PUCL Bulletin, April 2003

A PUCL-Delhi University Report
Jailed for demanding implementation of law
-- By Sarfaraz and Gopa Joshi

A tent pitched since 17.10.2002 by visually impaired jobseekers, in front of the office of Vice Chancellor of Delhi University was removed on December 22, 2002, and the personal belongings of protesters were seized by the security staff of the University under the orders of Mr. S.C. Sharma, Estate Officer. The protesters say that the action took place at 6.30 a.m. and the Estate Officer says that it was done at 8.00 a.m.

The same day at 10.30 a.m. Sunil Kumar Mohanto lodged a complaint of loss of goods at the Maurice Nagar Police Station. In his complaint Mohanto says that original papers of five persons with vision impairment, Rs.40,000/- belonging to the Progressive Welfare Forum of the Blind (PWFB), two gas cylinders, two gas stoves, the tent, 120 blankets, clothes, and other personal goods of persons sitting on dharna and relay hunger strike, were missing. Mohanto in his complaint asked for police help in retrieving the lost goods and tent from the university authorities and pitching of the tent at the venue of dharna. As the police showed no inclination to restore status quo he called the members and supporters of Progressive Welfare Forum for the Blind to hold a meeting to chalk out future course of action.

PUCL-Delhi University learnt about this incident from newspapers (Janasatta in particular), which reported that in the scuffle with the police 16 policemen and six visually impaired students were injured. Out of these 16 policemen one was reported to be in ICU with serious injuries. It is difficult to comprehend as to how visually impaired persons could inflict such grievous injuries to the police force of our national capital, who are supposed to be shouldering the challenging responsibility of maintaining law and order and internal security of this place. Accordingly an investigating team was formulated consisting of students and teachers comprising of Vijaya, Sarfaraz, Bipin, Manjula, and Gopa Joshi. The team talked to Mr. Sunil Kumar Mohanto, the General Secretary, Progressive Welfare Forum of the Blind (PWFB); some of the visually impaired students (just released from jail); members of All India Students Association; the Security Officer, Mr. Gaze Singh; and the Estate Officer, Mr. S.C. Sharma.

The team also visited the Maurice Nagar Police Station to meet the Investigating Officer, Mr. Manoj Kumar Tyagi on 11.01.2002 and thereafter tried to contact him on phone. However, in spite of our repeated attempts the team was not able to contact him.

The Issue: According to Sunil Mohanto, the PWFB first approached the Vice Chancellor on 23-9-2002 requesting to fulfill 1% reservation in group C and D posts for visually impaired persons. Another memorandum was given to the Pro Vice Chancellor on 3.10.02. Since there was no response from the Delhi University officials, finally on 17-10-2002 the visually impaired jobseekers sat on a dharna under the banner of PWFB demanding implementation of Persons With Disabilities Act (PWD) in recruitments in Delhi University. In line with the provisions of the act they also demanded self employment facilities like allotments of PCOs and Kiosks in the campus and the CBI enquiry on violations of the provisions of the PWD in DU. On 18-10-2002, Prof. C.R. Babu, the Pro Vice Chancellor and Professor Shyam Menon the Proctor called them to discuss their demands.

In the meeting, they sought 15 days time for discussions. On the 16th day, they again called Sunil Mohanto. He was told that there is ban on fresh recruitments; and hence their main demands could not be met. Mohanto says that he showed them the Ministry of Finance, Department of Expenditure (E-Coord. (l)) branch letter dated, 21st June 2000, saying that it has been decided to exempt the vacancies to be filled up by the persons with disabilities from the applicability of ban order cited above. He also showed them a letter given by Professor S.K. Sinha, (on 26.08.1996) the then Dean, Students Welfare Delhi University assuring them to fulfill the promises made by the University authorities as soon as possible. However, the University authorities ceased all negotiations with them. The PWFB intensified their struggle by resorting to relay hunger strike (from 27.10.02) and blocking the road in the campus. During 65 days of their dharna and relay hunger strike the Vice Chancellor never thought it important to talk to them.

