Police Encounter II – ‘Are Cops Above Law?'

Residents of Chirchita village in Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh, have decided to boycott the next elections. Reason: they want justice for Karamvir Singh’s family who lost their son Sumit to a ‘police encounter’ in Noida. The 22-year-old youth was mistaken by a police party for a gangster going by the same name, tortured and then allegedly silenced. The family approached the National Human Rights Commission and have dragged UP police to court for a ‘state-sponsored murder’. Karamvir recounts the events that led to an upheaval in his village:   My son, Sumit was a simple 22-year-old boy. He did not have too many big dreams. While many youngsters from our village joined the armed forces, Sumit just wanted to stay back and work on the farm. On September 30, 2017, I sent Sumit to the nearby market to buy pesticides. That was the last time we saw him alive. He came back home, lifeless, wrapped in a shroud. His body punctured with bullets. Sumit was abducted from a tea-stall in the local market. Locals, who were present in the market that evening told us that a white SUV stopped there and five strongly-built men walked out. They approached Sumit, asked his name, and pulled him inside the car. The wait seemed endless. There was no news for the next few days. Then on October 2, we were told to give Rs 3.5 Lakh to the Noida police for a ‘challan’. And then they would let him go. However, the police refused to let him go. We heard rumours that Sumit was soon to be killed in an encounter. Shocked and scared we reached out for every possible person/ organization for help –the UP DIG, National Human Rights Commission and the chief minister’s office -but to no avail. On the night of October 3, I lost my son to a fake encounter. The concocted story seemed straight from a badly-made Bollywood thriller. Sumit, along with three others, ‘robbed a bank’ and was trying to escape in a car when the encounter took place. While the others easily managed to escape the wrath of the very efficient UP police, Sumit was killed in an exchange of fire. The police claimed to have found some weapons, but in their account, there is no mention of the cash that my son and his ‘gang’ had looted. There are several burning questions demand answers. My son had never ventured out of the village, yet the UP Police claim that he had 12 criminal cases against him in Noida! Eyewitnesses, who saw Sumit being forced into the car, came running to us when they read about the ‘encounter’ and saw Sumit’s photo in the newspaper. The UP police will never admit this, but they mistook my son for someone else. There is another youth of the same name, in his mid-thirties who has many cases against his name and is absconding since 2011. My son lost his life because the police thought he was a dreaded gangster of the same name. Any admission to this huge faux pas will leave the police red-faced. It has almost been a year since Sumit’s state-sponsored murder. Life at home has changed. A dull silence prevails. The air is filled with paranoia. We do not let our younger son Praveen venture out after sunset.   There have been two Maha panchayats in our village with senior political leaders in attendance. Even the late BJP MP Hukum Singh attended one of them and with his help, we approached the National Human Rights Commission. After an inquiry, the NHRC has issued a notice to the UP government and police. The hearing of our case at the High Court will be coming up soon. Another maha-panchayat is scheduled to be held in October. We have full faith in the judiciary and our well-wishers, who have been a pillar of support. We keep getting calls from unknown numbers and offered an obscene amount of money for settling the case.  But we are adamant. We want justice for our son. We will continue to demand justice from the Chief Minister and the Prime Minister, or else, we will boycott the upcoming 2019 Lok Sabha polls. A khaki uniform doesn’t absolve the police of their crimes.]]>

Green Shoots III – ‘We Rooted Out Domestic Violence’


More popularly known as Amma in her village Deora, Phoolpatti Devi was inspired by the Green Gang which had rid their area of gambling and drinking. She joined the movement to put an end to domestic violence in her village. Today, she says, violent domestic spats are unheard of in her village:
 
I am a farmer, so is my husband. Our two sons work as daily wage laborers in Varanasi. Our family is a big one –with 12 members, which includes my grandchildren and daughters-in-law. For the past several years, the women of my household (and majorly of every household in the village) have been following a particular routine. Every day, we work in the farms, toil all day at home, take care of the children and then end the day with a violent spat with our drunk husbands. I decided to put an end to this. Everyday beatings cannot be a way of life.
About six months ago, I came to know about the Green Gang operating in the neighboring village of Ramasipur. I met Geeta, the leader of the gang, and shared my woes. She promised help and visited our village the next day. Since, most of the men in our village have been chronically hooked to gambling and alcohol, she did not take long to convince women to form a Green Gang here in Deora.
The Green Gang is a movement of women vigilante, who have taken it upon themselves to fight domestic violence. And the root cause of domestic violence in most villages of Uttar Pradesh is addiction to alcohol and gambling. Every evening, without fail, my husband and my son joined the gamblers at our village adda and lose all their money. Whatever little was left, was given to us -women -which was just not enough to run the household. Domestic violence was a daily routine, irrespective of whether they won or lost at gambling. If they won, they used that money to consume more liquor and create a scene. If they lost, they abused us and beat us up if we asked for money to run the household.
With help from Geeta, the Green Gang in our village started work soon. In no time, things started to look up. Wearing green saris, we raided the addas, and chased the drunkards away. We even involved the police. Occasionally the police arrested some of the men, kept them in the lock-up overnight and released them after a stern warning.
At the village temple, many young men are made to take an oath that they will not touch alcohol or a pack of cards ever. The movement is growing. Now even my grandsons and granddaughters accompany the Green Gang on holidays and reach out to other children and urge them to ask their fathers and uncles to keep away from alcohol and gambling. I am positive that in the next few months, we will be able to uproot this malice entirely from our village.
Now my husband and my sons have shunned alcohol. They are handing over a good amount of money to us. These days, every evening I go around the village and try and educate the youth about the hazards of alcoholism and gambling. As the senior-most ‘Amma’ (motherly figure), it is my duty to do so. Deora is changing and I am optimistic that we have better things in store.]]>

