Dalit activist Shiv Kumar’s medical report describes illegal detention, severe torture and PTSD

(Left) Shiv Kumar arrives at GHMC Chandigarh for a medico-legal examination. (Right) A piece of paper where Kumar described the details of his illegal detention. The note was smuggled out of Sonipat jail. COURTESY ANKIT
26 February, 2021

A medico-legal examination submitted to the Punjab and Haryana High Court on 22 February found that Shiv Kumar, a Dalit labour-rights activist and president of the Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan, faced severe custodial torture at the hands of the Haryana Police. The court had directed a medical examination in a plea by Kumar’s father, Rajbir, which accused the police of illegally detaining the activist on 16 January, when he was participating in the farmers’ protests in the state’s Sonipat city. The report which was conducted by experts from Chandigarh Government Medical College and Hospital found that Shiv Kumar had multiple fractures, broken nail beds, several injuries and psychiatric symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rajbir’s petition sought an independent investigation into his son’s detention and custodial torture. Only on 20 February, over a month after his detention and while undergoing his medical examination in Chandigarh, was Kumar allowed to meet his family or Harinder Deep Singh Bains, his lawyer. Rajbir told me that the police did not allow the family to meet Kumar before this to hide the fact that he had faced severe torture. Kumar was formally arrested on 23 January, on the basis of three different first information reports that also name Naudeep Kaur, another MAS activist who was arrested, and has accused the police of custodial violence. Kumar’s family found out about his arrest only on 31 January.

On 20 February, a board of eight senior doctors who were nominated from GMCH Chandigarh found that Kumar had faced severe physical and mental violence. The board was led by Dasari Harish, the head of department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, and included Ashwini Soni, an assistant professor of Orthopaedics, Mandeep Singh, an assistant professor of General Surgery, Nidhi Chauhan, an assistant professor of Psychology and Sandeep Moudgil, an assistant professor of Radio, alongside the HODs of Orthopaedics, General Surgery and Psychology.

The medico-legal examination detected at least four different fractures suffered by Shiv Kumar including those in the left hand, right foot, and two possible fractures in his left foot and right wrist. The psychiatric evaluation in the report added, “Overall, evaluation is suggestive of post-traumatic stress disorder like symptoms.” It mentioned that Kumar, “appeared sad and distressed with occasional crying spells.” It continued, “He expressed preoccupation with his current situation, reported predominant anxiety symptoms, flashbacks of brutality meted out to him, nightmares, feelings of loneliness, uncertainty about future and sleep disturbances.”

The general physical examination notes that Kumar was “walking with a limp with blackish discoloured areas on both thighs and swelling or tenderness in both feet.” It adds, “Nail beds of right 2nd and 3rd toe are broken, and underlying skin is reddish in colour and showing healing changes. Left big toe shows blackish discoloration. Nails of left thumb and index finger show bluish black discoloration with tenderness and tenderness over Right wrist.” The report continues, “All the injuries on the person of the patient are more than 2 weeks old and were caused by blunt object/ weapon.” This makes it tough to clearly establish whether Kumar was beaten in police custody, judicial custody or when he had been illegally detained. But his father’s petition states that Kumar was beaten both while he was illegally detained and when in police custody.

The arrests of Kaur and Kumar are part of a severe crackdown by private companies and the Haryana Police on factory workers demanding their wages in Sonipat. Both of them were arrested on the basis of three first information reports filed for two protests MAS had organised alongside workers demanding the full payment of their dues. The Kundli industrial area on the outskirts of Delhi has a large number of factories that employ workers primarily from marginalised communities.

Rajbir’s petition heavily quoted a fact-finding report titled Unionization, Repression and Impunity: Malicious targeting of Majdoor Rights Activists by a team of the National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation. The report stated, “Kundli industrial area accommodates more than 2 lakh workers hailing from various states of country i.e. U.P, Bihar etc, particularly belonging to backward marginalized communities like Dalits, Muslims, landless peasants or poor peasants.” The fact-finding report also noted that most workers in the industrial area were paid below the Haryana minimum wage. A previous report by The Caravan described how workers in the factories at Kundli often went unpaid for months, particularly following the lockdown imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Kumar started the MAS in 2016, but the organisation grew fully active only two years later. The mainstay of their activism was to pressurise factories to release the wages of workers through peaceful protests. Since November 2020, MAS and Kumar were successful in consolidating a large number of factory workers in support of the farmers’ protests. In solidarity, relatively better-organised farmers’ unions also began joining factory workers in pressuring companies into paying all unpaid dues. Rajbir’s petition noted that on 2 December, nearly 1,500 factory workers stopped their work and marched to the protest site, angering both the companies as well as government officials.

