The Caravan staffer assaulted by Delhi Police ACP inside Model Town station

On 16 October, Ahan Penkar, a journalist with The Caravan, was assaulted by Ajay Kumar, an assistant commissioner of police in Delhi's Model Town police station. Penkar was one of five individuals beaten by the police inside the station premises. In the assault, he sustained injuries on his nose, shoulder, back and ankle. SHAHID TANTRAY FOR THE CARAVAN
17 October, 2020

On the afternoon of 16 October, the Delhi Police detained and assaulted Ahan Penkar, a 24-year-old staffer of The Caravan, while he was reporting in north Delhi. Ajay Kumar, the assistant commissioner of police of Model Town, kicked and slapped Penkar inside the Model Town police station premises. Penkar had repeatedly told the police that he was a journalist and prominently displayed his press card.

The police forcibly took Penkar’s phone from him and deleted all the photos and videos he had recorded while reporting. Penkar was detained for nearly four hours. In the assault, he sustained injuries on his nose, shoulder, back and ankle.

Penkar was reporting on a protest concerning the alleged rape and murder of a Dalit teenager in north Delhi. Students and activists had gathered outside the Model Town police station to demand the registration of a first-information report in the case, against a complaint by her relative. In early October, the 14-year-old had been discovered dead in the home at which she was employed as a domestic worker. The police had ruled her death a suicide, but the family suspects that she had been raped and murdered by the employer.

On 16 October, Penkar arrived at the Model Town police station at around 2.45 pm to report on a protest by a small crowd of about thirty people gathered outside it, including around ten members of the teenager’s family. At the time, some members of the crowd had gone inside the station to demand that an FIR be registered immediately. When the police refused to file the report, the small crowd began to raise slogans condemning the Delhi Police.

Around thirty minutes after he had reached, Penkar was speaking to the deceased teenager’s aunt when between ten and 15 police officials, both men and women, came out of the station. They asked the protestors to disperse. When the gathered crowd refused to leave and repeated its demand for an FIR, the police officials started taking protesters and the teenager’s family members inside the station. Most of the police personnel had not donned their uniform, making it difficult for the crowd to learn their name or rank.

“I was recording the incident on my phone in one hand, with my press card of The Caravan clearly held out for the police to see on my other hand,” Penkar said. “From this point onwards, the press card never entered my wallet again, I showed it every chance I could.”

With his press card prominently displayed, Penkar recorded videos of the police taking the protestors inside the station. Then, a plain-clothes official spotted him, and pointed him out to the ACP, Ajay Kumar, who was overseeing the police personnel’s actions. Kumar ordered the personnel to take Penkar inside as well. “Isko bhi dekh lenge,” Kumar said—we will show him also. Police officials “grabbed my trousers from the back, my shirt from the front, and dragged me,” Penkar recalled. “They took my phone immediately, even before we had made it inside … The whole time, I was yelling, ‘I am a journalist, I work for The Caravan.’”

The police personnel dragged Penkar and several others to a room inside the station, which had a desk, some chairs, and a small bed. The five young men—Penkar and four Delhi University students who were among those protesting—were made to sit on the floor. Other protestors were detained as well, in other parts of the police station. During the next several hours, at least five police personnel as well as the ACP entered the room and beat up the young men. At least ten police personnel went in and out of the room, constantly verbally assaulting, threatening and deriding the young men.

At first, Ajay Kumar, the ACP, entered the room. “He was angry,” Penkar said. “He first showed us a rod and threatened to beat us with it. But then he kept it aside and thrashed us himself instead.”

Shahid Tantray for The Caravan

The ACP first slapped Penkar, then kicked him on his thighs and his face. “I fell completely to the ground, and then he tried to pin me down, and kicked my back and shoulders.” Penkar repeatedly told the ACP and the police officers in the room that he was from the media. “There was no doubt about that, even when I was being beaten up, they knew I was from the media,” he said. Firoz Alam, a 27-year-old student who was being kept in the same room as Penkar, confirmed this. Alam said, “They told him, ‘Saale tereko editor banate hain, teri report chapwate hain’”—We will make an editor out of you, we will publish your report.

After beating Penkar, Kumar beat each of the four students as well. Alam, a graduate student in Delhi University’s history department, said, “He hit me with his boot, his elbow, he beat us a lot.” Alam said he had sustained a shoulder injury from the beating.

Prabhakar, a 24-year-old student who was among the four being held in the same room as Penkar, also said he was brutally beaten by Kumar. “He beat me on my chest with his boot and on my back,” he said. “He pinned me down, he put his boot on my throat, he abused me ... He used such horrible abuses that I cannot even tell you over the phone.” Prabhakar said the ACP threatened him. “When he found out I was from Allahabad, he said, ‘Tujhe wahan ke gundon se pitwa dunga’”—I’ll get you beaten up by goons there.

