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How Indore Police Abducted Me When I Went To Meet Medha Patkar

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I, along with four others, reached Bombay Hospital, Indore on August 8 to meet Medha Patkar who was forcefully hospitalised on the 12th day of her indefinite fast by the Madhya Pradesh police.

Medha Patkar was fasting to protest against the illegal submergence of 192 villages and one township in Madhya Pradesh by the backwaters of the Sardar Sarovar Dam.

I work closely with Medha Patkar. I work with the ‘Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan’ (Save Home-Build Home Movement) in Mumbai. Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan (GBGBA) has exposed major scams from the likes of Adarsh to scams in slum rehabilitation scheme in Golibar, undertaken by Shivalik Developers. Medha Patkar has been the leader of this movement.

I am also engaged with the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) as a part time activist. I was taking part in the indefinite fast protest organised by the NBA.

Some of us decided to leave for Bombay Hospital as soon as we found out where the police had taken Medha after forcefully picking her up from Chikhalda – the fasting site. As we reached the hospital, we realised that no one was allowed to meet with Medha.

It is worth noting that Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan tweeted that Medha was just hospitalised due to her deteriorating health brought on by her fast and not arrested. Hence, we got into argument with the police as they were restricting entry to meet Medha Patkar.

Our demand was to at least allow one attendant with her if not visitors. The media recorded our arguments with the police and started broadcasting the incident. The police were visibly annoyed by us. I could sense that I was on watch in the hospital premises.

This suspicion was confirmed as I made my way to the washroom. I entered inside with a permission from the watchman. A cop suddenly came from behind and caught hold of me. He grabbed me with his arm around my neck and held my right hand with his other hand as if he was shaking hands with me.

He smiled after holding me like this. His smile gave me the impression that I was not in trouble; that he would either ask me to go back to where I had been waiting or perhaps even take me to meet Medha (after all, he knew I was associated with her).

These thoughts, however, were short lived as he ordered someone to take my phone out of my pocket. I didn’t see the point in protesting, as I was already encircled by a lot of police. I did not even bother to see who was taking out my phone from my pocket. By now I had accepted that I was in real trouble.

Image Credit: Sakib Ali/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The cop took me to a place that appeared to be a lounge. All the visitors present in the area were asked to vacate the premises. More cops poured into the vacated area. I saw one constable with a lathi and I prepared myself for the ensuing event. Although I knew my pleas would be in vain, I still tried to tell the cops that I had come in just to use the washroom. After a while, the constable with the lathi went outside.

Finally, the cop took his hands off me and made me stand to the side. He called two cops inside who were in civil dress. They were continuously staring at me. I thought they might thrash me. One of the two left and I was made to sit with another on a bench. This cop showed me the photographs of other colleagues of mine which he shot when we were giving bytes to the media. He started asking for their names. After a while, a constable came inside and informed that the jeep has arrived. I was made to sit in that.

I saw the senior officials say something in the ears of those constables who were to accompany me to wherever they were taking me. I was driven to a far away police station; I couldn’t even see the name of the police station.

I had become upset by seeing the high-handedness in picking me up despite being innocent. I had stopped protesting or reacting and was just observing whatever was happening. I visit Mumbai’s police stations very frequently and deal with top most cops with a sense of confidence while advocating on behalf of slum dwellers whenever there is a slum demolition but now all my confidence was gone and I felt betrayed.

My Muslim identity also added to my nervousness. I was not telling my full name to the cops and it was only after their insistence that I shared my surname. My politics, as well as my identity, made me feel more vulnerable because of atrocities that are generally faced by Muslims and activists in police custody.

Finally, I entered the police station and immediately asked for three things: lawyer, water and bathroom. The first two demands were denied and for the third one, I was asked to use the toilet that was there in the lock-up. Then, the constable who had brought me from the hospital made me stand in front of a duty officer who asked for my name and address. He asked me where I had come from and why. I told him that I was from Mumbai and that I was associated with Medha Patkar and wanted to meet her. He hurled a filthy epithet at me and asked me to sit in a corner that was stinky and dirty after taking off my shoes.

