“My torture would have been suppressed”

Five medical reports before GMCH recorded no signs of custodial violence on Shiv Kumar

Shiv Kumar, a Dalit labour-rights activist, accused the Haryana Police of illegally detaining him from 16 to 23 January, and subjecting him to severe torture during this period. A medical examination conducted one month later by five doctors at Chandigarh’s Government Medical College and Hospital corroborated Kumar’s account. Courtesy Shiv Kumar
20 March, 2021

Four different doctors from the Civil Hospital in Haryana’s Sonipat district examined the Dalit labour-rights activist Shiv Kumar five times between 24 January and 2 February, and found no injuries to indicate custodial torture, according to a status report by the Haryana Police. In end February, five doctors from Chandigarh’s Government Medical College and Hospital had concluded that Kumar suffered from multiple fractures, broken nail beds, several injuries and psychiatric symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. In a detailed interview, Kumar recounted his ordeal to me, accusing the police of illegally detaining him on 16 January and torturing him in custody for over two weeks. His account corroborated the GMCH report, which stated that his injuries were over two weeks old. Yet, the medical examinations conducted at the Sonipat Civil Hospital revealed “nothing abnormal” and added, “no active medical intervention needed.”

The Haryana Police filed the status report on the instructions of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in a case filed by Kumar’s father, Rajbir, seeking an independent investigation into his son’s detention and torture. During the proceedings, the court first called for a medical examination at GMCH, and after reviewing the report—which described severe custodial torture and PTSD—called for the records of previous medical examinations conducted. On 27 February, Virender Singh, the deputy commissioner of police of Sonipat, submitted five medical reports—four conducted at the Civil Hospital and one at Sonipat Jail—and all of them were in stark contrast to the GMCH report. After acknowledging the contrast, the high court directed the district and sessions judge of Faridabad to “hold an inquiry with regard to the allegations of illegal detention and custodial torture of Shiv Kumar.”

Kumar is the founder and president of the Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan—or Workers’ Rights Organisation—which, among other activities, organises peaceful protests to pressurise factories to release the wages of workers. According to the police, Kumar was arrested on 23 January in relation to three different first-information reports for committing offences pertaining to rioting, unlawful assembly, extortion and criminal intimidation, among others. The three FIRs followed two MAS protests demanding payments for workers at the Kundli Industrial Area, located on the outskirts of Delhi, which has a large number of factories that employ workers primarily from marginalised communities. He was released on bail on 4 March.

On 5 March, I met Kumar when he came to Chandigarh for medical treatment. He recounted his ordeal to me, retracing it from the circumstances of his detention to detailed description of his days in custody and the brutal torture he suffered, and providing a very different version of the medical reports submitted by the Haryana Police.

Mujhe woh gunpoint pe bandhak banaa ke le gaye, chehra poora cover kar diya”—They held me at gunpoint and took me hostage, they covered my face entirely, Kumar said about the day he was detained. According to the 25-year-old activist, who is also visually impaired and needs his glasses to be able to see, he was using the washroom of a KFC restaurant in Kundli when the police “abducted” him. He said he was taken to the office of the Haryana Police’s Crime Investigation Agency, in the old courts complex in Sonipat. His face was covered the entire while, and his glasses were destroyed in the process, on the very first day of his detention. The Haryana Police and the Sonipat Jail authorities subsequently refused to provide Kumar a new pair of glasses on multiple occasions, until 19 February, despite being made aware of his visual impairment.  

Kumar looked down and nervously shifted in his seat as he continued. He said the police then asked him to remove all his clothes. “All?” I asked. “Yes, even the undergarments,” he answered, still looking down. He added that there were over ten policemen in the room, apart from the station house officer of the Kundli police station and chowki, or booth, in-charge of the CIA office. Then, stripped of all his clothes in a cold January winter in front of at least dozen police officials, the torture began, Kumar said.

“With my feet and hand tied down, they flogged me with a leather strap or belt,” he told me. “They kept hitting my feet and hands with a wooden stick. Then they asked me to lie down. They placed a metal pipe over my legs and then two well-built, six-feet-plus hefty policemen stood on either side of it and began rolling it over my legs. This torture started at close to 5.30 pm and continued with the policemen taking turns. My feet had swollen immensely.” He added, “This was the first day of my illegal custody. They did not ask me any questions and just kept hitting me. And I got no reply when I asked them time and again why I was being physically tortured.” He said this torture continued ceaselessly for three hours.