The Final Act: A notice was issued on 16.12.2002 (No.Pa/EO/2002/274) saying that the dharna was unauthorized and without any valid grievance against the University. The action of sitting on dharna in the University was termed as tantamounting to illegal trespass on the University Campus. It was further added that the dharna was causing lot of inconvenience to the students and the teachers. Therefore the dharna is to be immediately lifted and the site has to be vacated. Mr. S.C. Sharma Estate Officer signed this notice. Following this the strikers resorted to chakkajam on 19th December. The PWFB on 20.12.2002 sought police help as they were apprehending threat from the University Authorities. However the police decided to ignore their pleas. On 21.12.2002, around 10:00 p.m., a large number of persons started roaming near the dharna site. Apprehending trouble the persons sitting on dharna and relay hunger strike rang up Mohanto.

On enquiry they were told that they are there for the security of the tent. These people started dismantling the tent on 22nd December around 6.30 a.m., injuring five of its occupants. In his complaint to the police, Mohanto says that original papers of five persons with vision impairment, Rs.40000/- belonging to PWFB, two gas cylinders, two gas stoves, the tent, 120 blankets, clothes, and other personal goods of persons sitting on dharna and relay hunger strike there were seized by the University authorities. Mohanto in his complaint asked for the police help in retrieving the goods and tent from the university authorities and pitching of the tent at the venue of dharna. However, Mr. S.C. Sharma, the Estate Officer denied the charges. He told the team that all the protesters voluntarily left the tent. However, in the zeal of explaining his and the University's 'sympathetic' attitude towards them he confessed that one of the protestors had complained of the loss of his flute, which was traced and given to him. Similarly another protester had complained of loss of his original certificates etc. The envelope containing these original papers, it was claimed, was traced and given to him. This narration of the Estate Officer proved that force was used to evict the protestors.

Thus, the protesters' charge that they were forced to leave the dharna site (in under garments) was correct. They were not even allowed to wear their clothes and shoes, laments Mohanto. At 10:00 a.m., he along with members of All India Students Association went to Maurice Nagar police station to lodge an FIR. He requested police help for retrieval of the tent and other goods and also the pitching of the tent at the dharna site. Additionally, the MLC of the injured had to be done. However, the SHO, expressed her helplessness. She did not agree to come to the dharna site and instead sent one of her Constable Mr. Razaak to the dharna site. Disparate, Mohanto called all the members and sympathizers of PWFB to come for a meeting to plan future course of action. As the members, friends, and sympathizers assembled at Patel Chest they were surrounded by the police.

From Patel Chest, they started proceeding towards Khalsa College. At Khalsa College bus stop, in Ring Road, police had put barricades and started beating and arresting them. He added that police was fully prepared and had come with photographers and video films etc. He further added that there was no lady police in the initial stages. AISA member, Uma Choudhary, also confirmed this. Male policemen escorted even the women students to police jeep. These male policemen were improperly handling the women protesters. Mohanto, Nitin, Vikas and Ravi were taken to Maurice Nagar police station where they were beaten up. Mohanto alleged that Manohar Lal, Head Constable had his head bandaged while he was beating them up at the police station. Even the photo attached in the charge sheet has his head bandaged. But in the media reports, the police have claimed that Manohar Lal was seriously injured during the confrontation with the protestors and admitted to the ICU. From Maurice Nagar police station, Mohanto and others were taken to the Civil Lines police station. Mohanto says that at Civil Lines police station, SHO Surinder Singh told him that the police was planning this whole exercise since 9:00 a.m. in the morning.