After a moment he called me and asked me to deposit all the money I had with me. I took out all the cash, counted, and gave it to him. Then another officer sitting in another corner asked that duty officer to not deposit the money with him. I found myself totally disconnected with the outside world without a phone and any access to a lawyer or a friend. No one would know where I was. I was missing now.

What I was most worried about in the police station was my mother. I was wondering how my mother would react when she would not be able to contact me. She speaks with me on the phone every day and sometimes twice a day with some excuse, just to ensure that I am safe. Initially, she did not like my work. But later, when she realised that I was not leaving activism, she just asked me to not be on the frontlines of any action and warned me about possible threats. I have always defied her tactfully. I cannot imagine knowingly making her upset. My main worry was my mother – how would she react to the fact that I was missing.

One cop or another would come after regular intervals and ask for the same information again and again — my name and my residence. Every time, my answer was the same. After almost an hour, I could see the change in behaviour of the constables and they started treating me well. I was given a bottle of mineral water and asked if I wanted food. I took the water and thanked them for asking about food. After a while, the duty officer called for me and told me that I would be released after their senior officer came to the police station. He also gave me tea. I felt half relieved as I still did not trust them fully.

By then, I had been abducted and was missing for two hours. I thought of asking them about my release because the senior police officer did not seem to be coming. However, the trauma of my abduction had made me too upset to talk to anybody and risk anything happening to me. Injustice had already happened to me. Agitating against it would mean begging for justice. Finally, I was called and made to write and sign an apology letter for entering the hospital without permission. After I signed the letter, I was returned my phone and asked to go.

I took an auto rickshaw and asked to get dropped at the Bombay hospital — from where I was abducted by the police — thinking that I would change route in case I found any danger. My concern about danger was confirmed as soon as I switched on my phone to talk to the local Indore supporters. I called our Indore supporter and informed him that I was coming to Bombay Hospital. He asked me to stay where I was and that he would come pick me up. I said I would come back on my own because I did not want to take the risk of being caught again by the police while waiting for him. I had received several calls from the police station to come back.

The moment I entered the hospital, I was encircled by a crowd which had come to demand my release. I was then immediately mobbed by the media asking for my byte. I did not receive any further calls from the police station as soon as I started appearing in the media. Every state news channel started claiming that it was due to the impact of their news that I was released. Soon, I received a call from a politician who asked about my well-being in order to convey that it was due to his influence that I reappeared.

In reality, local supporters Latika and Deepmala had created a buzz when I had gone missing. I had informed Latika when I left for the washroom in the hospital. I was also informed that a sympathetic former IG of Indore had also intervened to get me released. Probably the quick media campaign and the intervention of some influential persons was the reason behind the change of behaviour of the cops in the police station towards me.

I saw our local Indore supporter being called by the cop who picked me up from the hospital. This cop was one of the top most cops of Indore, responsible for Medha Patkar’s security in the Hospital. He went inside with this cop. This supporter is a well-known journalist and writer in Indore and he is also the father of the lawyer who was there in the hospital with us. Being an eminent citizen of Indore, this supporter had a limited entry to see Medha Patkar in the hospital whereas no politicians, including influential MLAs and MPs of major political parties, were allowed entry, no matter how much they protested.

After a while, this supporter who had gone inside with the top cop and sat down with him in the hospital phoned his lawyer son and asked him to take me away from the hospital immediately. I am sure the supporter was told by the top cop to ask me to not appear in the media anymore and leave the hospital. The police were annoyed by my reappearance because the top cop had stated in the media that they had not abducted/arrested me and then I reappeared from the police station proving the Madhya Pradesh police department wrong. I remained underground the rest of the day based on advice from the local supporter.

It is indeed a rare stroke of luck that I reappeared. Otherwise, no one would have known what had happened to me. In the end, I just want to admit that I was seriously traumatised by this event but at no point did I think of stepping back. I will continue defying my mother tactfully!

PS: I also want to greatly thank the journalist who saw me being picked up by the police and informed my colleagues.

This article was first published at The Citizen.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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