Kumar recounted that his underwear was then returned to him, and he was then asked to stand up and walk around. “My nails had come out by then and I suffered fractures leading to swelling and bleeding,” he said. “I was initially asked to walk in the veranda and then in the lock up. They kept saying to me, ‘Walk.’ Then, around 9 or 9.30 pm, the Kundli SHO returned.”

Kumar recalled the SHO’s directions to his staff: “Isse sone nahin dena, teen din tak. Agar yeh so gaya toh tumhari bhi pitaayi karenge”— Don’t let him sleep for the next three days. If he manages to sleep, even you will get a thrashing. Kumar told me he had never had any personal quarrel or interaction with the SHO and could not understand why he was being subjected to the violence. He was not allowed to sleep for the next three days. He said that he was kept in the police lock-up and slapped if he ever fell asleep by exhaustion, and that even others in the police lock-up were instructed to slap him. In one occasion, Kumar said, an inmate slapped him once, but refused to slap him again when a policeman directed him to do so. “Main nahin maarta aur tez, yeh tou pehle hei marr rahaa hai”—I will not hit him harder, he is already dying.” Kumar told me that his sleep cycle has been completely disturbed ever since, and he is still unable to sleep for more than two or three hours a day.

The next morning, on 17 January, he was fed a few bites of food by some of the others detained with him in the lock up because his hands were swollen and painful to move—it was the first time he had eaten after he was picked up from Kundli. “Half an hour after that, the chowki in-charge came and asked me to give him 20 names from my organisation,” Kumar told me. He said the police would ask him questions about the MAS protests and his support for the farmers’ protests, such as “who all were involved?”; “who is directing you?”; and “where did you get the funds from?” He said the police questioned his participation in the farmers’ protest and again asked about his funding for it. “I did not give them any names because I didn’t know what they were talking about,” Kumar told me. In response, he continued, the police forced him to lie down and repeated the metal pipe torture.

“They started the water torture in the afternoon,” Kumar said, referring to a method of torture more commonly known as waterboarding, in which the victim is forcibly subject to a constant stream of water with their face covered to replicate the experience of drowning. “I was tied to a chair with my head bent backward and a dirty cloth was tied on my nose and the dirty tap water was going into my mouth,” he recounted, distinctly recalling the foul odour coming from the cloth. “This kind of treatment was repeated four­–five times with the same set of questions about who was funding our support to the farmers and asking for names of twenty of my associates.” He added that one police official who was being identified by others only by a nickname, “pehelwan”—meaning wrestler—repeatedly beat him on the head with plastic pipes.

Kumar said that the police then opened his Facebook account and showed him a few photographs, but he did not know the individuals. “They asked me if I was from a communist party, and I got scared when they tried labelling me as an ‘urban naxal,’” he told me. “In one of my posts, somebody had commented ‘Lal Salaam’”—a customary greeting among communists in India—“and they interrogated me over this too, telling me ‘You’re a Naxalite.’ I was scared that in the current regime, it is so easy to tag anybody as a Naxalite.”

Kumar said the torture continued on these lines till 23 January, the day that the police claim to have arrested the Dalit activist. That day, the police had tried to electrocute him with a heater in the room during his torture, but fortunately for Kumar, the heater was not working. Kumar said he was subjected to casteist abuse, and told that someone from his caste should not hold meetings or protests. “They then started hurling abuses on my mother and sister’s names and abused me with casteist remarks,” he added.

That night, Kumar continued, the police took him to the duty magistrate but forced him to remain in the vehicle while the police went in to the court. “They took me to the court of the duty magistrate and without presenting me to the court, took my police remand,” he said. I can identify the faces but can only recollect a few names. I was kicked on my legs and subjected to caste-related abuses even there while I was locked in the car. And the police managed to get a ten-day police remand.”

During those ten days, he was taken to different places around Delhi, including Panipat, in Haryana; Hardiwar, in Uttarakhand; and a village in Uttar Pradesh that he could not recall the name of. “These trips were scary because I didn’t know where I was being taken and why while the accompanying cops were consuming alcohol all the time,” Kumar said. “These were the times that all those stories of fake encounters started flooding my mind and I was so scared for my life.”

