A human rights advocate based in Chhatisgarh was allegedly detained and beaten up by the local police for being a "Naxalite supporter".
Advocate Alban Toppo writes an open letter narrating his "brutal" experience and has appealed for justice.
I am a fresh lawyer coming from a tribal family of Jashpur, Chhattishgarh. I finished my law graduation in 2008, got enrolled with the Chhattisgarh Bar Council and started working for the poor and underprivileged for which I had a commitment since my college days.
I started learning basics of human rights litigation at the Delhi office of Human Rights Law Network and very recently came to Chhattisgarh to do research for the Right to food case, which is going on at the honorable Supreme Court of India. For this, I went to Dantewada, and met Mr. Himanshu Kumar, director of Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, who has done some study on this issue and to gather information and take his advice and guidance. I was also providing some legal assistance to him during my stay in Dantewada.
On December 10, 2009, at about 2.30 pm, the Thana In-charge (TI) of Bhairamgarh police station, Mr. K S Nand, came in a civil uniform to the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram at Katiyarraas accompanied by more than 25 SPOs (special police officers) in five cars.
Director of VCA Shri Himanshu Kumar and few other volunteers of the VCA were present. I was also present there. The TI spoke to Himanshu Kumar about taking Kopa Kunjam, son of Lacchu Kunjam, a resident of village Alnaar, Block Geedam, P.S. Dantewada, who is a volunteer of the VCA, stating that they needed him for some interrogation by the superintendent of police.
He said, "SP sahab ne bulaya hai, kuch puch tach karni hai." (The SP has called you for interrogation)
No notice was served for this. However on being asked by Himanshu Kumar to give some written notice about it, the TI of Bhairamgarh immediately wrote on a piece of paper, "Prati, Kopa Kunjam! Apse thana Dantewada me kuch poonch thanch karna chahta hoon. Kripya ap mere sath sadar PS kotwali chalein." (I want to interrogate you at Dantewada police station. Please come with me to P.S. Kotwali).
Being an advocate present at the spot, I considered it to be my duty to accompany VCA volunteer Kopa Kunjam to Dantewada police station.
With the consent of Himanshu Kumar, I went along with Kopa Kunjam.
At the Dantewada police station, we were asked to sit down. After making both of us wait for about half an hour, we were asked to come and sit in a vehicle. Thinking that we were being taken to the SP office, we sat in the vehicle.
As vehicle proceeded, I introduced myself to the IT of Bhairamgadh saying that I am an advocate, having done my law course from Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur, and am associated with the Human Rights Law Network.
When the vehicle crossed Dantewada, we became suspicious and asked as to where we were being taken now, to which the TI replied, "Kopa Kunjam is now being taken to Beejapur District."
Kopa Kunjam refused to go further, as he was not informed about being taken to Beejapur earlier.
I also objected to it, stating that the police should follow necessary procedures under the law and should act as per guidelines of the Supreme Court and that they cannot take Mr. Kopa to Beejapur without giving any notice in this regard.
By this time Kopa Kunjam came out from the Bolero vehicle and I also got out of the vehicle.
The TI along with two others got hold of Mr Kopa, and with the help of around 15 SPOs bundled Mr Kopa into another vehicle, which had been coming along.
When I again resisted to such behavior saying that it was illegal, two SPOs started abusing and slapping me and bundled me too inside the car.
Before being taken into car, I somehow managed inform my senior lawyer, colleagues and friends in Delhi about this incident.
Noticing this, two SPOs started slapping and beating me and tried to snatch my mobile, but I didn't give it. But after this they forced me inside the car and did not allow me use the mobile phone.
At about 5 pm, we reached Bhairamgarh police station. The IT of Bhairamgadh asked me to give my mobile phone and asked me to switch it off. We were asked to sit inside the police station with two SPOs keeping an eye on us.
At about 8 pm, we were taken for dinner in a nearby hotel, from where we came back in 15-20 minutes.
At about 8.45 pm, the officials of Bhairamgarh police station called me inside a room and asked why I decided to accompany Mr. Kopa. About three minutes later, the TI started addressing me in an extremely rude and disrespectful manner and it soon became violent and abusive. He started abusing me with an offensive language, which was followed by beatings with a thick bamboo stick and with a hard rubber cane, continuous slapping while pulling my hair and kicking severely.
After sometime, he went out and started beating Kopa Kunjam. Kopa was brought into the same room and both of us were beaten severely for 30 minutes by the TI Nand and an assistant constable Banjara, while some 15 other police staff and SPOs surrounded both of us.
TI Nand also said, "No advocate in Bastar dares to speak in my presence and you talk a lot. Now show me how much you can talk! Show me how much law you know?"
Later I was taken to a separate room and was questioned about the purpose of my stay in Dantewada and association with VCA.
At around 10 pm, I heard someone saying, "Sala bada aadmi hai, Delhi se sahab ka phone aya hai."
Soon after this I was asked to write on a paper that I was brought to Bhairamgadh and as it was late in the evening and there was no mode of transport, and since the area is a very sensitive and unsafe, I decided to spend the night at Bhairamgarh station, where I was safe.
At Bhairamgadh police station, they said Himanshu was a Naxalite and whoever was working with Himanshu was a Naxalite and whoever stayed with Himanshu was a Naxal supporter.
Kopa was very badly beaten and had suffered serious injuries on his chest, back and leg, due to which he was even unable to walk and sleep properly.
I got injuries on the elbow of right hand, biceps and back, causing severe pain and swelling. I was not able to move my hands and back due to severe pain. I spent the whole night shivering and in pain, speculating what next was to happen.
On December 11, 2009, at 9.30 am, I was sent to Dantewada police station accompanied by four SPOs in a vehicle and one head constable of Bhairamgarh police station, while Kopa was kept detained.
When they reached Dantewada police station, two volunteers of the VCA were called and I was handed over to them.
After being released next day, I went to Ambedkar Hospital, Raipur, to get a medical examination done. However, I was asked make a compliant before the police after which the police would come and then MLC (medico legal case) would be conducted in the presence of the police.
I thought of going back to Dantewada to lodge the first information report, but because I was scared of being implicated in any false case this time, I did not go there.
However, being very much concerned that even lawyers were not allowed to function freely and being beaten up like this, I had no other option except to write this open letter-cum-appeal addressed to everybody so that the issue could be taken up by the society itself.
I have been subjected this kind of brutality for working for the poor and powerless.
It is against law, against democracy and even against morality to do this to an advocate.
If such kind of treatment is given to young lawyers who want to work towards a better society, the younger generation will loose hope.
Kindly take appropriate step against those who abused the power vested with them to beat and insult me in this gruesome manner and help restore the faith of young people in democracy and in rule of law.