Dalit Youth Poovarasan’s Arrest and Custodial Torture in Vellore, Tamil Nadu – A Report from Makkal Mandram

March 19, 2015

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[The following is a report, written by Geeta Charusivam on behalf of “Makkal Mandram”, on the arrest and custodial torture of Poovarasan, a Dalit youth from Vellore district in Tamil Nadu and the campaign that was undertaken to expose it. On the legal front, a writ petition was filed in the Madras High Court with the help of PUCL Tamil Nadu. This writ petition follows the main article. The High Court has given a very good order in this case, by accepting most of the requests. The judgement is also appended. This judgement was extensively covered in English and Tamil dailies. – Ed]

Introduction

Athipattu Village is located in Vellore District at a distance of 35 kms from district headquarters. It falls in Arakkonam Taluk and is near Kaveripakkam town. As with every other village in Tamil Nadu, it is geographically segregated on caste lines with the ‘Oor’ where caste Hindus live and the ‘Colony’ where the Dalits live. Kaveripakkam has a large presence of Vanniyar community people leading to their domination in the social, economic and political spheres. There are two major interrelated issues in Athipattu that are a source of the problems here – caste oppression of Dalits by Vanniyar community and sand mining.

Caste oppression

In the recent years, PMK has been trying to polarize people along caste lines. This is done by the making of two simultaneous projections; one of the Vanniyar community as warrior caste with a historical legacy of being rulers who are at the receiving end today and two, of the Dalits being their hated enemies who are trying to usurp their lands, jobs, women etc. This deliberate instigation had led to open proclamations of caste superiority by Vanniyar youth and children in public places like roads, hotels, marketplace as well as educational institutions like schools and colleges.

When Dalits challenge these oppressive acts with assertions of equality, the situation turns into a vicious caste conflict. However, this is a completely unequal fight since Vanniyars dominate in all arenas … eg., majority of school teachers, shop keepers, land owners etc., belong to that community. Similarly, the local police station, hospital, village panchayat and other government departments are staffed with Vanniyars in higher levels. Their caste feelings find a pronounced negative expression in the form of open caste affinity for their community people at times like these. The result is gross misuse of government executive machinery in support of the perpetrators against Dalits who are the victims every time.

One glaring example is that of the Kaveripakkam Police Station which has several sub inspectors who are Vanniyars. One of them is SI Mohan who has very strong notions of his caste superiority which he uses against the Dalit people time and again. In the past few years, there were several incidents of caste intimidation of Athipattu Dalit people who have to come to Kaveripakkam even to buy provisions or milk. They would be stopped, harassed and beaten up for riding a motor cycle with stickers of Dr. Ambedkar in it. Similarly, school children and youth were beaten up on slightest pretext. Some Dalit youths refused to watch all this silently and decided to question the Vanniyar people. But the police arrived and booked cases against Dalit youths for quarrel, assault etc. Each time such an incident happened the Vanniyars were left off without booking any cases while Dalit youth were targeted and put behind bars. Some of them like Vivekanandan, Poovarasan and some of their friends have been facing persecution by the Vanniyar people as well as the Kaveripakkam police for a long time now. Vivekanandan left the village and went to Chennai to get a job and earn a living. But the police kept on booking false cases against him even when he was not in the village and pressurized his employers to fire him.

Once he lost his job, he decided to devote his entire time to fight for his people’s cause and returned to the village. In the past two years, there have been several conflicts instigated and perpetrated by the Vanniyars against Dalits of Athipattu. The police has imposed Section 144 on the village twice before. They have picked up and arrested several Dalit youths, brutally assaulted and tortured an youth in custody, arrested Vivekandan’s mother for 15 days as a lesson to him. His parents and uncle’s family have left their own homes in the village and shifted to some other place, as they were not able to withstand the pressure any more.