Kumar said that the police also forced him to dip his feet in almost boiling water during the police remand. He added that his inmates told him that the police were “trying to bring down the swelling before sending me to jail so that my injuries heal by the time somebody from my family was able to meet me.” But when Kumar did finally go to jail after the ten-day remand, the jail officials did not allow him to meet or speak to his family. But during these ten days, the Haryana Police got four medical examinations conducted, none of which appeared to reveal any signs or injuries of custodial torture.

On 24 February, Kumar was presented before a “Dr Ashish” at the Civil Hospital in Sonipat. The report had the same observation recorded against Kumar’s “R/S”; “CVS”; “CNS”; and “P/A”—which refers to, respectively, the respiratory system, the cardiovascular system, the central nervous system and per abdomen—they all revealed “Nothing abnormal.” Three days later, Kumar was presented at the hospital again, this time before a “Dr Naveen Yadav.” Yadav recorded that Kumar was “Conscious, oriented to Time, Place & Person,” and he too found “nothing abnormal” in Kumar’s “CVS,” “R/S” and “P/A.” The doctor added another note at the end of his report: “Adv – No active medical intervention needed.”

The third medical report was dated 31 January, and conducted by Dr Ashish again. His second reports was almost identical to his first, except that he too added a note at the end in Kumar’s third examination: “No active medical/surgeon intervention requested.” On 2 February, the last day of his police remand, Kumar was presented before the Civil Hospital and before the medical officer at Sonipat Jail. At the hospital, he was examined by one “Dr Sandeep Malik,” who wrote that the “R/S,” “CVS” and “CNS” were “within normal limit.” The medical officers at Sonipat Jail are also doctors from the Civil Hospital who are deputed to the jail. At the jail, Kumar was examined by a medical officer “Dr Ashwani,” who similarly wrote that there was “no abnormality detected” in Kumar’s “systomic examinations.” Moreover, against an entry for “Any external injury,” the report recorded the doctor’s finding: “No.”

It is unclear how four different doctors who examined Kumar five times did not record any severe injuries, while a panel of five doctors from Chandigarh’s GMCH examined him on 20 February and found severe injuries, all of which were over two weeks old. While the GMCH’s report leaves the possibility that he was assaulted in prison, Kumar denied this, expressly stating that he was not assaulted in Sonipat Jail, and that the police had tortured him even before formally seeking remand. The GMCH report noted that Kumar was “walking with a limp with blackish discoloured areas on both thighs and swelling or tenderness in both feet.” It added, “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 psychiatric evaluation at GMCH found that Kumar “appeared sad and distressed with occasional crying spells.” It added, “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.” It concluded that these indicated “Post-traumatic disorder like symptoms.”

In a summary of the evaluation towards the end of the report, it noted that there were eight injuries, two of which were grievous, and two of which could not be commented on because they were possible fractures. It added, “All the injuries on the person of the patient are more than 2 weeks old and were caused by blunt object/ weapon.”

Multiple officials at the Civil Hospital in Sonipat said they did not know about Shiv Kumar’s case and declined to provide the numbers of the doctors named in the medical reports. I spoke to the civil surgeon, JS Punia; the deputy chief medical officer, Dinesh Chillar; the principal medical officer, Jai Bhagwan; and Rajesh, the resident medical officer. Each of them passed the buck to one another, but none of them answered my questions about the medical examinations nor provided contact details of the four doctors.

Jashandeep Singh Randhawa, the superintendent of Sonipat police, and Ravi Kumar, the SHO of Kundli police station, both declined to discuss the case because it was sub judice. Randhawa told me that the police had received complaints from NGOs and Kumar’s family in regard to the accusations of custodial torture, and that it was under investigation. “All I can say is that we shall cooperate in the inquiry,” Randhawa said. The SHO denied the allegations of torture and illegal detention. “It is a ploy to spin the narrative in his favour,” the SHO said.

Kumar told me that even though he had been presented before the medical officers as mentioned in the status report, the doctors were under pressure from the police. He said he complained to the doctors about the torture and requested medication for his injuries, but the police interrupted him and said, “Kuch nahin hua tujhe, chal yahan se”—Nothing has happened to you, move from here. Kumar said the doctors did not mentioned his injuries or give him any treatment because of the police officials present with him. He added, “Had it not been for the high court and the medical examination having been conducted outside Sonipat and in Chandigarh, my torture would have been suppressed.”