Alarmed at the rising organisational strength of factory workers, an organisation of company owners, called the Kundli Industries Association, started a private security force called the Quick Response Team which they use to deter protests and unionisation. Rajbir’s petition calls the QRT a force of “professional private police.” The NCHRO reports stated, “The lack of unionization is owed to the presence and muscle power of the existent organization of the company managements and owners, which goes by the name of Kundli Industrial Association (KIA) and its organized, well equipped private security team/bouncers whose main function is to curb any kind of unionization and struggle of the workers against the exploitation.” It continued, “The KIA team is based in Kundli, Rai and Nathupur industrial areas and have multiple Quick Response Team (QRT) which respond to stress calls made by the Company management whenever the workers attempt to strike or protest for their wages, sacking of any worker or nonpayment of wages etc.”

Subhash Gupta, the president of the KIA, had a different interpretation of his organisation’s private security. “Everybody keeps men or chowkidars for their safety and QRT has a role like that,” he said. But the activities of the QRT contradict Gupta’s description of it.

According to Rajbir’s petition, on 28 December, some MAS office bearers along with workers marched to a factory in plot 367 of the Kundli industrial area to demand the payment of wages of some workers. A scuffle ensued between the QRT and workers, following which the workers marched to Kundli police station to lodge a complaint. A letter from MAS to JS Randhawa, Sonipat’s superintendent of police, dated 28 December and attached to Rajbir’s petition, alleged that a member of the QRT fired at the protestors and that they had taken a video of the incident.

The petition stated that no action was taken on MAS’s complaint, but the police booked Kaur, a person called Sahil and around 15 to 20 unnamed people in the case. The initial FIR registered against the complaint did not name Kumar, but this is one of the three FIRs on the basis of which he was later arrested. The FIR accused them with Sections 148, 149, 323, 384 and 506 of the Indian Penal Code, which pertain to rioting armed with a deadly weapon, unlawful assembly, extortion and criminal intimidation, among others.

Rajbir’s petition stated that two weeks later, when MAS activists were protesting at another plot in the industrial area on 12 January for the payment of pending wages, they were again attacked by a QRT group. A team from the Kundli police station, including its station house officer, Ravi Kumar, arrived at the scene. The petition stated that the police then grabbed Kaur by her hair and dragged her to the side, and lathi charged the other MAS activists, who dispersed. According to police account of the incident, Kaur attacked Ravi Kumar and three other police personnel. The petition notes that Shiv Kumar was not present at this protest either.

Two FIRs were registered against this incident, on the same day. Both FIRs named only Kaur, mentioned two unnamed girls, and recorded between forty and sixty other unnamed suspects. Kumar was later arrested in both FIRs despite not being named in either of them. The first FIR charges them with sections 148, 149, 186, 332, 352, 384, 379 (b) and 307 of the IPC. These sections pertain to obstructing and voluntarily causing hurt to a public servant, using criminal force, wrongful restraint and attempt to murder among others. The second FIR charges them with the IPC sections 148, 149, 323, 384, 452 and 506, which additionally pertains to trespassing.

A report by the news website Newslaundry noted several inconsistencies in the FIRs. Both FIRs claims that Kaur and other protestors entered the premises of the company, whereas the report quoted multiple witnesses, including employees of the company, who said the protesters never entered the premises. The report also noted that the two FIRs are inconsistent in claiming the time of the incident. The FIRs also noted different details describing how Kaur was apprehended and how the police identified her. The NCHRO fact-finding report also corroborated the characterisation of the incidents of 28 December and 12 January as stated in Rajbir’s petition.

