By Haider Ali and Zeeshan Ali:
Sartaj (40) is a resident of north-east Delhi’s Mustafabad. The police had been hunting for a man called Sartaj in cases of murder, dacoity, and pimping. However, for weeks their investigation had not yielded any result. Then an informant nudged them in the direction of Mustafabad-based Sartaj.
The actual accused was his namesake and hailed from Sahaspur. They hauled the wrong Sartaj to a police station and brutalised him for 12 hours in jail. They tortured him in a number of ways, including electrocution, in order to coerce him into falsely confessing to the crimes, Sartaj claims.
Sartaj’s is however a single story in a pile. There are several more examples of police-torture done on flimsy or downright false grounds. Either it is for accreting professional advantage or under the pressure of some political overlords. The victims are terrorised to such an extent that many of them lose their mental coherence and often choose a path of crime and drugs.
“I could have joined any gang or myriad criminal groups within 24 hours of my release. It was only for the sake of my kid brother and sister that I did not opt for that path. Also, it would have confirmed the doubts of the police and society at large, which had already declared me guilty without any trial,” Sartaj says.
The lives of such survivors are ruined irreparably because they are forever reduced to live under scrutiny and immense suspicion and are branded as criminals for their entire lives.
Irshad Ali (43), a resident of north-west Delhi’s Inder Enclave, is another person who was accused of terror links and jailed for a period of 4 years. He fought for acquittal for 11 years. He came in the crosshairs of the police as he used to visit his older sibling Naushad in prison. Naushad had already been incarcerated for murder. In 1996, the police apprehended Irshad and his father, and ASP Rajbir Singh put them in custody. They were traumatised after being falsely accused of being in collusion with terror outfits.
On the plea of Irshad’s mother, a court ordered their release. However, soon afterward, the Crime Branch took Irshad in custody again for eight days. He was harassed again.
“In 2001, I and my two friends were put in jail by Intelligence Bureau for 3 days’ custody. They proposed to us that we become their informants. The police said that either we could take that deal or languish in the jail for our entire life. I was scared for my life and so become an informant for a pay of Rs 7000 per month. They asked me to do some unconscionable things like encouraging Muslim youth to go across the borders. They wanted to tag them as terrorists on their return back to the country. I could not agree to such immoral actions, and so they threw me into Tihar jail,” Irshad says.
After a CBI investigation, in 2009, Irshad was granted bail. During his ordeal away from home, he lost his parents and a young daughter. He was the sole bread-earner of the family and his absence devastated them. His wife worked in others’ houses in order to save her crumbling home and kids.
Police’s raison d’être is to serve and protect citizens. Every citizen’s first port of call in any trouble is the police. But the ubiquity and frequency of the stories like those of Sartaj and Irshad have eroded trust in the institution. The atrocities committed by the police, either for professional gains or political patronage, can never be allowed to wreak havoc on the defenceless. The need of the hour is to clamp down on any such gross excesses and prevent their repetition. Only then we will be able to restore public trust in the hallowed administrative and policing institutions.