RTI Warriors III – 'I Ruffled Many Feathers’

Armed with the public weapon of RTI, lawyer Ranjan Tomar, 29, has single-handedly brought many in the Noida authorities to book, battled corruption, resolved farmers’ problems, in the face of threats that most RTI activists encounter. He has taken on the ministry of home affairs, National Highways Authority and the Reserve Bank of India. Tomar narrates his journey from being a PhD student at Amity University to the activist out to hold those in power accountable.   I am a resident of Rohillapur village in Noida’s Sector 132 and my father is the village pradhan (elected head). Being aware of the problems plaguing the locals, especially farmers, and the Noida Authority officials turning a deaf ear to them, I couldn’t just sit and do nothing. My journey of filing Right to Information (RTI) pleas started five years ago, in 2013, when I was a college student. I knew little about how to work this public weapon but had heard a lot about its efficacy in the media. I was determined to fight for the people of the rural Noida which was not made of glass-and-concrete buildings. I listed the problems in the area and then began to ascertain, through RTI, who was accountable for the sorry state of affairs. It was slow work but paid off. After initial success of my RTI petitions, I was motivated to probe larger issues. I learnt how to use RTI to fight corruption; for instance how to weed out the parking mafia in the region that was fleecing people with their arbitrary rates that varied according to the whims of each contractor. Thanks to the effort of my multiple RTI pleas, the Noida authority fixed the parking rate and the revenue collected this way goes directly to the authority, instead of the contractor. Of course, I made enemies in my pursuit of a better Noida. My efforts had struck down the extra income of many senior officers and the parking mafia. While I did not receive any threats directly, I was warned by a senior authority official to stay alert as I had upset many powerful people. A relative of mine was told by a private contractor on social media to inform me to stay away from the “activism”. Not that I cared much about such threats. All these years, I have worked not for myself but in national interest and to empower and inform people about the RTI Act. I consider this power to be one of the most powerful rights that Indian citizens have in the country’s recent history. At the same time, I have observed how Public Information Officers (PIOs) are often reluctant to divulge crucial information and try to delay or transfer the query to another department. But if the applicant is focused enough, the details so revealed often end up being shocking. Through RTI applications, I once exposed a fake web page running in the name of the President of India which was pushing a communal propaganda. It was soon deactivated. My queries to the government have also forced policymakers to provide relief to the affected in many cases. All these years, I have worked to dig out the truth from the huge government machinery and have penned and summarised my labour in a booklet titled ‘A Common Man’s Guide to the RTI Act, 2005’ that is available free of cost.  


More From The Series
RTI WARRIORS II – ‘FIGHTING THE CORRUPT IS NEVER EASY’
RTI WARRIORS I – ‘TRUTH IS INCONVENIENT’

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‘My Child Begged Me To Take Her Home'

Vinod Kumar’s 13-year-old daughter didn’t return from school last month. The police traced the girl but sent her to Deoria Shelter Home. Kumar was not allowed to meet her child. It was only after the wrongdoings were splashed in the media that the distraught father was able to reunite with his daughter. She was in a state of shock. Then, she broke down and begged her father to take her home. Kumar narrates his family’s trauma:   On July 21, my 13-year-old daughter didn’t return from school. When our enquiries from her friends and school led us nowhere, I went to the Barhaj police station and filed a missing person’s report. A few days later, on July 25, the police informed me that they had traced her and that she had eloped with a young man. I felt humiliated but consoled myself that children do make mistakes but also learn from them. I went to the police station to bring my daughter home but I was told that she had been sent to the Deoria Shelter Home “for a few days” as per rules. Agitated, I rushed to meet her at the shelter home but was returned from the main gate to come the following day. Over the next few days, I tried everything in my power to get in touch with my daughter but the Shelter Home officials simply stonewalled my efforts. The guard chased us away, other staff hurled abuses at us, and they even ridiculed my daughter’s character. On the fourth day, I spoke to the Home chaprasi (peon) while he was leaving the building after work. My family begged him to help us meet our daughter. After much cajoling, he only agreed to hand over the food that we had brought for the girl. He ruled out any meeting with the daughter. This was impossible, he told us. Next, I managed to get the mobile number of the woman who was the caretaker of the home. When I told him the purpose of the call, she disconnected the phone. I could never reach her again. I was worried and desperate by now. I spoke to the people living in the vicinity for information. No one knew anything. I discovered that the girls at the home were neither seen nor heard. This was strange and scary. The local people were not forthcoming at all. It was around this time that the scandal broke out in the media. When I first read about it in newspapers, I was in tears and rushed there to ensure my child is safe. The Shelter Home was surrounded by senior officers and mediapersons. When I was able to meet my daughter, she was in a state of shock. When she was finally able to speak, she started crying and begged me not to send her back to Shelter Home. During her 10-day ordeal, she told me, she was kept in a room with some other new girls. She was told that she would gradually be allowed to mix with everybody and the “older” inmates will teach her the responsibilities and “works” that she will be doing in the future. While my daughter was lucky to be spared the ‘wrong things’ going on at the home during her brief stay, she informed me that it was the duty of inmates to perform chores like mopping floors, cleaning rooms and washing utensils. The ‘senior’ girls would tell her that when she gets habituated to life inside the “shelter”, she will be introduced to the rest of the inmates and other “activities” will be taught. I thank God for my daughter’s timely rescue and am grateful to the girl who first escaped and informed the police about the wrongdoings inside the home. I am also thankful to the media that the matter was highlighted and so many girls saved. Now, my daughter repeatedly promises me that she will never ever do anything that brings the family disrepute and puts her in trouble. I am taking her back, and with my wife and family’s help, will try to wash off her memories of this haunted house. (Names have been changed to protect the identities) ]]>