False cases against Dalit Youth

About three months back there was a fight between some Vanniyar and Dalit youth in a hotel at night. As usual, the Kaveripakkam police booked cases against Dalit youths and let the Vanniyars go scot free. It named Vivekanandan, Poovarasan in the FIR along with four other unnamed persons. Once again, the police led by SI Mohan started harassing the colony people viz., taking van full of personnel into the village late in the night, switching off the street lights, knocking on doors, barging into homes, harassing and slapping women, picking up youths at random. None of the men and young boys stayed in the village at night. They would go and hide in the river bed. This continued for a week or two. They picked up Poovarasan’s mother and kept her in the station for an entire day. All this intimidation was meant to find out the whereabouts of these two youths. Meanwhile, we got anticipatory bail for Vivekanandan and Poovarasan. Even after their lawyer communicated this to the police, they kept on intimidating the villagers asking them to hand over the two to them.

A team comprising Kolathur Mani, Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhagam, Mahesh and Jessy, Makkal Mandram visited the village on 01-08-2014 and spoke to the villagers. The same team met in Superintendent of Police Vellore District on 04-08-2014 and apprised him of these issues. The team suggested that the excesses of Kaveripakkam policemen should be controlled by the higher authorities and harassment of Vivekanandan and the other Dalit youths should be stopped immediately. The SP assured the team that he would take action against the offending policemen.

Sand Mining

Another major issue that affects the Dalit people adversely is the indiscriminate sand mining in the area without any regard for the environmental consequences. This is a lucrative industry and a never-ending source of income, both legal and illegal, for the local politicians, bureaucrats, lower level government and village officials. The unlawful activities relating to sand mining include operating unlicensed lorries, quarrying from illegal mines, quarrying beyond permissible limit in licensed mines, taking out permits or licenses in false names, taking short cut routes into the mine, making unaccounted trips and removing excess loads of sand. Athipattu village is situated on the banks of the riverbed and is close to the sand quarry but not on the official route that leads into the quarry. However, the road through the village is used for illegal sand-running.

The Dalit villagers of Athipattu have been protesting the entry of lorries into their village as they enter mines through the short cut and make continuous trips at all times of the night and day disturbing their regular activities. But Kandiban, Inspector of Kaveripakkam Station has signed some permits for seventeen lorries allowing them to enter through Athipattu village, even though he has no legal authority to do so. When the villagers stop these lorries, he gets angry at them and retaliates by booking false cases on the Dalit youths on trumped up charges. The Inspector of Kaveripakkam police station and SSI Mohan are most corrupt and take huge amounts from the lorry owners for allowing them to indulge in all kinds of illegal activities. Vivekanandan, Poovarasan and their friends ring up the RDO, DSP, SP and other officials whenever they intercept these illegal lorries and make all possible efforts to stop illegal mining. Hence they have to face the wrath of thoese corrupt policemen who target each one of these youths specifically and have even threatened to book these youths under TN Goondas Act if they interfere with their income generating activities.

Illegal detention and custodial torture of Poovarasan

On the night of 23rd September 2014, at around 11.30 pm, Poovarasan S/O Chidambaram, a 28 year old Dalit youth from Athipattu Village, Kaveripakkam Post, Arakkonam Taluk, Vellore District, Tamil Nadu was woken up by a team of 5 policemen and taken to the Kaveripakkam Police Station. This team of five police men consisted of Kandiban Inspector (SHO), Mohan Special Sub Inspector, Sundar Constable (SB), Kadiresan Writer, and the Inspector’s driver. At the Station, they stripped him naked, tied his hands behind his back and all five of them proceeded to beat him black and blue with their lathis. After some time, a lathi was inserted from one arm and pushed through the other arm so that he was raised high in the air by two policemen (Sundar and Kadiresan) while Mohan SI beat him severely on the soles of his foot and shin with his lathi. Then he was asked to keep his hands open in front and Kandiban Inspector brutally caned both his palms till these became swollen and numb due to lack of circulation. Then they made him jump up and down or shake his hands vigorously to bring back blood circulation and started the process of beating him black and blue again.

Two policemen held him down by pressing down on him with their boots while a third one thrashed him on the buttocks and waist. Two lathis were forcibly thrust into his mouth, one was twisted into the jaw bone and the other was pressed against the roof of his mouth. They also kicked him in the chest, thighs, back with their booted foot. In between these beatings, he was given several jars of pain relief balm to apply on palms and soles. The moment the pain reduced a bit, the brutal beatings would start again. All the time, he was continuously abused in filthy language with caste derogatory curses. The inspector demanded to know ‘do you think you are such a big shot that you will stop sand mining’. This vicious treatment went on from 2.00 am till 6.00 am. All five of them took turns to assault him brutally the entire time. By this time he was no longer in a position to sit or stand and was barely conscious. But Poovarasan was chained to a table with an iron chain and left in that position till the next morning.