A large number of visually impaired students who had come to attend the meeting called by Sunil Mohanto were taken aback at this change of events. The police snatched away their sticks and dumped them all in police vans and took them to Timarpur police station. There, they were kept the whole day without water, food, tea, or snacks. They were not even allowed to contact their friends or lawyer. However, the policemen at the station assured them, that they would be let off. According to Gabbar Singh, Vijay Gupta, and Kishan Pal of Panchquinya Andh Mahavidyalaya there was a phone call from Maurice Nagar police station around 4:00 p.m., after which, the police personnel started filing charges against them. They were booked U/s 308, 144, and 184 of Indian Penal Code. Around 7:00 p.m. they were taken to Tis Hazari Court and produced before the magistrate where the police read the charges against them. They were not allowed any legal aid.

The magistrate sent them to Tihar Jail for 14 days judicial remand. The police misguided the judiciary by saying that 16 policemen were injured in the scuffle with the visually impaired protesters and one of them had to be admitted in the ICU due to serious injuries. How a few unarmed visually impaired managed to overpower well equipped police force of three police stations is the mute question, which no body asked the police. As a consequence a total of 93 protestors, many of them school and college students were put behind bars. The investigating team was not able to get the police version.

The University authorities seemed to be quite upset because the protesters refused to be satisfied with their 'sympathies' and were demanding the right to get employment guaranteed to them under PWD Act passed by the Parliament in 1995. The Estate Officer, Mr. Sharma, for example told the team that the authority had full 'sympathy' with them. Similar feelings were expressed in the notice issued by him on 16.12.2002. The refusal to accept empty 'sympathies' had serious consequences because while their grievances were not redressed, they also had to incur the wrath of those enjoying power and authority.
In Jail: The PUCL investigating team was shocked to learn that both the police and the jail authorities were insensitive to the specific needs of people with visual impairments especially pertaining their mobility. Deprived of their sticks, and in a totally unfamiliar set up they had immense difficulties in getting their basic needs fulfilled.

Ram Prasad, narrating his jail experiences told that, all the protestors were made to surrender their sticks, spectacles and money at Tis Hazari Court itself. While all their belongings were recorded there was no mechanism to ensure that the recording was accurate. Nobody even read out to them what was recorded in the paper. Deprived of their sticks, their mobility was seriously restricted. In Tihar jail both the toilets and bathrooms are situated in one remote corner and one had to walk long distance to reach there. Without sticks or escort, meeting the call of nature became an uphill task for these visually impaired. Further, water is a scarce commodity there. For latrine, water is stored in earthen pots. If the pots got emptied water had to be carried from the tap, which is in another corner.

Naturally, the visually impaired could not find the tap at a distant place by themselves. Nor could they carry water without the help of their stick. Without stick, without guide, in unfamiliar sanitary systems, and environment, the visually impaired often incurred the wrath of other fellow prisoners, as they could not be very accurate in using the W.C. and inadvertently spoiled the place. Same was the problem with drinking water. In barracks the prisoners sleep in rows whereas the water pitcher is kept in one of the corner. Without stick or guide the visually impaired could not reach the pitcher without stepping on other prisoners.

The situation became worse after January 1st, 2003 when members (with vision) of AISA got bail and came out. The visually fit could use the library facilities to read or could play in the open field. But for the visually impaired there is no Braille or cassette library in Tihar jail. According to the jail rules every day between 6-11am and between 3 to 6 pm one could go in the open. Deprived of their sticks they were not able to go to the open ground also because the ground had trees and poles and the visually impaired did not know the actual location of these trees or poles and they feared that they might hurt themselves.

PUCL-Delhi University Demands:

1. All those who are still in jail should be released and cases against all 93 arrested persons be withdrawn.

2. The legitimate demands of persons with disability should be immediately met by the University authorities.

3. All those, who took advantage of their positions in university authority and police authority by taking the law in their hands and harassed the persons with disability should be punished.

4. All the confiscated goods of protesters should be immediately returned.

5. A disability sensitization programme should be launched in the University so that University authorities instead of sympathizing with persons with disability start taking pride in protecting and promoting the human rights of the persons with disability.

6. There should be a thorough enquiry of the whole incident and the guilty should be punished.

7. There should be some arrangements for persons with disability in jails and in police lock up to ensure their mobility and safety.

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