After a month behind bars, Nodeep Kaur, a 23-year-old Dalit labourer and trade union activist from Punjab, was granted bail on Wednesday in two FIRs out of three filed against her. With one remaining FIR, Nodeep’s sister, Rajvir Kaur is hopeful after weeks of dismay.
“High Court has given out a notice condemning Nodeep’s torture in the jail, how it should be taken seriously and also ordered an investigation into the matter”, Rajvir Kaur told Maktoob.
“We’re hopeful that she’ll be out soon.”
Kaur, a member of Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan (MAS), was arrested on 12 January by Haryana police on the charges of attempt to murder, extortion, and snatching outside a factory in Kundli Industrial Area (KIA).
After the arrest, the family accuses Haryana police of foul play and custodial torture including sexual assault. The allegations of the family got amplified after many including international leaders spoke about Nodeep Kaur’s arrest.
On 6 February, US Vice-President Kamala Harris’s niece Meena tweeted that ‘Nodeep Kaur was arrested, tortured & sexually assaulted in police custody. She’s been detained without bail for over 20 days.’
“They arrested her and thrashed her on the spot,” says Rajvir.
That day, Nodeep and the workers marched to the companies who refused to pay the workers. The protesters approached each company and raised their demand. Some companies accepted to give wage, according to Rajvir Kaur.
When the workers marched towards the third company, authorities closed the gates, provoking workers.
“The wagers said that until and unless the owner doesn’t come to talk they will sit there and keep protesting in front of the gates. Then a public meeting started, people gave speeches and sat there for more than half an hour,” Rajvir recalls.
“Goons came along with the police, they didn’t even talk to the protesters and just start to beat them up, the people started to defend when their leaders were forcefully grabbed and dragged”. Nodeep and others were detained but no details of their whereabouts were shared with the family.
“We went to the S.P. office around 12:30 at night and requested her location. Then, from the control room, the family got to know about the sections and how she’s been sent to Karnal Jail”.
Hailing from Punjab’s Muktasar district, Nodeep has six siblings. Nodeep’s parents Swaranjeet Kaur and Sukhdeep Singh were actively involved in workers struggles.
“Our mother is a daily wager, a seasonal worker at farms, and is also a member of Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union. Our father works in a workshop named Combined Repair in Telangana. He was here with us supporting the Kissan Andolan and Nodeep also spent 3-4 days with him. But he had to go back to Telangana after which Nodeep was arrested,” Rajvir Kaur told Maktoob.
Nodeep after completing schooling took gap before pursuing a college degree. During the lockdown, she shifted with Rajvir to take up a part-time job and prepare for exams. She wants to study and wanted to get admission to Delhi University.
Months into lockdown, Nodeep Kaur applied for a job at Kundli due to financial crunch. Nodeep found a job in a factory called FIEM Industries which manufactures bulbs.
Nodeep Kaur joined Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan which mainly constituted of the daily wagers. The trade union was a part of the farmers’ protest since 27th November last year – The day farmers began besieging Delhi. Kaur was fired for supporting farmers.
On 2 December, at least 2000 wagers marched towards the Kissan Morcha, near the Singhu border and joined the agitation. Nodeep, who was leading the protesters addressed them from the mainstage and called for unitiy against bad policies.
“The laws that are being imposed not only affect the farmers but the daily wagers as well,” Nodeep observed during the speech.
The workers’ protest grew with the influence of farmers protest. On 28th December protest, factory owners and their staffers started firing at the wagers. The Caravan Magazine spoke to the shooters who admitted their use of firearms.
Nodeep and other MAS leaders wrote a complaint but no FIR was registered. “Letter was emailed to the S.P. of Sonipat requesting to investigate this matter but there was no reply”.
According to police, a team was sent to the factory on 12 January after receiving information that workers were manhandling the management and staff, and attempting to extort money. Police had a standoff with the protesters lead by Nodeep. Police are in procession of videos which shows Nodeep fought police with sticks.
Upon taking Nodeep into custody, family alleges she was sexually assaulted by male police and tortured. When the family met her, she was unable to walk and there was continuous bleeding from her legs.
“Nodeep told us how she was tortured by the male as well as the female police,” says Rajvir.
“There were blue and red marks on her body.”
“After arresting Nodeep, the S.H.O of the Kundli police station gives a video to Punjab Kesari alleging how a girl named Nodeep Kaur from Punjab along with 40-50 boys, extorts money and that they have arrested her. So, we have this question for them, that if they knew how there’s a criminal named Nodeep Kaur who is continuously extorting money then why there weren’t any female constables to arrest her?”
Nodeep’s family had put an application on 14 January for a medical examination, which was approved by the court. The medical examination has taken place but family haven’t received the reports till now.
Punjab’s Women and Child Development Minister Aruna Chaudhary accused Haryana’s “anti-farmer” BJP government of “arresting Nodeep at the behest of the federal government” and said the state would provide her legal help. The bail petition in the remaining FIR in which she is charged with attempt to murder is listed for next week.
Shiv Kumar; Another prisoner
Shiv Kumar, the president of Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan was arrested under the same FIR’s on 16 January and hasn’t been produced in the court till 24 January.
“On 31 January the family of Shiv Kumar got to know that he’s been arrested and was tortured brutally and since 16th January we’ve been trying to get a lawyer for Shiv or at least meet him but there’s been no progress,” says Rajvir Kaur.
The police have not permitted the family of Shiv Kumar to meet him. “The law and order are completely out of control, the law has been stripped away”.
“Shiv Kumar is from a Dalit Background and works at a school, one of his eyes is completely blind and he’s not even been given his spectacles, no slippers, he doesn’t have any clothes and has been kept in the jail in a very bad condition, this is what we’ve been informed”.