Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 44, Dated November 07, 2009
|CULTURE & SOCIETY
‘The Police Tried Its
Best To Silence My Cries
To Call The US Embassy’
Is 30. He is an American journalist
based out of New Delhi
Illustration: UZMA MOHSIN
THE ODDEST BIT about being beaten and tortured
for hours by Delhi Police is that it seems no one
would have cared if I were not (mostly) white
and a foreign journalist. Make no mistake; what
happened to me in the early morning hours of
October 6 was a nightmare. My body will always bear the
marks of the batons of Delhi Police.
Most of what happened has already been reported. The
short version is that, after seeing off two journalist friends of
mine whose flight left for London in the morning, I was
walking home and accidentally blundered into the middle of
a late-night altercation in which half a dozen police officers
were beating someone in the street. A police officer started
hitting me, I hit him back in self-defense and then the cops
spent the next six hours or so
beating and torturing me.
But one fact is even more
Besides myself and the
man in the street, I saw Delhi
Police torturing a third man in the police station. Why didn’t
Ambika Soni, the Minister of Information and Broadcasting,
order an investigation into those cases, as she did mine? Not
that any investigation that relies on the accounts of officers
who participated in the beatings – or ‘witnesses’ who have
seen what the police can do – would have any credibility. But
the Indian government’s strategy is clear: If the victim has
the means to make himself heard, especially to the international
press, as I do, act concerned. If he doesn’t, forget it.
I consider myself primarily to be a human rights reporter.
Coincidentally, I recently had begun research on prison and
police reforms, requesting a tour of Tihar Jail, where retired
police officer-turned-activist Kiran Bedi had famously
pushed for improvements. Little did I know the easiest way
to see the horrors of an Indian jail or holding cell was simply
to walk the streets of my own neighbourhood.
Cops at the Nizamuddin police station tried their best to
silence my cries for someone to call the US embassy, beating
me with batons as I lay on the floor in chains. As I lay during
the next two days in a hospital bed, they took other, less
physical, measures to squelch the message I was sure to give
– telling the press all manner of absurdities: that they had
never touched me, that I had tried to steal a taxi, that I had
assaulted elderly people in the street, that I was inebriated.
This despite the fact that the only alcohol test administered
that day showed I had no alcohol whatsoever in my system.
All this comes as no surprise in light of an August 9
report from Human Rights Watch.
“The Indian government should take major steps to overhaul
a policing system that facilitates and even encourages
human rights violations,” the report said. “For decades, successive
failed to deliver on promises
to hold police accountable
for abuses and to build professional,
In an interview, Kiran Bedi pointed to art and yoga classes
in Tihar Jail as a step forward.
|The Indian government’s strategy is
clear: If the victim has the means to
make himself heard, act concerned
I don't want to detract from the great work Bedi has done,
but no one was offering to teach me yoga at the Nizamuddin
“India is modernising rapidly, but the police continue to
use their old methods: abuse and threats,” Brad Adams, Asia
director at Human Rights Watch, said for the report. “It’s
time for the government to stop talking about reform and fix
No one, Indian or foreigner, should be subjected to such
treatment, and it is absurd that the government ignores such
barbarity as long as it only happens to Indians. Perhaps the
Indian government will use this occasion to crack down on
the endemic corruption and brutality for which this country’s
police are known throughout the world.
But I doubt it.