Gupta admitted that the QRT member had fired at the MAS protesters on 28 December but claimed that it was in self-defence. “In their self-defence, they have a right,” the KIA president said. “They have licensed weapons and so has the police … and if they have weapons and, in their self-defence, they fire in the air, where is the harm in this? It is their job to prevent any harm, either to them or someone else.” Gupta did not comment on whether MAS activists had entered the premises of the company or not and directed us to speak to QRT members who witnessed the incident. He said he would send contact details of QRT members but had not done so by the time this piece was published.

Gupta did express his displeasure at the MAS’s growth in the area, and its mobilisation of factory workers. “Three months back, when the farmers’ protest had not started, these guys had no presence in the area,” he told us. “That time, this Mazdoor Sangathan was not here at all and all this has started since this movement was kicked off. If there are some dues towards a labourer, there is a labour department here to resolve such issues. What kind of modus operandi is this wherein they take such matters in their hands?”  

The history section of the medico-legal report, with statements from Kumar that the doctors noted down, says that he said he was not present at the 12 January protest either. It added that in the days following the protest, the Kundli police had arrested some people and that the SHO Ravi Kumar had assaulted his friends.

The medico-legal report further quotes the MAS president describing the circumstances of his illegal detention. According to the report, Shiv Kumar said that on 16 January, between 2:30 and 3 pm, when he was at the farmers’ protest that was taking place near the KFC at Kundli, he was picked by the staff of the Haryana Police’s criminal investigation agency. “The police arrested Shiv on 16 January itself, but did not inform us,” Rajbir told us. “It was only after about 15 days, we got to know about his arrest because of Shiv’s efforts to send the information to us.” Kumar had reportedly smuggled information out through a stranger with the details of his detention to his father.

The report’s history section noted that they took Kumar to Old Kacheri—or old courts complex—in Sonipat and there were seven people present. Kumar then proceeds to describe the torture that followed to the doctors at the Chandigarh GMHC, which is recorded in the medico-legal report:

They tied both his feet, lay him on the ground, and hit him on the soles. His 2nd, 3rd and 5th toe nails of the right foot were torn and the nail of big toe of left foot became blue. They also hit him on the buttocks with flat sticks, then they tied his hands and stretched his legs. He was made to lie on the ground with both legs straight and a metal pipe was placed on his thigh and rolled over the thighs by two people. They also hit him on both hands and palms and also on the back of his head. He was not allowed to sleep for three days, the CI staff took his statement and asked him to give names and when he could not do so, they tied him to a chair and poured water to his head.

Meanwhile, Rajbir said the family had last heard from him on 12 January, and that the entire family had been under a lot of stress since then. He told us they had presumed that Kumar was missing. Rajbir and his wife, Tarawanti, stay in Devru village, in Sonipat district, nearly 23 kilometres from Kundli, where their son was based. Rajbir said that he was not very familiar with Kumar’s labour activism or with his participation in the farmers’ protests. According to Rajbir, the Sonipat police even approached Kumar’s family on 23 January to inquire about his whereabouts, but the father now believes that it was all a ploy.

That day, “some police came to our house at around 9 pm,” Rajbir said. “I wasn’t there at that time and just my wife and children were at home. My wife is illiterate and is suffering from a mental ailment. The police asked her where Shiv was, to which she replied that he was not at home. The police officials then told her to send Shiv to the police station once he comes back. Following this, they took her signature on a paper.” Rajbir believed that the police did this to maintain a façade that they had not illegally detained his son. He told us it was a ploy adopted by police officials to show mock compliance of their duties.

Rajbir said that Tarawanti is undergoing treatment for a mental ailment at Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences at Delhi, and received a limited education till her ninth grade. “She was very intimidated by the police and gave her signature without knowing what it was for.” Ravi Kumar, the SHO of Kundli police station, did not respond to questions about whether they had asked Tarawanti to sign or thumbprint any documents. This story will be updated if and when they respond.

