Twenty-Two Stitches For Drinking Water
By Gladson Dungdung
31 December, 2014
The winter had begun. It was seven in the morning. The Sun’s ray was hitting on the ripened paddy plants by crossing the tall Sal trees. The birds were jumping from here to there in the bushes. And the villagers were moving towards their agricultural field for harvesting. After spending the winter night in the Red Corridor of Latehar district in Jharkhand, we boarded into our vehicle for proceeding towards Barwadih. After some time, we reached to a village called Gadi, which is located in the Barwadih police station area of Jharkhand’s Latehar district, northeast of the state’s capital Ranchi. We saw a man in his 30s, sitting on a mud made platform of his house closed to the main road. He was looking morose. When we got talking, he told us that his name was Nagendra Singh and he is a Chero Adivasi. There were 22 stitches on his head. These stitches were the price he had to pay for using the hand pump at a police checkpoint near the famous Betla sanctuary. Can a person be punished so severely in a free country for consuming some water from a public hand pump?
Of course, it was unbelievable. We were shocked, disturbed and angry. Beyond doubt, it was a shameful and condemnable incident. We wanted to reveal the truth therefore sat beside Nagendra and sought details from him. Initially, he was surprised. He could not believe that a group of strangers could be interested in his tale of woes. Even more so because those whom he voted for had no time to hear his problems and no sympathy for his pain and anguish. Now it has become a regular practice in our democratic country that once elected, our representatives never make an appearance till the next polls, therefore the voters too don’t expect their appearance and Nagendra was not different from them. Besides, Nagendra was also fearful that he may have to suffer again for sharing with us what he went through. It was only after a great deal of persuasion that he opened up and revealed his harrowing tale.
Nagendra is a daily-wage labourer in the Betla sanctuary. He provides for his family – his wife Geeta (30), daughter Durgiwati (8), and son Shrishant (7) – with the Rs177 he gets for a day’s work. There is a tradition of holding annual fair in the remote areas. Every year, a fair is held at the Palamu Fort on November 1st, which draws a large number of visitors. As Nagendra Singh had gone for work, his wife Geeta went to the fair along with their two children. After his day’s work was over, Nagendra too joined them at Palamu Fort. In the evening, the family started back to their home. It was around 6pm when they reached the Betla police check post.
Meanwhile, Nagendra’s daughter Durgiwati felt thirsty. When she saw the hand pump near the checkpoint, she asked her father to fetch water for her. Nagendra had barely laid his hands on the pump when a policeman, Upendra Paswan, posted at the checkpoint, started abusing him. “You are a Naxalite. Why are you drinking water from here?” he asked him. Nagendra replied, “Sir, I am not a naxalite. I am a daily-wage labourer at Betla sanctuary.” But Paswan would have none of it. He started hitting Nagendra. Soon, two other constables, Ramesh Mahto and Bindeshwari Singh, joined him, and the three of them punched and kicked Nagendra and rained lathis onto him. All the three men were dead drunk.
When Gita tried to shield her husband, she too was hit with lathis on her right hand and her back. The jawans did not spare the kids either. Nagendra was hit on his head. His skull cracked and blood began to ooze out. He fell unconscious. After seeing him in such a situation, Gita was frightened of losing his. Suddenly, she tied Nagenra’s head with her sari to stop the bleeding. After some time, when he regained consciousness, they decided to resume their journey so that they can rush to Hospital for treatment. However, the policemen did not allow them to use the main road. They somehow reached a hospital. Timely treatment saved Nagendra’s life. He got 22 stitches on his head and had to spend Rs 5,000 on the treatment.
On 2nd November, 2014, Nagendra rushed to the Barwadih police station with some of his relatives to register a case against the three policemen. The Officer-in-charge, however, refused to file an FIR. But Nagendra was not one to give up easily. He persisted, and ultimately, the Officer-in-charge took his written application and gave him a copy, acknowledging the receipt of the complaint. However, the actual FIR was not registered intentionally to shield the policemen. But a copy of the complaint with the signature of the police officer was enough for Nagendra to take his battle ahead. Interestingly, even after six decades of Indian democracy, registering an FIR in the police station looks like winning a war. This is how our system of governance exists at the grassroots.
The same evening, at around 4, Dhananjay Prasad, the sub-inspector of Barwadih police station, along with armed policemen, reached Nagendra’s home. He asked Nagendra to withdraw the complaint. A crowd soon gathered there and started pressurizing him on behalf of the police. The police officer gave Nagendra Rs8,000 for his treatment and asked him to wash the blood-soaked sari. He also made Nagendra sign on a letter which said, “We have reached a compromise and we will not quarrel with each other again.” It looks like Nagendra had started fight against the policemen so he had to compromise. Indeed, incredible police officers we have in our country, who are cable enough to shield their inhuman cops in each and every circumstance. How can you hope for justice in such a situation?
Nagendra still appears terror-stricken but his wife Gita is brave. She has kept the blood-soaked sari safely. She wants to fight against the police atrocities. She is not ready to accept such a heavy price just for using the hand pump at a police station. “What crime had we committed to be beaten like animals? She asks. “I am ready to fight against the policemen.” The Jharkhand Human Rights Movement has taken up the matter with the National Human Rights Commission. So we have to wait and watch whether Nagendra and his family members are delivered justice? Of course, twenty two stitches for drinking water can’t be acceptable. Isn’t this a shame for the world’s largest democracy? But who bothers in a country where the Adivasi, Dalits and women are given less important than animals?
Gladson Dungdung is a human rights activist and writer based in Ranchi, Jharkhand
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