12, Dec 2017 | Sushmita
In the face of the allegedly blatant prevarications of the Madhya Pradesh police and multiple attempts to cover up the suicide of Indramal Bai, a Pardhi community woman and the daily atrocities committed on the community, the kith and kin of Indramal and activist groups in Bhopal pledge to take the fight of this most stigmatised community ahead on the International Human Rights Day December 10.
On the evening of December 10, 2017 – a day known in history for the adoption of the universal declaration of Human Rights, a protest in Bhopal demanding action against the death of a Pardhi woman resolved to continue the fight even in the face of absolute callousness and apathy from the Police and State machinery of the Madhya Pradesh government.
A protest led by Pardhi community from the Nomadic and De-Notified community (NT-DNT) and also supported by the working class members of Shahri Mazdoor Sangathan, and other organisations as well as other working class people of many other identities-dalits, Muslims and other tribes-was organised in the wake of the death of Indramal Bai, a 30 year old Pardhi woman.
Indramal Bai died on November 20, this year, sustaining burn-injuries. She was a single mother and lived in a one room shanty in Gandhi Nagar basti in Bhopal, MP with her two young children. Her husband had paralysis attack also and lived separately for the past 10 years. Indramal lived like a widow, taking care of her two children. For over a week, she was reportedly being continuously harassed and threatened by a few police men from the local police station who were torturing her to pay Rs. 20,000. They allegedly kept threatening her that she would be booked for theft if she does not submit to their demands.
The harassment of Pardhi community by police in the event of any incident of petty crimes is very common here and has a historic basis. They are harassed also generally and money is demanded under the threat of putting them behind bars. The community residing in the Gandhi Nagar basti has alleged that these threats from the police have acquired a greater frequency in recent months.
On November 17, reportedly, the identified police men from Gandhi Nagar Thana visited Indramal Bai’s house thrice during the day- once in the early hours of the morning, threatening to register a criminal case of theft against her. While continuing with these intimidations, the police constantly abused her. Later in the day as Ashkana, Indramal Bai’s 13 year old daughter was sorting the scrap collected during Diwali, when, reportedly, the policemen came again and accused her of theft and said that if they were not paid a hefty amount of Rs. 20,000 they will take her to jail. After issuing this threat, according to the first person accounts of the family in question, they left and came back around afternoon for a third time. Indramal Bai shouted back at them, “If you keep harassing me this way I will end my life.” The response of the police was cynical and arrogant. Indramal’s daughter Ashkana alleges that the policemen then said, “These Pardhi women can be really dramatic. Nothing is going to happen”. Meanwhile, tired of constant harassment and still being provoked, Indramal Bai poured kerosene on herself (that she had bought from the ration shop the previous day as entered in her Antyodaya card) and said that she would rather die. Her daughter Ashkana ran in and snatched the matchbox from her and hid it. She even picked up the lighter and threw it away, on the roof. But the policemen held Indramal by her hand and started pulling her out – demanding that she either give them money or come to the police station with them. This was when she finally gave up and is suspected to have set herself on fire.
As the fire caught, Indramal started screaming in pain, and her daughter, niece and other neighbours ran to save her. The young girls and their neighbours described how they had to rip off her blouse to stop the fire and pick up the bucket of water nearby to throw on her. “While they were trying to douse the fire and later peel of her clothes that had melted and stuck to her skin, the policemen stood watching and kept on saying that she was not hurt much and was putting up an act” grieved Indramal’s sister, GeetaBaiPardhi while talking to CJP.
This treatment of the Pardhi community in general, and it’s women in particilar, goes back to colonial times, since when they have been treated as ‘criminals.’ Indramal Bai’s case focusses once again on the crucial question of police reforms and accountability that will enable such behaviour of errant policemen to be prosecuted.
Picture: Indramal’s burnt body. She was still alive when the picture was taken. Courtesy: Activists, Shahri Mazdoor Sanagthan and others
Picture: Indramal’s blouse and clothes that had to be ripped apart from her body. Courtesy: Activists, Shahri Mazdoor Sangathan
By the time she was admitted in the Hamidia hospital she had already sustained 60% burn injuries. Indramal breathed her last on 20th November, 2017. Shivani Tan, an activist with Shahri Mazdoor Sangathan and Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) alleged, “Though Indramal alleged in her dying declaration that she set herself on fire because of harrowing police harassment and there is a video testimony that clearly indicates that, this has not been taken into account. More so the police are blatantly denying these claims. They have gone to the extent of saying that no policemen were present at the spot of the incident.” She added that despite there being so many eye-witnesses namely Indramal Bai’s mother, her sister-Geeta and her daughter-Ashkana, the FIR against the policemen on the charges of “abetment to attempt to suicide” and “abetment to suicide” is not being lodged by the police against their two policemen.
Picture: Indramal’s Bai
Same day, an independent fact finding team met the ADG crime against women – Aruna Mohan Rao and DIG Sudhir Lad at PHQ. They were apprised of the situation and the continued apathy of police towards the harassment meted out to vulnerable communities by local police staff. The ADG and DIG assured the team of activists that strict action will be taken against the accused. They also informed that the 2 out of 3 named policemen have been line-attached. DIG Sudhir Lad assured the team of personally looking into the case and ensuring a fair and empathetic approach. However, none of the two senior police officers had any satisfactory answer as to why the FIR of complaints against two named policemen had not been filed by the Gandhi Nagar thana, in clear violation of citizen’s constitutional rights. The investigation being led by ASP Sameer Yadav does not seem to come to an end!
In view of the blatant denial of the basic right of a citizen to be able to lodge an FIR, the Shahri Mazdoor Sangathanin Bhopal, launched a protest on 5th December 2017. However, activists claimed that no government officials met them.
Picture: Indramal’s mother and sister Geeta Bai along with other activists from Shahri Mazdoor Sangathan on protest since 5th December-Bhopal
Indramal’s daughter Ashkana demanding justice for her mother
Indramal’s sister Geeta Bai on the continued protest on 10th December 2017
When the CJP team asked the Investigation Officer of the Case, ASP Mr. Sameer Yadav, regarding the challenges being faced by the police that they have not done the bare minimum of recording the FIR in the case of Indramal’s death, the ASP replied in a very lax tone. He said, “Inquiry is being conducted. As we finish our investigation we will file the FIR.” When this writer questioned him further that why was it taking so long to do the investigation and that the detailed investigation needs to be done during the filing of charge-sheet, Mr. Sameer Yadav chuckled mockingly and repeated the same point on letting the inquiry get completed and only then will the FIR could be filed! When, for the third time he was asked about the time of completion of the inquiry, he put the blame on the family members of Indramal Bai. He said, “When the death happened, the family was not in a state of mind to give any statements (Bayan) so the inquiry could not be completed. As soon as they give their statements, the inquiry will get completed”. This was a blatant lie by the ASP Mr. Yadav in the face of the outspoken family members of Indramal Bai as well as other activists who conducted the fact finding and protested her death.
Further, on the question of record incidents of atrocities on the Pardhi community, the ASP had to be explained the question thrice. Giving no direct answers, he said, “The police is the law enforcement agency. If it gets any complaint regarding a crime, then to investigate it, is the police’s responsibility.”
Indramal Bai’s case daws our attention to the precarious situation of the women from Nomadic and De-Notified community in not just Bhopal but across India. The colonial stigma of being a community that steals hangs over their head still. This stigma is well utilized by the agencies supposed to enforce law like the Police to exploit and harass them. However, human rights groups pledge to carry forward this struggle for their acceptance in the society as citizens with basic rights. Lodging FIR in Indramal Bai’s death is the first logical step towards this end!