Other police officials participated in the assault and beatings as well. “They kept trying to threaten and intimidate us,” Penkar said. “They kept saying, ‘Your lives are over. We will charge you, there will be an FIR, you will be arrested.’” The police officials constantly used profanity against the five men held in the room. One police official told them, “Why do you all keep doing this? Tumhe nahi pata hai ki desh badal gaya hai?”—Don’t you know the country has changed?

At one point, a plain-clothes police official came into the room with Penkar’s phone, which he placed on the desk. He asked Penkar several times to unlock the phone, but Penkar refused to do so. The official then returned with another man, whom the police personnel were referring to as an “inspector.” The inspector, also in plain clothes, entered the room and said, “Where is the kid? I’ll make him piss his pants.” He threatened and intimidated Penkar into unlocking his phone. The police officials then deleted the images of the protest and the video material that Penkar had collected while reporting. “They checked the bin on my gallery, and deleted it from there, and then even checked Google drive to delete it from there,” Penkar said.

The police did not return Penkar’s phone to him until later. “I kept telling them, ‘I need to call my editors, I need to call my family,’ but they didn’t listen,” he said. “They told me, ‘You didn’t listen to us, why should we listen to you?’” The police officials also collected Penkar’s identity cards from his wallet and his press card and kept these with them for some time. When Penkar asked for the cards to be returned, the police officials refused, saying the cards had been “seized.” “They were torturing us, first telling us that they were going to let us go, and then saying, ‘The commissioner wants to keep you overnight,’” Penkar said, referring to Delhi’s commissioner of police.

At close to 7 pm, the police officials finally let Penkar go. The ordeal was “terrifying,” Penkar said. “I was shaking the entire time.” The manner in which the police threatened and intimidated them, Alam said, “felt like we were some big criminals, like they show in films.” Kumar threatened the five men, Penkar and Alam said. He told them, “Don’t let me see your faces around here again.”

Penkar said that he incessantly reminded the police that he was a journalist who was only doing his job. “I told them, ‘I’m a reporter, why am I here?’” he said. But the police officials did not seem to care. “I thought my get-out card was that I was a journalist, but it did not work.”

This is the second assault on staffers of The Caravan in recent months. On 11 August, three journalists working with The Caravan—Shahid Tantray, Prabhjit Singh and a woman journalist—were beaten, subjected to communal slurs, threatened with murder, and sexually harassed, while reporting in Subhash Mohalla, in northeast Delhi’s North Ghonda neighbourhood. The journalists were following up on a report they had published a couple of days earlier, on accusations of sexual assault against Delhi Police officials by a Muslim woman who was a complainant in the Delhi violence. The Caravan has been reporting consistently on the Delhi Police’s complicity in the communal violence that swept the northeast part of the city in February this year, and killed at least 53 people.

Penkar has sustained visible injuries on his nose, his back, his shoulder and has pain in his ankle, where Kumar kicked him. After he was let out of the police station, Penkar visited the Babu Jagjivan Ram Memorial Hospital in Delhi to file a medico-legal case. During the examination, a plain-clothes officer who was present at the hospital’s casualty section made sure to oversee the process and direct the doctor’s actions. The doctor did not take Penkar’s vitals, such as blood pressure and pulse, even though he noted these figures on the chart.

Penkar has filed a detailed complaint about the assault with SN Shrivastava, Delhi’s commissioner of police, seeking action against Kumar and other police officials under sections 323, 342, and 506 (II) of the Indian Penal Code—relating to voluntarily causing hurt, wrongful confinement, and criminal intimidation. He wrote to the commissioner: “It is shameful and abhorrent that this is the way the Delhi Police treats journalists.”

When contacted, Ajay Kumar said he is not authorised to speak to the media and asked us to contact Vijayanta Arya, the deputy commissioner of police for Delhi’s North West district. Arya denied that the police was aware of Penkar’s identity as a journalist. “Ten of the protestors were detained, he was one of them,” she said. “At no point did he mention to the police that he was from the press, he was not holding any ID or any other way by which the police could have known.” Arya also denied the fact that the police took Penkar’s ID cards and press cards inside the station. “No such thing happened at the police station,” she said. To one counter question, Arya said, “You are asking for my version, no? So I’m giving you my version.”

When asked about the visible injuries on Penkar’s person and the threats by the police which confirmed that they knew Penkar was a journalist, she said, “We are looking into it.” About Penkar’s detailed complaint to the commissioner, she said, “We are looking into that as well.” SN Shrivastava, Delhi’s commissioner of police, refused to comment on the incident over the phone and cut the call. A subsequent message and call to him went unanswered.