At 7.00 am the next morning (24-9-14), Poovarasan’s father accompanied by a lawyer and some relatives reached the station. The lawyer and others noticed his left hand and both feet had swollen conspicuously. His right jaw bone had a guava-sized bulge. His buttocks and waist were puffy and thoroughly bruised. He could neither stand up straight nor take a step. He could not even sit up. When they helped him up, he coughed up blood. The lawyer protested this treatment but they did not release him from his chains till 11.00 am.

At 11.30 am, Poovarasan was sent to the District Munsif and Judicial Magistrate –I Court for remand under the charge of a Head Constable. Before leaving the station, he was threatened not to reveal anything about the abuse he had suffered to the court. There was no complaint against him. The Inspector had booked a case against him under Sections 294 (A) (using abusive language) and Section 506 (I) (criminal intimidation). On the way, the Head Constable told Poovarasan, ‘don’t say anything about this assault in court. The inspector has said he will pay your medical bill. I will take you to the hospital for an injection myself’. Poovarasan just nodded his head. When he was brought to court, he had to be carried in by his relatives. The magistrate Gayathri Devi took one look at him and asked him what had happened. He narrated the entire episode of police brutality in custody. She returned the remand by asking the police constable to take the prisoner to Wallajahpet Government Hospital for medical examination and come back with the doctor’s opinion as there were many visible injuries on his person. Hence the policeman was forced to take Poovarasan to the Wallajahpet Government Hospital.

At the hospital, Dr. Suganya, duty doctor in the emergency ward, only made a cursory examination of the victim and did not make the mandatory Accident Register (AR) entry. It appeared that Kaveripakkam police had already contacted her. By this time, our team of lawyers from Makkal Mandram had reached the hospital. They insisted that the AR entry should be made properly. She rudely told them to leave the place and said she would make the entries later. The team of lawyers met the Medical Superintendent of the Hospital immediately and insisted that mandatory medico-legal procedure should be followed with due care so that an accurate and genuine medical record can be made available to the court. The Medical Superintendent immediately called up Dr. Sukanya and reprimanded her for not doing her duty properly and instructed her to record an entry in the AR at once.

It was only after this that the incident, names and details of assaulters, injuries, location, extent and other symptoms were recorded in the hospital records. There appeared to be atleast four fractures apart from multiple other injuries. The medical opinion given was that this patient needs to be treated at a higher institution due to the extent of injuries. Hence they recommended that Poovarasan be admitted to Govt. District Headquarters Hospital at Addukkamparai in Vellore. Looking at Poovarasan’s condition, the hospital authorities arranged for their own 108 ambulance to take him back to Court.

Back in court, as he was not in a condition to walk, Poovarasan was left lying in the ambulance with his father by his side, while two constables guarded it outside. A few policemen and our team of lawyers went back into the court. The magistrate was looking at the remand papers once again. Meanwhile, the Inspector of Kaveripakkam Station arrived along with a few constables, boarded the ambulance and unlawfully ordered the driver to take it away. The driver drove it out of the court premises at considerable speed. Inside it, the Inspector threatened Poovarasan and his father that he would destroy their entire family if Poovarasan did not retract his statement to the court. Poovarasan’s father had the presence of mind to call our advocate on his cell phone immediately and Poovarasan cried out into the phone, ‘sir please save me, I don’t know where they are taking me. The inspector is threatening me with dire consequences.’ Our advocate switched on the loudspeaker in his cellphone so that the magistrate’s clerk could hear it as well.

