PUCL Bulletin, March 2001

Brutal, daylight murder of a trader of Sadar Bazar by Delhi police: A Delhi PUCL report:

-- By Gopa Joshi, Gen Secy. Delhi

On the evening of 11th of October, 2000 at 6.00 p.m. a stove dealer Ashwani Kumar Gandhi, S/O Shri Ratan Lal Gandhi resident of A/107, Tagore Garden Extension, New Delhi who ran a shop of stoves in the Bari Market, Sadar Bazar was brutally beaten to death only because he failed to give thirty rupees to the policemen.

Peoples' Union for Civil Liberties, Delhi Branch, set up an enquiry committee under the chairmanship of Sudhir Hilsayan, Secretary, PUCL, Delhi, to look into the incidents leading to the killing of the shopkeeper. Mahi Pal Singh, a member of PUCL, Delhi was appointed as a member of committee.

The team visited Sadar Bazar market on 19th of October and met many shopkeepers in Bari Market, Pratap Market, China Market, Bara Tooti Chowk and Kutub Road market. Most of the shopkeepers complained about harassment by local police to make money. They complained how the police allow pavement sellers to throng the corridors of the market because the policemen collect money from them on daily and weekly basis.

On the fateful evening, four policemen entered Bari Market at about 6.00 in the evening and lifted stools kept in front of the shops. Those who gave Rs. Thirty to the policemen got back their stools. When Ashwani Kumar Gandhi went to the opening of the street in which his shop is located, to claim back his stool, the policemen were taking Rs. Thirty from another shopkeeper. They demanded the same amount from him also. Ashwani Kumar Gandhi refused to oblige. This infuriated the policemen who took it as a challenge to their right to extort money and told him to collect the stool from the police station. Ashwdani Kumar's remark, "Do what you like, but I will not give you the money," added fuel to fire. The policemen caught Ashwani Kumar's collar and started kicking and hitting him ruthlessly and pulling and pushing him towards Bara Tooti Chowk. Devi Prasad, a wooden-box maker in Bari Market, watched all this. He told the PUCL team that he wanted to tell the policemen not to beat the shopkeeper in such an inhuman manner, but out of fear he could not do so.

He, however, ran inside the Bari Market and told the 84 year old Pradhan of the market, Sh. Bansi Lal, who runs a ropes and bags shop in the market and told him, "Babuji, policemen are beating the stove-seller very severely." A salesgirl working at a shop where this incident took place disclosed to the PUCL team, on condition that her name should not be published, that she was busy in her work but she listened to the dialogue that took place between Ashwani Kumar and the policemen. She felt as if a thief had been caught by the police, from the manner the policemen pounced upon Ashwani Kumar. The policemen were crying, "Saale ko Thane le chalo," (let us take the fellow to the police station) and Ashwani Kumar was pleading "Why are you beating me when I am going with you?" When told that the police is saying, "We did not kill him," she commented, "How did he die if they did not kill him? They are liars."

Devi Prasad said, " When I returned after informing Sh. Bansi Lal ji and reached Bara Tooti Chowk I found the stove-seller Babuji lying on the floor of the police-booth." He did not know whether he was unconscious or dead. Ashwani Kumar Gandhi was lifted and put into a cycle-rickshaw and taken to a nearby doctor, Dr. Pritam Singh. The doctor told the team that when Ashwani Kumar Gandhi was brought to him in a cycle-rickshaw by three policemen who were trembling with fear, his condition was very serious. He advised that the patient should be taken to Ganga Ram Hospital immediately. He also said that his clinic is very small and has only the minimum basic facilities. Besides, he did not want to get involved in a case where the chances of getting well seemed to be remote. He was again loaded into a three-wheeler. At this juncture Surender Gandhi, the younger brother of Ashwani Kumar Gandhi, sensing that something must be wrong as his brother had not returned to the shop, came out on the main road. On being told that some policemen had taken a shopkeeper towards the Bara Tooti Chowk, he ran towards the chowk. His brother was being loaded into a three-wheeler like a sack when he reached there. He accompanied the policemen in the three-wheeler, and rushed to Ganga Ram Hospital, where Ashwani Kumar Gandhi was declared dead. It was 7.00 p.m.

Within one hour of the incident of stool-lifting for extracting money, and its opposition by a lonely shopkeeper, Ashwani Kumar Gandhi, the shopkeeper had succumbed to the police brutality. All this had happened in one of the busiest markets, on one of the busiest roads, and at the busiest hour when it is not easy even to walk on that road. But nothing had deterred the team of four policemen, head-constable Pramod, and three constables, Chetan, Ravindra, (two of the three who were identified by the shopkeepers) and the third whose name none of the shopkeepers could tell. Supposed defenders of the law had once again committed a murder in the open without the slightest fear of law of the land and without at all being conscious of the fact that they were committing the heinous crime before the eyes of thousands of people present on the road. Mr. Khushan, a mechanic who works on the pavement near the police booth, located at Bara Tooti Chowk, testified that he saw the man being brought to the police booth by the policemen who were also beating him ruthlessly.

Ashok Kumar Gandhi, the elder brother of Ashwani Kumar Gandhi, told the team that on that day he had gone away from Sadar Bazar. He had a talk with Ashwani Kumar Gandhi at 3.00 in the after-noon. At 7.00 p.m. he received a call from his brother, Surender, from the hospital, rushed to the spot and discovered the hospital surrounded by police with tear-gas shells and guns in a big number, to be told that his brother was dead.

The President of Bari market Association, Shri Bansi Lal, also reached there.
Most of the shop keepers in the Bari market, Mr. Vivek the leather belt seller, Mr. Rajendra Sethi, Ajay etc. failed to give any details because, they said, the incident had taken place on the main road outside the market This only reflects the commercial mentality of the business class. Some of them even said that their commercial compulsions did not allow them to come together to end the harassment by the police.

The SHO of the area, Mr. Gurbax Singh was on leave when the team visited the police station. The additional SHO of Sadar Bazar Police Station, Mr. Rathi expressed his inability to say anything in the matter as the case was being enquired by Mr. Azim Akhtar, ADM. When contacted Mr. Akhtar told the team that he had received the autopsy report and he had completed his inquiry. He said that he would be submitting his report very soon.

Mr. Ashawani Kumar Gandhi was 48 years old. He had left behind Mrs. Chanchal, 40, housewife. They had no child and lived in a combined family along with Ashok and Surender Gandhi.

No FIR has so for been made in the case.

Action should be taken against all the four policemen responsible for the killing. The identity of the fourth policeman should be established and exemplary action taken against him also. Steps should also be initiated to end corruption, hafta-vasuli, by police in which not only the constable level policemen alone are involved.

Economic assistance should be given to the wife of the deceased so that she does not have to be dependent on the mercy of the brothers of her late husband. The Government should also provide a job to her so that she can lead a respectable life. - Gopa Joshi, Gen Secy, Delhi

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