One of India's finest journalists, David Devadas, who is also the author of In Search of a Future, the Story of Kashmir, was brutally beaten by the police in Srinagar on Monday, 5th September. Devadas says he fears for his life after the incident.
He told journalists that he sees the incident as an example of what ordinary Kashmiri citizens suffer commonly. Calling it "a terribly upsetting incident," he spoke in a letter to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah of "how negatively many ordinary citizens of Kashmir experience the State."
Particularly during the disturbed period over the past two decades, the police, paramilitary forces and the army have too often been the face of the State most visible to the people. Increasingly, over the past few years, it is the Jammu and Kashmir police rather than central forces that have been the leading interface between the State and the people, says Devadas.
In his letter of protest to chief minister Omar Abdullah David wrote: "After this experience, I am apprehensive about my safety. Through that evening, it became clear to me that rules, procedures and court guidelines are treated with contempt by the police force. I would be grateful, sir, if you would kindly advise me on how best to proceed and whether you consider it safe for me to remain in Kashmir."
On the advice of fellow journalists, Devadas did not file any FIR, but senior police officers later told him that an FIR has been registered at the same police station against him. Devadas has raised questions about whether telling him this was a way to try and further intimidate him.
He says he wonders whether this could be the police force's revenge for some of the views he expressed in The Hindustan Times, Governance Now, Headlines Today and other media outlets last year, when the police was shooting at Kashmiri youth who were pelting stones.
Devadas has detailed the sequence of events on September 5 in a letter
written to Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. He says that
when he was crossing the Rambagh Bridge in his car on the evening of
September 5 in heavy traffic, he heard a loud bang at the back of his
car. He realized that his car was had been hit from behind. He saw that
it was a security vehicle, part of a convoy. One of the vehicles had a
car flying the national flag. "Those who were in this convoy had
apparently got the impression that my car was obstructing their way, and
became angry with me for this reason."
After few minutes a traffic policeman stopped his vehicle. They wanted him to leave his vehicle and hand it over to them. He was asked to wait on the road. Devadas said that he had an appointment with former MP Jaya Jaitley, but the police didn't listen to his plea.
Finding himself illegally detained, Devadas called the Inspector-General of Police, Kashmir Range, SM Sahai. He could not get through to him. He left a message with Sahai's assistant, who had picked up Sahai's mobile phone. The policemen near the bridge kept insisting that Devadas should hand over his vehicle and also go with them to the police station.
In few minutes, more policemen came and started hitting him with hands and metal lathis and abused him. They said that he made a `jaan-leva hamla' (lethal attack) against them when their convoy had passed his car. Devadas says, "At no point of time during this incident did I resort to using force against police persons, even in self-defence. They further made a baseless allegation that I had a pistol. I do not own any pistol, and I made it clear to them that I was not carrying any pistol. On mentioning that I was a journalist, they threatened that they would teach me a lesson in the police station. Further, they continued to use profanities and issued threats."
In spite of such serious assault, policemen have filed an FIR against Davadas. He believes that "outrageous allegation" that he possessed a pistol was police's excuse to use physical violence against him.
Having lived in Kashmir since long, Devadas knew that it is not wise to accompany policemen to police station, specially after being accused of possessing a pistol. He requested that he should be checked right there.
"I requested him to search me on the spot in front of passers-by who were witnesses before taking me anywhere. I told him the men in the security detail had accused me of having a pistol and that I therefore wished for the veracity of this allegation to be established in front of independent witnesses from the public." says Devadas.
However, he was not given any choice. Nobody agreed to search him. He was forced into a police vehicle. "Even after having volunteered to board the vehicle, the police personnel, instead of respecting my action, seized me by my hair and pulled, pushed, kicked and forced me into the back of the jeep. My shirt was torn across my torso at this point. In the jeep, I was further beaten, abused and kicked, while my head was held down at the floor of the jeep by my hair."
When Devadas was bleeding in the police station, various policemen kept asking him where his pistol is.
Only when senior police officers came did the assault stopped.
He was taken to an officer's room, although he asked to be released from the police station and repeatedly asked why he was there. Devadas claims that the station house officer completely twisted the facts then, and fabricated a false story stating that that Devadas was beaten on the street by people.
Devadas has written to Abdullah, "Sir, I am deeply distressed at my discovery thus of the ease and impunity with which guardians of the law utter bald-faced falsehood. I am also concerned, sir, that I was not provided with a copy of my medico-legal examination at the Bone and Joints Hospital at Barzulla. I was taken to this hospital directly from the police station that night."
Devadas alleges that when he was beaten by police mercilessly policemen taunted that, "Get your home ministry to withdraw the disturbed areas order" that gives him such power.
Devadas has written to CM that, "He also told me angrily that what had happened to me was nothing compared to what Kashmiri journalists have experienced. Further, he told me that this sort of thing happens all over India; he knows this, he added, since he has been an 'international police officer."
Devadas has requested that, 'There is an urgent need to address and check the untrammeled abuse of powers by the police personnel, and other arms of the State, in Jammu and Kashmir. In relation to this incident, a strict action may be taken against these erring police personnel, who unleashed violence on a civilian without any provocation or any legal reason."
For almost 25 years, Davadas has been writing about conflict in Kashmir when he was working for India Today, Economic Times, Business Standard and Gulf News
To do research for his book he left his regular job and moved to Kashmir. He also focused on Kashmir for his work when he was a Visiting Professor at Jamia Millia Islamia and later a Senior Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.