On being informed the magistrate got infuriated and ordered the court police to call all their departmental officers back into court at once with the ambulance or else she would take strict action against them. She also rang up the Superintendent of Police Vellore and gave him a telephonic report about the abduction of Poovarasan by Kaveripakkam police from the court premises. As there were no options left the ambulance was forced to return to the court. The Magistrate admonished the Inspector of Kaveripakkam PS and gave him a stern warning in open court. The DSP Arakkonam rushed to the spot and tried to mediate a compromise. Poovarasan, his family and Makkal Mandram refused it and instead demanded justice for him and punishment for the guilty officers. The Magistrate released Poovarasan on bail (on his own surety) by mentioning in the order ‘apart from the merits of the case, the court is inclined to enlarge the accused on bail considering his injuries and treatment’. The magistrate also recorded this incident in writing and forwarded it to the higher authorities.

Poovarasan was admitted to the Govt. District Headquarters Hospital at Addukkamparai in Vellore in the evening of 24th September 2014. It is a huge hospital with 800 in-patients as the Medical Superintendent informed us. The next day morning, he was sent for X-ray tests. The duty doctor treated him in a very casual manner. There seemed to be no concern for the fact that he was a victim of custodial violence of police. Inside the ward, they allowed only one attendant. The orthopaedic surgeon visited the ward at around 1.30 in the afternoon, looked at the x-ray reports and informed us that there are no fractures. We informed the doctor that Poovarasan complained of persistent pain in the right foot which was still swollen and that he was unable to put it down or stand on it. The doctor stood by his statement that there are no fractures. Just an hour before this, another doctor who had come to examine Poovarasan had said that there was a fracture in his right foot.

During lunchtime, when we had gone out for just one hour, some policemen came in civil dress to meet Poovarasan in the ward and tried to talk to him. He had never seen them before. He got very frightened and refused to speak to them without us being present. They left before we came back. Poovarasan told us to take him away from there as he feared for his life now. We went and met the doctor on duty, Dr. Gopinath and informed him that we had concerns over Poovarasan’s safety so either the hospital should discharge him or give him better security. Dr. Gopinath made very irresponsible statements like, ‘there are so many patients in the hospital, how can we guarantee them safety, who will guarantee my safety etc?’ He also refused to discharge the patient claiming that since this is a police assault case they could not discharge him so soon. We tried to impress upon him the seriousness of the situation and the gravity of the human rights violation faced by Poovarasan at the hands of Kaveripakkam police, but to no avail.

We met the Dean, Dr. Sithy Athiya Munavarah, who gave us a patient hearing and understood our concerns. When she called up the ward to enquire, the duty doctor tried to obstruct the discharge by giving her false information. We had to set the record straight. Finally, at around 8.30 pm we were allowed to take the patient by signing an ‘against medical advice’ comment recorded by the nurse in her own handwriting on the case sheet. The doctor refused to let us mention that we were taking the patient because we were not satisfied with the security and treatment at the hospital. Moreover, according to the hospital authorities, since this is not a discharge by the doctor, the patient is not entitled to a discharge summary, scan or x-ray reports or any other medical documents pertaining to his own self, body and health. So Poovarasan had to leave the hospital without any medical record of his injury or treatment given at this hospital.

The next day viz. 26th September 2014, Poovarasan was admitted to a private medical hospital in another town, to keep him safe and out of reach of Kaveripakkam police. Another series of x rays were done. The orthopaedic doctor has confirmed that there is a fracture in his foot. Poovarasan also complained of chest pain and vomited several times that day. The nerves and muscles on both his hands and feet have been crushed. There are lacerations in his mouth and severe contusions on his buttocks. The doctors are treating him for his grievous injuries and we expect a full medical report as soon as all the tests are done.

We are constrained to note that the higher officers in police department of Vellore district have not taken our earlier complaint seriously, which has given encouragement to corrupt and casteist policemen of Kaveripakkam station to continue their nefarious activities. We demand that strict action be taken against these rowdies in uniform.

Demands

1. All the five policemen – Kandiban Inspector (SHO), Mohan Special Sub Inspector, Sundar Constable (SB), Kathiresan Writer, and the Inspector’s driver should be dismissed from service at once.

2. Criminal prosecution should be initiated against all five of them under relevant provisions of IPC and SC / ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

3. Income Tax should file Disproportionate Assets case on Kandiban Inspector and Mohan SI, as they have acquired properties and wealth beyond their known sources of income.

Geeta
For Makkal Mandram

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1. Judgement of HC available here

2. Writ Petition available here

3. Bail Order available here

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