The history section of the report noted that Kumar was finally presented in court only on 24 January, which then granted the police ten days of police custody. “They took him in for ten days of police remand and further tortured my son,” Rajbir told us. The medico-legal report further stated, “He was mentally and physically abused in the police remand and they also poured hot water on his feet and any blisters that formed were burst by them.” The report also alleged that Kumar was taken to the Samalkha town, in central Haryana, on 29 January and to Haridwar in Uttarakhand the next day. It is unclear why.

Ankit, Kumar’s friend and a member of the Chhatra Ekta Manch—a students’ union based in Haryana—said he had found out about the arrest on 31 January. “Despite our best attempts, we could not locate his whereabouts. For eight days, police kept him in illegal custody or mercilessly tortured him,” he told us. “We got to know of Shiv’s arrest on 31 January. Shiv had managed to sneak word out about his arrest through somebody who had gone to the police station, and this person had called me. The police had not informed us or his family when he was presented before the court on 24 January.” Ankit told Kumar’s family the same day.

Rajbir told us that immediately after the call he approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court through an e-mail on 31 January. “I suspect that my son’s life is in danger. Hence, I appeal that my son be presented in court and my appeal be treated as a Habeas Corpus petition,” the email read. On 1 February, Rajbir met Randhawa, the SP of Sonipat. “We went to meet the SP sir to lodge a complaint about this. Then he called the SHO of Kundli and informed us that Shiv was in police remand,” Rajbir said.

“We tried making efforts to meet Shiv the moment we got to know of his arrest. We approached the administration but neither me nor his lawyer were allowed to meet him,” Rajbir told us. “When we went to meet him at the Kundli police station, we were told that he is under ten days police remand and that we couldn’t see him.” Rajbir said that he later found out from the police that his son had not been presented before the magistrate in person and that the order for police remand had been given over video conferencing.

On 2 February, when the ten days of police remand ended, he was taken into judicial custody and put in Sonipat jail the next day. “He wasn’t brought in person before the court when the police wanted judicial custody,” Rajbir told us. “Neither his lawyer nor any of our family was allowed a chance to even see him when the court granted the police his judicial remand. They did this specifically because they did not want us to see his wounds and they hoped that Shiv’s wounds would heal before we got to see him next.”

On 3 February, Rajbir went to Sonipat jail to meet his son. Once again, he was declined permission to meet Kumar. The jail authorities said that Kumar was in quarantine for COVID-19. Rajbir’s petition noted that the police also refused to give Kumar a vakalatnama that his father had brought for him to sign. A vakalatnama is a written document submitted before a court by a lawyer declaring that his clients have authorised him to represent them in a legal dispute. The police’s denial effectively sought to prevent Kumar’s right to legal representation. Rajbir’s petition to the High Court mentions that, “no vakalatnama got signed for the petitioner as there were specific instructions in this regard.”

On 4 February, Rajbir received a small torn piece of a newspaper, which had writing along its margins. The person who gave it to him said that he had met Kumar in jail, and that he had written the note, marking when he was arrested and where he was kept. Jasminder, Kumar’s friend, showed us the note. It reads, “16-1-21 kou giraftar kiya … KFC ke paas… CIA mein rakha…. Remand liya”—Arrested on 16 January 21 … near KFC… kept at CIA … remand taken.

Jasminder told us that the police and administration had done everything in their power to ensure that Kumar’s friends and family would never find out about his detention. “Nobody knows what police did to Shiv in those ten days of police remand,” Jasminder said. “Haryana Police did not even bring the certificate for Shiv’s medical at the district level.” Both Ravi Kumar and Randhawa did not respond to questions about if any medical check-up was done when Shiv Kumar was taken into police custody, what the findings were of the check up and whether they were submitted to the local court.

Rajbir’s petition noted that on 5 February, he was again denied a meeting with his son by the Sonipat jail authorities. On 12 February, the vakalatnama was finally accepted by the jail authorities to be given to his son, and was given to his lawyer on 13 February. “We later found out that he was not even given warm clothing or slippers in the jail,” Ankit said. “It was on 19 February, that he was given his glasses despite having very poor eyesight.” Rajbir told us that Kumar had very weak eyesight and was partially blind. “His state was further compounded by the fact that he was kept without glasses while his father was not allowed to supply him with another pair,” Rajbir’s petition stated.

