37-year old Bengali Muslim police constable Suraf Hossain had a lot to look forward to; promotion to the position of Assistant Sub-Inspector after 14 years of service in the state police and a second child. He had been home for ten days to look after his pregnant wife, Tania Parveen and he was preparing to return to his post as camp-in-charge at Ashoknagar on the afternoon of August 6, 2021.
The same morning, at around 10 am Sub-inspector Somnath Das and four others of the Sonarpur police station were at his door, looking for Hossain Ali. Suraf was surprised that his 85-year-old uncle, who spent his days, staring at nothing, would be wanted by the police. Moreover, Somnath Das, in civil dress and slippers, claiming to carry a warrant, did not present the image of a police officer on duty.
Tania recalls the unprovoked violence and terror that Sub-Inspector Somnath Das, Sub-Inspector Priya Sen, and “15-16” other police personnel, including civic volunteers would unleash on their entire family. The white shirt that had been torn off Suraf’s body and broken ends of police lathis are still lying on the football ground in front of their house. In a 3-minute video, circulating on social media, a group of policemen, some in civil clothes are seen dragging a disrobed Suraf across the grass, stopping only to beat him more. A week after, Tania suffered a miscarriage and Suraf is now home on bail, complaining of “multiple fractures, severe pain in his chest, kidneys and genital area.”
Beniabou, a small village in Sonarpur, District South 24 Parganas, West Bengal is home to the three Hossain brothers, Suraf, Anwar, Jahangir, and their families. His cousins, a police constable in the Kolkata police, and Indian army personnel live right next door.
Suraf’s 13-year-old daughter, Samreena had just returned home from her grandmother’s place to find a mob of policemen dragging and mercilessly beating her father with police lathis. His hands were tied to his waist and his clothes had been stripped off him. Suraf had already introduced himself as a policeman when Somnath pushed him against the wall and began landing blows on his face. All Suraf had done was to question why his Sonarpur colleague was not in official attire. Suraf did not resist the punches until Somnath pushed Taniya to the ground. Within minutes, a mob of 15-16 policemen in civil clothes rained down on the family and neighbors.
“A couple of them in police uniform were actually civic volunteers”, remembers Suraf. They beat and threatened anyone, men, women, children, neighbors, and relatives, who tried to rescue him. At some point, a policewoman and three civic volunteers barged into their house and demanded Samreena hand over her phone. “When I told them I didn’t know where it was, they slapped me and raided the house. They left only after they had found the phone and my mother’s gold jewelry,” she said.
“My husband and I tried to stop them when they attacked my brother-in-law. They didn’t spare us and our infant child either. At one point, Suraf tried to escape and ran to the back of the house. They hauled him back by his legs and arms. His head banging against the ground, again and again. They took off the skin on his back. People don’t beat thieves and dacoits like that. Somnath is a goonda, and he calls himself a government servant?” says Suraf’s sister-in-law, Shabina Bano Hossain.
Jahangir Hossain, Suraf’s brother was also beaten unconscious. All the family members and neighbors seemed particularly shocked by Priya Sen’s perversity. She smashed in the windows of a neighboring house when she saw the homeowner recording the violence on her phone. She ordered her colleagues to wrap Suraf’s unconscious body into a plastic sheet and berated them for not using their guns, “You should have shot him. Why else have you brought your guns along?” Throughout she used Islamophobic slurs and repeatedly hit him in his genitals. Upon hearing her husband’s screams, Taniya tried to intervene. In response, Priya Sen hit her with a lathi. “You all are mollas, and you are in the police. I will see how your husband keeps his job,” she threatened Tania on the way to Kalikapur Hospital where she was taken for a medical check-up. At the hospital, she was given an injection and a pill; both “pain medications” for the blows she had received. Priya forced her to consume the pill even after Taniya’s repeated insistence that she was pregnant.
All three brothers and Taniya were produced at the Baruipur court the same evening and charged with rioting, obstruction of police duties, criminal conspiracy against police, conspiracy to murder, etc. Suraf, who was semi-conscious throughout the journey to the hospital and then to the Sonarpur police station vaguely recalls being beaten again in the police van. “I vomited in the car. In response, they kicked me in the chest and violently pulled at my hair. Half my body was hanging out of the car when Priya Sen walked up and rammed her leg against my arm. It was then that Somnath Das tried to stop them. He told the others, ‘Don’t beat him anymore. If he dies, we will get into trouble.”
Tania was let off on August 8, 2021 “because she was pregnant.” In a complaint written to the Chief Minister, West Bengal, Tania has pointed out that none of their names were in Somnath’s warrant, and yet they had been subject to “inhuman torture and now a false case.” In addition to Priya Sen and Somnath Das, she further identifies Sub-inspector Khalek, constables Ananda Das, Sona Kumar Pande, Pankaj Kundu, and civic volunteers Biplab Mondal, Deb Malya Patowari, Ashok Naskar, Joy, and others for physical assault, attempt to murder, sexual violence, molestation, Islamophobic abuse, vandalism, theft, and criminal conspiracy.
As of August 13, 2021, Suraf’s physical condition was critical. In the week that he spent in lock-up, Suraf had not been taken to a hospital for treatment. “Every time I insisted on seeing a doctor, they would take me to some health center. They would bring sheets of white paper and make me sign on them. They are watching us at all times. I am afraid to go to a government hospital to record the full extent of my injuries. They may snatch me any time.”