Police Atrocity In Kathputli Colony
By Akshita Nagpal
22 August, 2014
On Friday, August 15, 2014, few kites celebrated Independence Day over Kathputli Colony in West Delhi as the residents struggled to come to terms with the recent violent disruption in their existence. Four days earlier, on the night of August 11, a group of over 60 policemen entered the J.J cluster, dropped tear gas shells to force the residents out of their homes or to cower deeper inside the colony for shelter. The police personnel broke into people’s houses around 11 p.m, breaking open the gates where they could not gain entry otherwise, beat up the residents- men, women and even children- with batons, ransacked homes, damaged property, and molested women. The reason for the violent police action is said to be an alleged fight between a group of boys from this colony and those of neighbouring Pandav Nagar. 12 residents of Kathputli Colony were taken in police custody on that night.
“The policemen, who reeked of alcohol, broke open my house’s gate and started beating us with lathis, all the while abusing and threatening us to shift to the Anand Parbat Transit Camp” said middle- aged Basanti Bhat, pointing to the broken iron door of her house held together by a makeshift arrangement. “The policemen were accompanied by non- uniformed hoodlums” alleged Basanti. As she spoke, her 60- year old recently widowed neighbour and namesake lifted her skirt to reveal her heavily bruised shin from the police beating. “I was sleeping on the first floor terrace of my house when they broke in and started beating me. Now we are scared to even go to relieve ourselves in the community toilets at night, fearing a re-run of this week’s events.”
Kathputli Colony, a settlement comprised of artists and craftspeople such as puppeteers, puppet makers, acrobats, wood and stone sculptors, carpenters, drummers, musicians, dancers and several others; has been embroiled in a bitter dispute over redevelopment of the slum area into a multi-storeyed building complex, which also necessitates shifting the residents into a transit camp in nearby Anand Parbat. The scheme that has been floated by DDA by roping in Raheja Builders, a private developer, has been opposed by most residents who demand to be allotted plots instead of flats post the redevelopment. They reason that the high rises and one- room lodgings will not be conducive to their work that requires open spaces for working, storing and practicing. The transit camp structures are also said to be inadequate in capacity and stability to house all of the 3200 residents.
Dileep Bhat Pradhaan, the ‘pradhaan’ or presiding elder of the community, who is recuperating from multiple injuries from the police’s beating, said he sniffed a conspiracy in such treatment of the residents. “This is a calculated conspiracy to make us shift to the transit camp. While thrashing me, policemen kept shouting “Parchiyaan kyun nahi katwaatey? Transit camp kyun nahi jaatey?” (Why don’t you sign on the documents for shifting out? Why don’t you go to the transit camp?” he shared. Pradhaan’s sentiments are echoed by Geeta Bhat, whose two sons aged 15 and 22 were thrashed and taken away by the police. “My boys have been charged with Section 308(attempt to commit culpable homicide) after rousing them from sleep with merciless thrashing” she stated. She alleged that the policemen threatened her to shift to the transit camp if she wanted her boys to be released, and also warned of more such attacks in case of non- compliance.
The residents, who are aghast at what transpired in this week, are still reeling in incredulity at the barbarity of the police. Most of the men refused to speak or pleaded not to be quoted, fearing police action against them. Gothli, a 50- year old woman boiled with rage as she recounted the events from that night while nursing Maheshwari, her two-year old asthmatic grandchild. “We were rendered blind by the tear gas and this child’s health has been miserable since then.” Gothli, who came to the colony as a seven- year old from Rajasthan said she had never seen such horrors, and the things done to women who tried to shield their family’s males are unspeakable. What happened with Bimla Bhat justifies the resident’s rage in the aftermath of the police attack. As the police tried to take away her son, who was resting after the day’s labour, she resisted. The police personnel then molested her to dislodge her resistance, she alleged. “I could not believe what they did to me, squishing my chest and backside in the presence of my young son” she narrated as her voice choked. A colony resident in his early forties, another victim of the police action, vented his anger saying: “Even terrorists and bandits are not treated the way police has treated us.”
The unbridled violence unleashed onto the residents made no distinctions. Monu, an eight- year old boy went about with his broken left arm in a cast. He received blows from the police’s lathis and fell off from the terrace of his house as a consequence. Others like Rahul Bhat from Hisar(Haryana), who had accompanied his wife to celebrate Raksha Bandhan here a day prior to the police attack, had not anticipated such an outcome from his visit. Rahul was beaten and dragged out of his relative’s house by the police, and when he tried to escape, was shot in the ankle. He was taken to prison but released a day later as his bullet injury worsened. “I do not have enough money to avail proper treatment for this injury” said Rahul about his swollen ankle.
The police insist otherwise. The additional SHO of the Ranjit Nagar area, Arjun Singh, who was part of the team of policemen involved in the incident, said that it was a minor tiff between a dozen boys from Kathputli Colony and neighbouring Pandav Nagar that escalated eventually after police intervention. He said “when police reached to calm down the situation, the boys from Pandav Nagar retreated but the ones from Kathputli Colony started pelting stones at the police personnel. A team of 50- 60 policemen was then called in from other police stations of the distrcit, to join the initial number of 10-12 from Ranjit Nagar police station.” He added that “boys ran into their colony, where police followed them and were attacked with stones.” On the kind of force used by the police used to take hold of the situation, Singh stated “little bit of lathi- charge and tear gas shells” and refuted any arms having been fired by the police. He also claimed that 2-3 policemen sustained fractured limbs in the incident.
Meanwhile, in Kathputli Colony, each house is abound with stories of police atrocities, the lanes stay dotted with broken doors and damaged vehicles. In one of these lanes lives Puran Bhat, a puppeteer who is a Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee. He was spared from the police onslaught as he was away for a performance, but is extremely dismayed by what was borne by Kathputli Colony, where artists from several generations of his family have stayed over the past 50 years. “Without prior planning, such a large scale attack cannot be executed by the police. Moreover, who gave them the right to drop tear gas shells in a residential area?” said Puran. Like many other residents, he fears a larger attack on some pretext to force them out of the colony and into the transit camp. “This is horrible. We are all artists here, not terrorists.” he stated. Vijay Kumar, social activist and resident of Kathputli Colony, mulled over the fallacy of the idea of freedom in his colony. “Today is Independence Day but we are not independent, we are still under repression. In place of British perpetrators, it is the Indians now” he rued.
Akshita is presently pursuing M.A in Mass Communication from AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia University, Delhi.
Photo by Shahid Farooq, a student of M.A Mass Communication at AJK MCRC Jamia Millia Islamia University, Delhi.
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