The Dalit activist has been beaten and tortured in jail, but his spirit remains untamed, asserts his best friend
Four years ago, after a screening of a film based on Shaheed Bhagat Singh in Haryana’s Sonipat, when everyone was asked what they hope to become in the near future, a Class 12 student had stood up and said, “I want to become a ‘Baaghi’ (rebel).” His reply was met with laughter and jibes.
“Four years down the line, that same boy – Shiv Kumar – has been arrested and tortured by police because he was fighting for the rights of poor labourers,” alleges his friend, Ankit.=
Ankit, a member of Chhatra Ekta Manch, had met Shiv Kumar for the first time at that film screening. 24-year-old Shiv Kumar had, since then, completed his graduation at ITI and taken up a part-time job at one of the factories in Kundli Industrial Area.
“He always used to talk about how labourers and farmers, who are the backbone of our economy, are constantly denied their rightful wages,” said Ankit.
Two months since Shiv Kumar was last seen at the Singhu border, his friends and family claim that he was illegally detained by Haryana Police, presented before the magistrate after 7 days and tortured while in detention.
‘Proud That My Son Speaks Up For Rights of Poor’
Rajvir says he knows the implications of speaking up against powerful people for economically weak people like him but would not stop his son, Shiv Kumar, from continuing to fight for what is right when he is out of jail.
He add, “My son was very sharp in his studies but he developed an eye problem when he was very young so he couldn’t continue pursuing academics. He was working at a factory in Kundli to help sustain our family.”
“When I finally met him in Chandigarh for a few minutes before he was taken away in police van, he told he he is “fine” and he’ll need some clothes and money as he has run out of them in the last 2 months,” said Rajvir.
“Someone has to speak up for the poor. I am proud my son has chose to do that, even though it comes at a price.”
“It was in the year 2008, during the screening of the movie ‘Legend of Bhagat Singh’ when I first met him. We were in class 8th and an activist group had organised that programme in our village.” recalls Ankit, Shiv Kumar’s best friend. “After the screening, when all the children sat down for a discussion, I remember, someone asking, ‘What will you become when you grow up?’.None of us had a reply.” With a weak smile, Ankit adds “It was Shiv Kumar who stood up and said, “Mujhe baaghi banna hai(I want to be a rebel). I still remember how everyone, including myself, laughed at his answer. At such a young age, he had understood the stubborn knot of a never-ending struggle on the blanket of his life.
Despite the cool breeze, the dingy 8X8 room in Kundli which Shiv calls home still has the acrid smell of sweat, reminding me that it was never easy for him. It could never be for a partially-blind Dalit boy in a family of seven with a monthly income of Rs 6500. His father is a seasonal farm labourer who also works as a contractual security guard at night. Shiv’s mother is a dark skeleton draped in a saree, with hollow eyes staring at the walls. She is suffering from serious psychiatric disorders, to the point where she believes that Shiv has gone to the factory and will come back in a while. It choked me when I realised Shiv is probably the healthiest one in his family. His younger brother is a stunted 18-year old suffering from an intellectual disability.
At the age of 19, Shiv spent 18 days in jail for being an active face of the powerful movement in Sonipat which led to the admission of hundreds of poor children in private schools under the EWS quota. His childhood friend Ankit believes that it was these 18 days that tempered the steel in Shiv and made him walk on the path of resistance. He left his village Devdu and decided to live in Kundli where his only property was his books, his borrowed books.
Ankit points towards a ragged bag at the corner of the room, “He always had a collection of Pash’s poems in his bag. I am sure the book would still be there.” Ankit looks at his friend’s broken keypad phone, “He was a calm and composed person. I never saw him getting irritated. He was the one whom people sought to resolve fights. They knew he would sit down and explain, “Humari ladai aapas ki nhi hai. Atyachar ke khilaaf hai. (Our fight is not against each other but against exploitation.)”
