The Madhya Pradesh police on Wednesday suspended a sub-inspector for telling a lawyer he was allegedly beaten up by the police as they mistook him for a Muslim, for he sported a beard.
The lawyer, Deepak Bundele, who is diabetic, was going to the district hospital in Betul on March 23 to seek treatment, with only prohibitory orders in force ahead of the lockdown, when the police reportedly thrashed him.
On May 17, two policemen, including the official now suspended, visited him to take a statement. “Police, whenever there are Hindu-Muslim riots, always sides with the Hindus, even Muslims know it. But this happened, it was a mistake,” one of the policemen is heard in an audio clip Mr. Bundele recorded. “So you are saying they thrashed me thinking I am a Muslim,” he asked them, to which one of them replied, “Yes, that is the case, your beard is long too.”
“ Vo galat fehmi ke shikar hue (they were victims of a misunderstanding). It happens. We are in deep sorrow,” the policemen are heard apologising to him. Mr. Bundele is heard saying, “What is my value now, of my career? That a lawyer got beaten up by the police?”
The Hindu called the sub-inspector on the phone, who attested to the remarks and the meeting: “He looks like a Muslim. It was a confusion... He had a long beard. Sometimes such incidents happen. I made it clear that sometimes the police make mistakes, and for that we apologise. But he didn’t listen and he went ahead with the statement.”
In Mr. Bundele’s recording, one of the policemen is heard pressing him not to register his statement, “Don’t write it now, please listen to me. You are like my child. A voice is coming out of my heart, that the police officials with me didn’t misbehave or thrash anyone...This is the country of Gandhi, we are children of Gandhi. The thing is they mistook you as belonging to a different community, that’s why the incident happened. it’s nothing else.”
Although Mr. Bundele wrote to the Inspector General of Police, Hoshangabad and even the Chief Minister about the remarks on May 18 itself, Betul police admitted to not knowing about the remarks on Wednesday morning.
After The Hindu inquired about the incident with Shraddha Joshi, Additional Superintendent of Police, Betul, she sought the recording and hours later informed that the official had been suspended. A case has not been registered so far.
Despite the recordings, Ms. Joshi claimed the inquiry of the Sub Divisonal Officer of Police, Betul, had held the thrashing can't be proved in the first place due to lack of evidence. “He hasn’t able to recognise any of the accused officials saying they were wearing masks at the time of the incident. There are no witnesses to the incident,” she claimed.
When asked about the Sub-Inspector apologising for the thrashing in the recording, she said the police were going to investigate the incident from scratch.
In his complaint, Mr. Bundele has stated he had sought the video recording of the area, where he was thrashed, from the police under the Right to Information Act. Ms. Joshi, the Public Information Officer, has rejected the query as he had not stated the purpose of seeking the footage under Section 8 of the Act, which exempts disclosure of information under certain circumstances. The query is now pending before the Superintendent of Police (SP), the first appellate authority.
Despite repeated attempts, D.S. Bhadoria, the SP, did not take phone calls or respond to text messages for a comment.