Nearly two weeks after his release from Sonipat jail, an inquiry has been ordered by the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Tuesday into the allegations of illegal detention and torture of Dalit labour activist Shiv Kumar, who was arrested along with his colleague Nodeep Kaur.
This order was pronounced by Justice Avneesh Jhingan after he scrutinised four medical reports submitted by the state, after the court’s earlier orders in the matter, said an Indian Express report. In the order, the Judge has said that after considering “the facts and circumstances in entirety,” the District and Sessions Judge presently posted at Faridabad should hold an “inquiry on allegations of illegal detention and custodial torture” of Shiv Kumar.
On January 16, in Kundli town, 25 km north of Delhi, Shiv Kumar and his colleague Nodeep Kaur were staging a demonstration outside a factory, since the workers had not been paid their dues, when they were picked up by the police. They were arrested in three cases, and charged with extortion, theft and attempt to murder.
In police custody, the 24-year-old Kumar was allegedly subject to brutal physical assault as well as casteist abuse, his family members have alleged. A four page-report by a medical board of Chandigarh’s Government Medical College & Hospital found Kumar had multiple fractures, torn toe nails and was “mentally and physically abused in the police remand”.
The report was submitted to the Punjab and Haryana High Court on February 23 by the superintendent of the district jail of Sonipat, where Shiv Kumar was held for 23 days.
The arrest of these young labour activists and their alleged torture in jail grabbed international attention as well, when Meena Harris, the niece of US Vice-President, Kamala Harris had tweeted about it.
“23 yo labor rights activist Nodeep Kaur was arrested, tortured & sexually assaulted in police custody. She’s been detained without bail for over 20 days,” she tweeted.
Police, however, had denied the allegations of illegal detention and harassment. They said that Nodeep was kept in the ladies waiting room at the police room accompanied by two female police personnel during her stay there.
Kaur was granted bail on February 26 and she immediately held a press conference the next day demanding Kumar’s release.
On March 4, Kumar was granted bail and according to friends and family, as he emerged from the Sonipat District jail, he started chanting slogans like ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ and ‘Kisan Mazdoor Ekta Zindabad’.
The son of a landless Dalit farm worker, Shiv Kumar graduated from an industrial training institute in Sonipat in 2016. He worked for two years in factories in the Kundli Industrial Area, before founding Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan (MAS) in 2018. The sangathan mobilised factory workers in the area to demand fair, timely wages and better working conditions.
As per the version of prosecution in court, Kundli police station SHO Ravi Kumar said they had received a call that “a few persons were trying to forcibly enter a factory (on January 12) for extortion”. The prosecution said around 50-60 people “armed with lathis and dandas” were raising slogans and they later attacked police.