“This Wednesday, I saw him limping, his legs were swollen. Three of his nail beds were broken and the underlying skin was red which according to the medical report, was a sign of ‘healing’.” Ankit’s voice reflects his anger and anguish. “Healing? We met him after a full month. And if this is his condition now, we cannot even imagine what he must have gone through. His thighs had blue-black patches; he is having serious anxiety attacks and flashes of brutality he was subjected to.” Recalling what Shiv told his lawyer, Ankit says “His hands and legs were tied and he was beaten with lathis. Caste abuses were hurled at him. Police threatened that they would make him clean the toilets.”
Staring at the barren walls of Shiv’s room, Ankit said, “What I remember from our short meeting in court is only the smile on his face. I know that it was the truth smiling. Only someone fighting for a just society can have that calmness in his smile even after standing in court with eight policemen around him. His energy echoes in my heart and in the hearts of hundreds of workers and farmers for whom he fought and is still fighting.”
I turned off the recorder, folded my diary and walked down the narrow stairs with the same calm breeze assuring me that truth shall prevail.
‘Illegal Detention, Torture’: The Many Claims Surrounding Shiv Kumar’s Arrest
- Shiv, president of Kundli-based Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan (MAS), was allegedly picked up by Sonipat police on 16 January, four days after Nodeep Kaur, member of the same platform, was arrested for “extorting and attacking factory owners.”
- Members of MAS had been protesting against the factory owners at Kundli Industrial Area to pay the due wages of the labourers. Nodeep Kaur was arrested from the protest site on 12 January while Shiv’s friends and family claimed that he was not even present at the spot where the protest was happening. The Quint repeatedly tried to contact Sonipat SP but there was no response. The story will be updated as and when the police responds.
- However, Shiv Kumar’s father, Rajvir, a landless labourer from Haryana’s Devru, said he got to know about his son’s arrest only on 31 January, 15 days after Shiv Kumar was last seen at Singhu border, where his organisation had set up a tent to sit in solidarity with the protesting farmers. “One of Shiv’s friends received a call from an unknown person on 31 January who said he had met Shiv at Kundli police station. Shiv had allegedly told that caller to inform his friends and family that he was arrested and kept in jail,” said Rajvir, adding that he had last spoken to Shiv on 12 January and had no clue about his whereabouts till they received a call from a stranger.
- When Rajvir approached the Superintendent of Police, Sonipat on 1 February, he was informed that his son was “arrested on 23 January”, six days after Shiv Kumar was allegedly picked up from Singhu.” Rajvir was also informed that Shiv Kumar was produced before the Magistrate on 24 January and sent to ten days custody. As per India’s laws, any person arrested has to be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours of his/her arrest.
- A petition filed at Punjab and Haryana High Court for an independent enquiry into Shiv Kumar’s arrest states that some police officials had visited his house on 24 February and asked his mother about his whereabouts. The petition further states that the police further directed her to produce her son as soon as she gets in touch with him and got her signatures on a piece of paper stating that it’s a formality. It also states that Shiv Kumar’s mother has studied up to 9th standard and is suffering from mental ailment, for which she has been undergoing treatment from Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences, New Delhi. Thus, she did not know the implications of her signatures besides being under great fear.
- Rajvir says he was not allowed to meet his son even for once since he was sent to jail. “Sometimes the police said he is in quarantine, sometimes they gave some other reason. I finally saw my son after 40 days when he was taken for medical examination in Chandigarh, as per the court’s order.”
- On 4 February, Rajvir received a chit which was sneaked out from jail where Shiv Kumar had written a small note on the bottom of a piece of newspaper that he was picked up on 16 January from near KFC at Singhu and was kept in CIA-7 where he was tortured, as per the petition.
- Shiv Kumar’s lawyers claim they were not satisfied with the medical tests done by the police as they had seen serious injury marks on his body when they were finally allowed to meet him. Hence, they had appealed to the Punjab and Haryana High Court who directed the medical test to be done in a government hospital in Chandigarh. The findings of this report were submitted before the High Court on 24 February, during Shiv Kumar’s bail hearing.
- courtesy outlook