighs, chest, and legs, while Bilal is still in judicial custody in an equally wretched condition, additionally facing criminal prosecution under IPC Sec. 308 (culpable homicide), 341, 324 and others.
Adv. Rashid narrates, “When sub-inspector Sudheesh Kumar’s team of nine officers barged into the house, not a single male family member was present. Their younger sister attempted to call her father, but the police threatened that they would pick her up too. They took the boys away without any intimation to the family members. When his family eventually came to know, they called up the police station, but the police denied keeping the youths in their custody.”
However, what transpired inside the police station paints a horrific picture of human rights abuse and police brutality.
Adv. Rashid conveyed to TwoCircles.net what Abdurrahman recounted of his trauma when he was finally released after 24 hours. “A group of ten police officers started by beating both the youths on their feet. They were tied up and 150-200 lashes were inflicted on them. They stood on his thighs and beat them on the head,” he said.
He continued to describe how the violence escalated. “Then, two police officers sat on their chests while the others used a cigarette lighter to burn their genitals. They even sprayed their private parts with pepper spray,” he said.
Equally condemnable was the motive behind torturing them, especially harming their genitals. SI Sudheesh Kumar revealed it himself. “Now, you will not be able to give birth to any more Muslims”, he is reported to have said while in the act.
Consequently, a video was made by Abdurrahman’s friends where he shared the gruesome details of the torture they had suffered. The Police hastened to strengthen the oppressive chokehold around Abdurrahman, this time by penalising his right to free speech. An FIR was slapped against him, on grounds of spreading fake news and communal disharmony, under Sec 153 (A).
Although he has been granted anticipatory bail by the Sessions Court Palakkad, Abdurrahman was dismissed from the hospital only on the 1 September, after being treated for multiple internal injuries and severe blood loss for over a week. Bilal was not granted bail in his hearing on 3 September.
“The boys’ mother Hajira has filed written complaints to the Kerala DGP, the CM, the Chairman of NHRC, Palakkad Superintendent of Police, and the District Collector. She expects justice to be delivered to her sons. SI Sudheesh Kumar and his team need to be punished for their crimes”, said Adv. Rashid.
The building of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya has humiliated Muslims across the country, making them feel overpowered by the Hindu majoritarian fervour surrounding the event. A gaudy display of cultural and political supremacy has been waved in their faces, with TV channels redecorating their sets after temples, anchors dressing up as gods, and political leaders proclaiming 5 August as some annual momentous occasion – first the scrapping of Article 370 in J&K, and now, Bhoomi Pujan. We are witnessing repetitive normalisations of a national policy of violent arbitrariness.
But it is necessary also to note the Ram Temple event as the beginning of a wave of illegal detentions and police crackdowns against Muslims for their online activity.
During the lockdown, the UP police have filed FIRs against at least seven people for posting WhatsApp statuses against the RSS, alleging them of “hurting religious sentiments”. A first-year journalism student from Bahraich, UP, was detained and insulted for sharing a status tagged with #RSSseAazadi. Another such FIR has filed against a PhD scholar at AMU, who is unable to return home in fear of being arrested.
“There had been altercations between the BJP and CFI parties regarding the Ayodhya Ram Mandir issue, in some areas of Palakkad in the recent past”, says Al Bilal, Kerala State Committee member of Campus Front of India. “The police have been questioning us ever since, about physical confrontations as well as online content we have posted. But nothing unusual had happened so far,” he added.
“When I saw the video after Abdurrahman was released, he was not even being able to stand up or walk properly. The multiple bruises on his legs were blood-stained”, Al Bilal added. “I couldn’t watch it without crying. It reminded me of my own younger brother. What if he were to be arrested on grounds of mere suspicion and then treated so ruthlessly?” he asked.
Mushtaq Usman, the Palakkad District president of Campus Front of India, expressed his outrage over this case. “Bilal was working as an electrician, and Abdurrahman has recently finished school. They are simple people who had done nothing to deserve this kind of inhuman torture. Further, the specific religious comment made by the sub-inspector exposes the sheer hatred and sense of vengeance that the Palakkad police feels towards the Muslim community.”
