Imagine this situation. You go to work. In the evening, you say goodbye to colleagues. You come home. And you find someone waiting for you.
This someone wears khaki. This someone says he’s a cop. This someone begins to ask you questions about where you’ve been, who your friends are, do you know so-and-so? You say, no. He says you must come to the police station. You ask, why? He does not tell you. He makes you get into his car.
You still don’t know who this someone is. He wears no name tag. He does not volunteer any information about which police station he’s attached to, and when you will be coming back.
Now, imagine you’re a woman and you have a small child in your arms. You catch a train to attend a conference. Next thing you know, some people come into the compartment, claiming to be railway policemen in plainclothes. So far, you have no clue you’ve been arrested. But you find yourself at the local CBI branch office.
You are questioned for links to armed rebel outfits. You say you have no links.
They take you to the women’s police station for the night. The lock-up room is guarded by a man. You’re prevented from using the toilet. You still have your child and colleagues with you. The next morning, you are questioned alone. You are pressurided to sign a document. Then you’re taken to court and your ‘confession’ produced as evidence.
It could happen so easily. If you’re an activist talking about land rights or forest rights or water rights, this imaginary scenario must look frighteningly real.
On the December 8, 2012, something like this happened in Ranchi, leading to the incarceration of Aparna Marandi, according to Baby Turi, head of Jitpur panchayat in Jharkhand’s Dhanbad district. Baby says she was picked up along with Aparna and her four-year-old son, and Sushila Ekka. Baby and Sushila had not signed confessions and were released on the 10th. Aparna, fearing for her life, signed a confession and went to jail.
What Baby and Aparna have in common was that both their husbands — Damodar Turi and Jiten Marandi — were arrested in 2008 and accused of Maoist activities. According to a statement by Damodar, who is the state convenor of the Visthapan Virodhi Janvikas Andolan (Peoples’ Campaign against Displacement), when he was arrested, no FIR was filed. He was tortured and made to sign a statement. At a press conference, Maoist pamphlets were put on show, along with the allegation that these were recovered from the NGO’s office. As for Jiten Marandi, he is still in jail. He was acquitted by the High Court, but is still kept in jail through the Jharkhand Crime Control Act (2002).
Whether Jiten or Damodar or Aparna are guilty of a crime, or have Maoist links is a separate question. A far greater danger to ordinary Indians is posed by the police contempt of procedure.
The police needs to do its job, but it seems as if increasingly, the police needs policing. There are reports of such gross violations from every state, and surely, we can’t afford to send human rights’ defenders chasing after every cop in India. And yet, we have to know who is arresting whom and for what. A citizen deserves access to a lawyer before s/he signs anything.
Perhaps, this it is even possible with newer technologies to start monitoring police activity. Perhaps that is the only way to make the police comply with procedure. Because if we cannot trust our own police force, where does that leave us?
Annie Zaidi writes poetry, stories, essays, scripts (and in a dark, distant past, recipes she never actually tried)