Chennai: As the entire state of Tamil Nadu was gearing up to celebrate Pongal on January 13, a 21-year-old law student in state capital Chennai was allegedly being subjected to custodial torture simply for not wearing his mask properly.
A week later, nine police personnel from the Kodungaiyur police station have been booked for the crime under three Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections.
The 21 year old in question, Abdul Rahim, is a final-year student from the Tamil Nadu Dr Ambedkar Law University’s School Of Excellence in Law and also works part-time at a local pharmacy. He was returning from delivering medicines to a customer when two policewomen stopped him at MR Nagar junction for not wearing his mask properly. The policewomen then took him to the station where he was allegedly abused verbally and, subsequently, physically assaulted.
Rahim was then admitted to Stanley Hospital. When The Wire attempted to meet him, this reporter was initially denied entry and only allowed to enter the hospital after a prolonged argument.
“I was scared that what was happening to me was a repeat of the Sathankulam incident,” Rahim said.
Elaborating on the incident, Rahim said he was on his bicycle on his way home after delivering medicines to a customer when the police stopped him. “It is true that I was not wearing the mask properly; I have breathing issues,” Rahim admitted, but added that when he saw the cops at a distance of about 100 feet, he had adjusted his mask.
“It was 11.30 PM when I was stopped by two women police near MR Nagar junction. I explained to them that I was coming back after delivering medicines and showed them my ID card. They insisted I pay a fine but I refused, explaining that I am a law student. That’s when one of them tried to beat me. The cops were not in a mood to hear anything I said,” Rahim continued.
Rahim was then brought to the police station where he was charged with Section 75 of the Tamil Nadu City Police (TNCP) Act (a petty statute which deals with drunk or disorderly conduct in a public place).
“Meanwhile, I called up my senior and informed him of the incident,” Rahim said. “The cops refused to give my cycle back and that led to another argument. Soon after, a cop named Uthirakumar said I cannot go and started assaulting me.” When Rahim, acting in self-defence, tried to stop him, Uthirakumar allegedly got angry and started beating him with a plastic pipe.
“I managed to turn on the video recorder on my phone and kept it on the table. The policeman continued to verbally abuse me while physically assaulting me. My seniors came and asked me to apologise but then the cops asked me to remove my clothes and sit in my underwear. A woman cop kicked me with her boots while Uthirakumar turned off the CCTV camera and continued to beat me with the pipe. They even stood on my knees for few minutes. By this point, I was grabbing Uthirakumar’s feet, begging him to let me go,” Rahim went on.
“Around 5:25 am, I called up my mom and told her what happened. She came to the station within half an hour but, because of continuous assaults, I had fainted by then. When she woke me up and asked me to eat something, I asked her for a blade to kill myself. The pain and the humiliation were unbearable. They had used such filthy language and even abused me for my religion,” Rahim recounted.
After going through this ordeal, Rahim was produced before Chengalpattu district magistrate, who ordered him to be admitted in a hospital. The next day, he was granted bail.
On January 21, after continuous protests by lawyers, an FIR was filed against nine police persons under IPC Sections 294B (singing obscene songs in a public place), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 324 (voluntarily causing hurt with dangerous weapons). Two police officers were also suspended.
“But it was an attempt to murder. I want all the cops to be booked under IPC Section 307,” Rahim said.
“If my son, who is a law student, could suffer so much at the hands of police, imagine the plight of common public,” Rahim’s mother, Shabana, said. “The chief minister should intervene and give severe punishment to the officials who did this.”
Commenting on the incident, human rights activist Evidence Kathir said that the police personnel accused of these brutalities should be booked with a criminal case. “It is good that the chief minister has sent a minister to meet Rahim. But it is also important that the policepersons who do such crimes are booked under Section 506(1) or 506 (2) [which deal with criminal intimidation],” Kathir said.
“They should be arrested for such crimes. The government should ensure that the 2020 Supreme Court order on the installation of CCTV cameras in every police station is adhered to. We also need reforms in the police department, the strength of police persons should be increased. The police should be trained to treat those visiting the station with dignity,” Kathir continued.
Featured image: 21-year-old law student Abdul Rahim was brutally beaten by Chennai police on January 13 this year. Photo: Jeeva Bharathi
This article was first published on The Wire.