Nodeep Kaur, a 23-year-old Dalit activist, was released from Karnal Jail in Haryana on 26 February. Nodeep, who works with the Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan, a labourer-rights organisation, was arrested on 12 January by the Sonipat Police. That day, two first-information reports FIRs were registered against her at the Kundli police station, with a range of offenses, including rioting and attempt to murder.
For some months before her arrest, Nodeep and other MAS members had been organising protests in the Kundli Industrial Area to urge factory owners to pay workers their due wages. In late December, based on the complaint of an employee of a security agency in the area, the police had registered an FIR against her, accusing her of extortion.
After she was arrested on 12 January, reports began to emerge that she had been beaten and tortured in custody, bringing significant social-media attention to her case and to the arrest of her colleague Shiv Kumar, a visually impaired Dalit activist. In mid February, district courts granted Kaur bail in two of the cases against her. Then, the Punjab and Haryana High Court took suo moto cognisance of her detention. The court granted her bail in the final case.
Mandeep Punia, an independent journalist, met Kaur the day after her release. He spoke to her about her activism, her arrest and the violence she faced in custody. The ordeal she faced “raises a big question on how our police treat women and Scheduled Castes,” Kaur said. “If there is no action taken today, this will keep happening to more women.”
Mandeep Punia: You were arrested on 12 January. What happened that day? Can you describe the incident that led to your arrest?
Nodeep Kaur: On 12 January, we went to the Kundli Industrial Area, near Singhu Border, to help workers, to demand their pending wages. A lot of workers went there. We went to a factory and the owner assured us that he will pay the pending wages within an hour. Another one said that he will pay by evening. When we go to a factory, we sit peacefully outside that factory for thirty minutes and we announce that the factory owners should pay the pending wages of the workers. One factory owner closed the door. The police came and started beating the women. One policeman put his hand around my neck and tried to drag me outside. They also fired shots in the air. I was arrested and taken to Sonipat. Then I was beaten in Sonipat and sent to Karnal Jail.