His claim is corroborated by Reny Ayline, National Secretary of the National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation (NCHRO), who is himself a Palakkad native. “Neither of the two boys have any criminal history. It’s not as if they were on the run. This kind of secretive detention post-sundown, followed by a denial of information to their family about their whereabouts, and then torturing them brutally in custody, reeks of an insidious attitude.”
Reny continues, “When I was in Kashmir on a fact-finding mission, the local youth described how the Army uses illegal detention as a tool of intimidation. One of the most common methods of torture is to damage the genitals and rectal areas of even those who are picked up on grounds of mere suspicion. Similar things are happening in Kerala now. Although a ‘Left party’ is ruling, the aggressive behaviour of the police has exposed this spirit of pseudo-secularism.”
The police brutality against Abdurrahman and Bilal has several glaring precedents. In 2011, a Dalit man by the name of Sampath, accused in the murder of his wife, was killed in the custody of Palakkad police. Three officers were arrested and fourteen others have been implicated in the investigation. All of them were suspended.
In 2019, a Dalit teenager named Vinayakan was tortured severely in police custody. His ‘offence’ was sporting a hairstyle that made him “look like a criminal”, in the words of his arresting officer. He committed suicide the next day, succumbing to the intense mental torment and shame that the police torture had left him grappling with. The concerned officers were suspended for six months and then reinstated.
In 1991, when BJP chief Murli Manohar Joshi’s Ekta Yatra reached Palakkad, riots erupted between BJP cadres and locals. The then Kerala police chief Raman Srivastava ordered his unit in Puthupally to open fire on Muslims, saying, “I want the dead bodies of Muslim bastards!” However, no riot had taken place in Puthupally. An 11-year-old girl, Sirajunnisa, who was playing in front of her home, was shot dead due to this indiscriminate firing. Srivastava was neither dismissed from office nor did Sirajunnisa’s family obtain justice.
“Palakkad district is a strong hub of the Sangh Parivar, and this incident was pivotal to the growth of its stronghold”, Reny explains. “From 1991 to now, the political situation has not changed here. What good are the latest guns and modern vehicles when the mindset of the police force remains unchanged? What the British did to Indians, police forces are doing to their own people,” he commented.
In the past year, police forces across the country have unleashed unprecedented brutality on citizens belonging to vulnerable social communities.
The police attack in 2019 on Jamia Milia University students, and shortly after in Aligarh Muslim University during the anti-CAA-NRC protests are testimony to this. The distinct role of the Delhi police in covering for the Hindu rioters, and falsely framing the Muslim residents in North-East Delhi during the riots, is undeniable as well.
Further, caste-based violence during the lockdown has only exacerbated owing to the negligence and bias of the police against the victims of these vicious attacks.
In July, the Tamil Nadu police failed to deliver justice to the family of a minor Dalit girl who was raped by two dominant-group youths and left in a canal in Thoothukudi. The police pinned a superficial angle of mental instability to the offenders’ actions, denied alleged rape charges, and transferred the case to CBI.
In another case in the same month, Kadayam forest officials picked up an old Dalit farmer at midnight and tortured him in custody after levelling baseless charges of stealing electricity for fencing his lands. He was declared dead upon arrival at the Tenkasi Government Hospital. Even though an FIR was lodged at the Alwarkurichi police station, the forest officials who not only tortured the victim to death but also tried to secretly bury his body, have not been arrested yet.
Each of these cases, as well as Reny’s statement, highlights the lack of morality that grows as a festering wound within Indian police forces, and their disrespect for laws they are themselves meant to uphold. By perpetuating and enforcing the divide-and-rule policies of various ruling dispensations, it strengthens by the day, as a practical tool for implementing neo-colonialism in India.
Adv. Mohammad Shareef, National Treasurer of the NCHRO, commented on the Palakkad case, saying, “This is a violation of fundamental laws, codes in police manuals, as well as tenets of our constitution. Article 21 guarantees every individual the dignity of life. The two youths were not treated with any dignity in this case.”
When asked about whether the boys’ family could reasonably hope for justice, he said, “In some cases, the action is taken against concerned officials. But in a sizable number of incidents the police ignore the complaint, and NHRC does not attend to the matter adequately. There are still more legal resources that could be taken, but the cases get very prolonged, with no guarantee of real justice.”
This story first appeared in ‘Two Circles’ on September 9, 2020 here.