Image courtesy, The Telegraph
On December 25, when the news of a Delhi constable's death was the only thing Delhi Police wanted to talk about, trying to discredit all protests as "violent", a group of girls, aged between 16 and 19, had a harrowing time in the heart of Delhi.
Most of those gathered at Jantar Mantar were meeting for the first time and were marching towards Parliament Street where prohibitory orders were in force when two girls were hauled off to Parliament Street Police Station —"dragged by the hair" —on charges of "inciting the crowd" to violence.
“Just save my daughter," 47-year-old Usha Saxena cried out when she saw cops pulling her 19-year-old daughter Shambhavi's hair and hitting her head against a wall. “Don’t let them harm her.”
This is how she described their ordeal in a letter to the Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit:
My daughter Shambhavi and I and a colleague of mine Reema Ganguly went to Jantar Mantar today 25th Dec to take part in a peaceful gathering there against the gang-rape.
At around 4pm two girls came running upto us in tears and said that the police had dragged away 2 of their female friends to Parliament Street Police Station and they a sked us to help bring them back. The three of us joined 9 other women and we went to the police station. When we reached there we only saw male constables. We demanded to talk to a female senior officer and said that the 3 women must be released immediately. The policemen very rudely and aggressively tried to chase us out. We refused to leave without those 3 women and so one male cop ordered some female cops standing in the courtyard to come in and arrest all of us.
All of us linked our arms and were being dragged away when I saw a female constable dragging a girl by her hair. My daughter Shambhavi ran to help her and before my eyes I saw a male cop and a female cop pulling my daughter’s hair and hitting her head against a wall I managed to extricate myself and ran towards the 2 young girls to protect them and we managed to get them away…we were then pushed into a small room where we found 4 other women detained earlier— they also recounted how they were slapped and their clothes torn while they were dragged here.
We were kept in that room for 3 hours with no reason being given and finally some woman from an NGO Deepjyoti she said came and said she will get us out if we apologise. We refused and when asked for our names and addresses and phone numbers we all collectively decided only to give other names because we were terrified of what the police would do with our contact information … the three of us— my daughter, my colleague and I gave our names as Divya, Geeta and Aastha.
While we were just about to leave, some cops came rushing out and demanded to know who ‘Shambhavi’ was, because some Shambhavi was informing the media that we were beaten up and detained (my daughter had been tweeting all that was happening) Terrified of what they would do to her, we pulled together and rushed out of there.
We reached home, terrified and hurting all over and now suddenly at 10.24pm, I receive a call from 01123361100 where a man said he was from the same NGO and if Shambhavi did not come and apologise to the SHO at Parliament Street, they would file an FIR against us and come and arrest us in the night itself.
Ma’am, please help.
A terrified mother,
So successful was the police disinformation campaign and so pervasive the criticism even on Twitter that Shambhavi's tweets were dismissed as fake. See some of her tweets and those from others:
The police claimed that her name was not in police-records among those detained. As her mother points out in her letter above, they used fake names deliberately to avoid further harassment.
The Telegraph, Calcutta has more details: Students cry police torture
Shambhavi, whose tweets perhaps led to their release, recounted their experience after the cops realised the matter was out in the media. “They called us names, threatened us and beat us up,” she told The Telegraph just after she had been let off.
“We don’t know what we did. We were all girls, peacefully protesting. They didn’t even have the decency to tell us what they were picking us up for. They told us not to tell anyone once we were outside what happened with us.”
A 16-year-old, one of those detained, said their mobile phones were taken away. “They took down our names and addresses and even the contact details of our fathers, giving us a veiled threat that if we opened our mouths, they would do more than just slap us around,” said the girl who had bruises on her face and shivered in the winter evening chill as she stood outside the police station after being released.
One woman constable, she said, told them “yahan law nahi chalta (the law doesn’t work here)”.
Among those detained was another 16-year-old who had been protesting against the bus gang rape for the past three days and whose parents are currently out of Delhi.
“I have been coming here every day. Never have I been violent. I don’t know why this happened to us. They wouldn’t even tell us why they were treating us like this. Some of the parents who had turned up to take their kids were threatened with dire consequences if they allowed their daughters to be at any protest from now on,” she said.