Satvinder Kumar, the superintendent of Sonipat district jail, did not respond to questions about why Shiv Kumar was not allowed to meet his family or his lawyer, why he was not given warm clothing, footwear or spectacles and why they did not allow him to sign the vakalatnama on 3 February.

It is not yet clear whether any medical examination was conducted before the one at GHMC directed by the High Court. Bains, Rajbir’s lawyer, told us that the current status of Kumar’s injuries shows that any medico-legal examination reports submitted by the police previously were likely false. According to Bains, Indian criminal procedure mandates the police to conduct a medical examination of a suspect before being taken into police custody and before being taken into judicial custody. Given that both remands were accepted by the courts and considering the severity of Kumar’s injuries, Bains suggested that it is unlikely that any previous medical report filed by the police accurately characterised his wounds or injuries.

On 19 February, the Punjab and Haryana High Court heard Rajbir’s petition. Gurvindher Singh Gill, the sitting judge ruled that, “The Superintendent, District Jail, Sonipat is directed to get the petitioner immediately examined from Government Medical College & Hospital, Sector 32, Chandigarh today itself or by tomorrow. The Medical Superintendent, Government Medical College & Hospital, Sector 32, Chandigarh shall ensure that the petitioner is got thoroughly medically examined.” The order concluded, “The respondents are also directed to ensure that the petitioner is permitted to meet an advocate of his choice.” It was following this that the 20 February medico-legal examination was conducted.

In a subsequent hearing on 24 February at the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Bains argued that Kumar needs medical attention and should be shifted to GMCH Chandigarh. Deepak Sabherwal, the state counsel assured the court that whatever medical facility is required would be provided to Kumar, including shifting him to GHMC Chandigarh if necessary. While the case has been listed for 16 March, Avneesh Jinghan, the judge, after getting the GMCH medical report, ordered that, “In order to appreciate the real controversy, report of medical examination of Shiv Kumar under Section 54 Cr.P.C. be also produced on record … Let the medico-legal report be placed on record by the State on or before 1.3.2021 with an advance copy to learned counsel for the petitioner.” Section 54 of the Criminal Procedure Code establishes that an examination of an arrested person by a medical practitioner must be done if they request it. This suggests that Jinghan was referring to any previous medical reports which the police had got either when taking Kumar into police or judicial custody.

Rajbir’s petition also referred extensively to the arrest and torture of the co-accused Kaur, and drew similarities between both cases. The petition underlined that like in Kaur’s case, the Haryana Police had flouted due process in conducting medical examination so that they could hide evidence of torture and custodial violence. The petition stated, “Naudeep Kaur who was arrested on 12.01.2021, was subjected to brutal torture. Her medical was not done in violation of Section 54 of Cr.PC.”

The petition continued, “The fact that her lawyer had to approach Ld. Magistrate seeking a seeking a direction for ordering medical examination speaks volume about the state of affairs.” On 18 January, a judicial magistrate at the Sonipat district court had ordered for Kaur’s medical examination. Rajbir’s petition noted, “However, in utter disregard of the directions of the Court, the Investigating Agency still waited for seven more days before getting her medical examination done. She was medically examined on 25.02.2021 and her examination still revealed injuries even after a span of thirteen days of her torture.” Kaur was granted bail on the last of her three cases on 26 February.

The Caravan sent a questionnaire by email to Ravi Kumar, the SHO of Kundli Police Station and Randhawa the SP of Sonipat, detailing the findings of the medico-legal report. Neither Ravi Kumar nor Randhawa responded to calls or the email asking about the allegations of custodial torture by the Haryana Police. This story will be updated as and when they respond.

“The entire family was concerned and deeply distressed regarding his wellbeing due to the torture and our fears turned out to be true,” Rajbir told us. “After nearly one and a half months, I first saw Shiv when police brought him to Chandigarh for his medical examination on the orders of the High Court.” He was able to speak to his son for only a moment though he had waited there since the morning. “He was barely able to walk and his nails were blue,” Rajbir said. “He told me, ‘Bas itna hei ki, papa, kapde aur paise bhej dena,’”—All I want is this, father, can you send me some clothes and money.