When Cops become Terrorists

He says he was beaten into pulp, made to drink a cop's urine, forced to walk naked in front of his wife in the police station, put in jail. His wife too was imprisoned. For Prempal, after 19 years, justice has arrived. But what can compensate for two decades of everyday Delhi Police terror? 
Prateek Chauhan Meerut/Delhi

Prempal is a 55-year-old mason, whose story is painful and shocking. Yet, what marks this humble man's terrible and tragic life journey is the amazingly protracted quest for justice, the resilience against injustice and the tenacity to restore his self-dignity. And in this hard and long journey, sharing the trauma and the struggle, was his wife and children, two sons and two daughters.

For the last 19 years, Prempal has been embroiled in bitter court fights with the Delhi Police as they charged him with one false case after another, till justice got done in March 2010, when he was acquitted in 13 of the 18 cases filed against him.  "When I used to go to the court in all these long years, I could see all kinds of criminals; but no one had so many cases as those inflicted on me. I met that famous 'rich thief' called 'Bunty Chor' -  even he did not have so many cases slapped on him. The police had obviously worked overtime to slap almost everything under the Indian Penal Code on me: arms act, murder, robbery, even rape of a minor girl. Even TADA, can you imagine?" he told Hardnews, his eyes welling up. 

"While living with my wife, two sons and two daughters in a two-room accommodation in Sangam Vihar in south Delhi, there were times when I used to get impatient and feel totally helpless. Then, I felt like consuming poison and poisoning my whole family. But my wife asked me to trust the Indian judicial system, and I am glad I did," he said.

Delhi police got miffed with Prempal when he complained against some cops of the Sangam Vihar police station. Prempal narrates the heart-rending story like a film he has seen many times. He was framed in 1991, 19 years ago. There was a theft in his house but a case was not registered. Later, the police caught the thief and recovered the goods, which included jewellery and Rs 5,000. He was called to the police station and made a witness. Surprisingly, the thief was let off and no case was registered against him! He asked them to return the stolen goods. The cops refused. He petitioned in a lower court which directed the police station to do the needful. The police response was that there was no robbery, and that Prempal is mad. 

Prempal moved the high court. The police suddenly caught the thief again and returned some of the stolen goods. However, this was the beginning of the horror story for Prempal. The police wanted revenge: how dare you complain against us? 

Then started the endless saga of 'police repression': the hounding and harassment, the beatings and false cases. Once, sometime in 1996-97, says the mason, the cops picked him up and his minor son from their house, accused them of stealing stuff (their own domestic goods) and put them in the lock up. They were packed off to Tihar for "robbery in their own house" in an incredibly perverse and horrifying reincarnation of a Kafkasque scenario. He finally approached the Delhi High Court seeking compensation, alleging that the investigating agency had registered 18 false criminal cases against him, including a case of raping a seven-year-old child, between 1991 and 2007.

In a glaring example of injustice faced by poor, powerless citizens of this country, as much as the totally corrupt, inhuman and brutish face of police, the mason has seen all kinds of torture by the police in the last two decades. He says he was beaten up into pulp whenever the police picked him up, made to drink a cop's urine, forced to walk naked in front of his wife in the police station. Once the police from the Sangam Vihar police station picked him up in the night, beat him up, and told him to run, or else they will do an 'encounter'. 

"My children couldn't complete their education, people in the neighbourhood boycotted me since I was stigmatised as a 'criminal', my wife used to run out yelling 'police police' at midnight, fearing they are coming to get me. Cops would often put a gun to my head and ask me to run for my life," revealed Prempal. 

While delivering the judgment in the Prempal case, however belated, Justice S Muralidhar of the Delhi High Court ordered Delhi Police Commissioner YS Dadhwal to review all the criminal cases pending against him. Not only that, the court asked him to apologise to the victim and his family in writing, besides shelling out a compensation amount of Rs 6 lakh for causing him grief, adding, "If confidence (in police) has to be restored among the citizenry, then such expression of contrition by those at the helm is imperative." 

Prempal's wife Munni Devi, who has stood by him through this everyday trauma and condemnation for 19 years, and has been on the receiving end too, said, "I will never be able to understand why the police had to charge my husband with such heinous crimes when he is such a hard working and a soft-hearted person. Even though he is a mason who built other's homes, due to police harassment we could never build our own house. My father died because he couldn't tolerate seeing our relentless misery. Only two policemen have been punished by the court whereas there are so many who tortured us who are still at large."

Justice Muralidhar castigated two DCPs - HM Meena and Mangesh Kashyap - for "using impermissible language" while addressing the court in one of the cases. While deciding the compensation amount, the court took into account the lawyer's fees, loss of income after being thrown in jail for 29 months, travel expenditure, loss of reputation, mental agony and physical harassment. The court computed the compensation amount to be Rs 5, 32,750, with interest. In addition, the police were asked to pay Rs 30,000 towards the cost of Prempal's petition. 

"The Delhi Police has slapped Prempal with false charges for an offence in relation to which it would have been next to impossible for him to obtain bail and even more difficult to avoid trial. Since they were not able to demonstrate his 'criminal background' considering the number of acquittals, Prempal is obviously a man broken in spirit and health. The police have caused irreparable damage to his reputation by their actions," the court noted in its verdict. 

Sanjay Singh, the victim's son, while sharing his dark days with Hardnews, said, "When the police realised that my father would not step back in his struggle for justice, they booked me in a robbery case and my father in a murder case. Back in 1991, I was just a two-year-old when my parents were jailed for the first time. I was too small to take care of myself and there was nobody else, so the court allowed me to stay with my mother in the Tihar jail. (His mother was also arrested on false charges.) There has not been a single day when we have eaten together. I pray that the police never ruins anyone's family like they ruined ours. This compensation can never make up for the agony caused by the police."

Prempal's counsel Will Mathew said, "This decision will surely boost the confidence of people belonging to the weaker sections of society as nobody is above law. We are planning to approach the court to claim a total compensation of Rs 3.5 crore on behalf of his wife Munni Devi and their children, who are equal victims. Besides, Prempal got compensation only in one out of the 18 cases."        Incidentally, this will be the second time YS Dadhwal will have to tender an apology to ordinary citizens for high-handedness by his men in uniform. Last year, Justice Muralidhar had asked him to apologise to a couple needlessly harassed by local cops for kissing in a Delhi Metro station.

Meanwhile, Prempal rides his cycle and tries to find the thread of hope. He looks tired and broken, but he is not defeated. His resilience and will to hope is intact.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MAY 2010