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Shivaji Nagar Police Deem Themselves 'Not Guilty' in Pardhi Children Custodial Violence Case

The police have accused a nodal agency worker and an activist of trying to “influence” the children in the case to testify against the police and have cited the independent opinion of a hospital that was not known to have examined the children.
Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

Mumbai: In March this year, the Shivaji Nagar police station in Mumbai was accused of illegally detaining five children from the denotified Pardhi tribe, brutalising them and even inappropriately touching one girl child – all over a petty theft case.

Following intervention by the Mumbai Suburban district’s child welfare committee (CWC), the same police station decided to conduct an “investigation” on the accusations made against them and have now found themselves “not guilty”.

In the eight-page report submitted to the CWC, the police have accused the Union government’s nodal agency CHILDLINE and social workers on the ground of “abducting” the children and taking them to the state-run Shatabdi hospital.

The hospital had, in their report, clearly noted injuries on the children’s bodies and the doctors at the hospital had classified the incident as a “medicolegal case” (MLC).

The police had detained six persons – four minor girls, one minor boy and a 20-year-old woman. The police had picked them from their residences in one of the poorest and most neglected localities in Mumbai’s ‘M-East’ ward on March 7.

These children, all belonging to the highly criminalised Pardhi community, were allegedly beaten up mercilessly.

While the four girls and the woman were released the same night, the boy was held back overnight and his ill-treatment allegedly continued.

Bringing children to the police station (even if they are found in conflict with law), holding them in the police station until late at night, brutalising them and then going to the extent of detaining one of them overnight are all illegal acts, punishable under law.

The incident, which was reported in The Wire in detail, came to light only upon intervention by CHILDLINE’s Neha Pednekar and social activist Shubham Kothari.

The police have now blamed the two for not just abducting the children but handing them over to the CWC “without the family’s consent”.

CWC chairperson Sunil Shirishkar, who had stepped in soon after the case was brought to his notice, has also been accused of “siding with the NGOs”.

Besides the Shatabdi hospital’s medical and forensic report that confirms injuries with a “blunt object”, the CWC also sought reports from the probation officer and the district child protection officer, who state that the children were physically assaulted, verbally assaulted and denied food and water.

Bringing children to the police station (even if they are found in conflict with law), holding them in the police station until late at night, brutalising them and detaining one of them overnight are all illegal acts. Photo: Mumbai police website.

The children, who after being rescued from the police station, were kept at a children’s home under the CWC’s care to protect them from further police pressure, finally returned home on March 19.

The same day, Maharashtra’s Child Rights Commission held a hearing on complaints from NGOs and had sought a report from the special inspector general of police (prevention of crimes against women and children) Deepak Pandey on the issue.

The police have only sought time and have been giving excuses for close to two months.

Meanwhile, in the “internal inquiry” conducted by the police at Shivaji Nagar, they have intentionally overlooked each of the reports by the government authorities. The police have tried their best to deter the children and their families from seeking justice in the case.

Before the Child Rights Commission’s order seeking Pandey’s response, on at least two occasions, the police had tried to gain access to the children – who were in the CWC’s custody – to squeeze out favourable testimonies.

On both occasions, CWC staff intervened and sent the police back.

To these incidents, the police have given entirely different explanations in their reports, and have in fact gone to the extent of blaming Pednekar and Kothari of trying to “influence” and “tutor” the children to testify against the police.

They have also implied that the CWC too was involved in this “act”.

The police report claims that they have taken the independent opinion of doctors at the state-run JJ Hospital, and excerpts of the doctors’ report claim that the injuries on the children’s bodies are “old”.

There is no clarity on how the police had obtained this expert opinion, as the children were not examined by the JJ Hospital. Also, the police have suppressed the complete report by the doctors.

To this police report, the CWC has already issued a strongly-worded response. In its response, it is learned that Shirishkar has pointed to the many reports in the case that speak of the police’s atrocities and has also held senior police inspector Bapurao Deshmukh responsible for not exercising his duties properly.

The CWC has also sent a letter to the JJ Hospital seeking their response on the nature of the expert opinion they have provided.

A copy of the police report has already been sent to Hemraj Singh Rajput, deputy commissioner of police of zone 6, under whose jurisdiction the Shivaji Nagar police station falls.

The Wire wrote to Rajput seeking his comment on the police’s behaviour, but didn’t get a response.

An image of the hearing chaired by Maharashtra Child Rights Commission chairperson Susieben Shah. Photo: X/@shahsusieben.

Ongoing police pressure

After the Commission’s order on March 19, when the children were sent back to their respective homes, their families claim that they have faced pressure from the police.

Their pressure tactics show in the inconsistencies the families display on a few occasions.

The Commission’s chairperson, Susieben Shah, told The Wire that sometime in April, her office received a letter signed by the families claiming they no longer wanted to pursue the case.

“The letter could clearly be written under duress,” Shah said.

Having handled such cases of atrocities against children and women for decades, Shah said, “The police’s delay [in filing] their findings before the commission in most cases if not all [is] by design. They intentionally seek time so that the survivors of the crime give up. I have seen many such cases in my career.”

When asked about how she intends to get the DG’s office to file their response without further delay, Shah said, “I am busy right now with the election. But [I] will think of a way to hold them accountable soon.”

Even as the families wrote a letter to the Commission, they have stayed firm on their statement to the CWC and to NGO Rati Foundation, which was appointed by the CWC.

The victims come from the Pardhi community, a highly migratory community that still continues to struggle for decent shelter and livelihood.

Most children from the community are already out of school and work alongside the adults in their families for survival.

Along with their struggle for survival, this historically wronged community faces unjust profiling and criminalisation at the hands of the police. “It is unfair to expect the children to fight the state’s might,” Shah said.

Although Shah speaks in the children’s favour and acknowledges the need to protect them from the police, she failed to provide adequate care while conducting the hearing in the case in March.

The Wire’s report in March elaborates on the Commission’s hearing and Shah’s decision to make the special inspector general of police (prevention of crimes against women and children) to sit on the panel with her even when he was summoned to give his response on behalf of the erring policemen.

Notably, Pandey himself has faced accusations of domestic violence and the sexual exploitation of a teenage girl.

At the commission’s hearing, Pandey continued to be aggressive, causing one of the children to break down.

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