For Pratheesh Rema, a 30-year old journalist working with the Narada News portal, it was the most stressful day of his life.
Pratheesh and his friend Amrutha Umesh were allegedly harassed by the Kochi Town police in the wee hours of Thursday morning. The reason for the alleged harassment – that Amrutha had been walking alone near Kaloor junction, one of the prominent junctions in Kochi city, at 1am on Thursday.
When she was stopped by the police, Amrutha had just left Pratheesh’s house, 20 minutes away from Kaloor, along with another friend Irshad.
While Irshad and Amrutha had both waited for a cab, she decided to walk it as she had to catch the 2.30am train to Vadakara. At Kaloor, Amrutha was stopped by two police men on a motorbike, who questioned her on where she was going and left. After a while, four more police men in a jeep accosted her.
“I had answered all their questions very clearly. But they asked for my father’s contact and my identity proof. Then I told them that it was moral policing, which made them angry. They then asked me where I was coming from and asked for Pratheesh’s contact. They called Pratheesh and he reached the spot in minutes. They began questioning him as well,” Amrutha said.
The 21-year-old is pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Literature at a college in Idukki. On her way to her home at Vadakara in Kozhikode, she had stopped by at Kochi to meet her friends.
Speaking to TNM, Amrutha said that while they were being questioned, two women police personnel also reached the spot, as did the first two police men on the motorbike.
“There were eight of them and they were keen that we should be subjected to a medical checkup. When we objected one of the policemen even used a slur against me. They kept on asking why I had gone to Pratheesh’s home, how many times I had been there and how many times I had slept with him,” Amrutha said.
Amrutha and Pratheesh were then taken to the General Hospital. “They wanted us to take a medical test, but since we vehemently disagreed, they could only check our blood pressure. Pratheesh was beaten brutally, and I tried to prevent it. His injuries are there on the hospital record. From the hospital we were taken to the Town Police station. He was housed at the Town police station and I was kept at the women’s police station adjacent to that,” Amrutha said.
Amrutha and Pratheesh were not allowed to meet each other during the whole time they were kept in the station. Amrutha said she was ridiculed when she asked to meet Pratheesh. “I was afraid that they would beat Pratheesh again. They contacted my house through the Vadakara police station. The woman Sub Inspector claimed that she used to work in Vadakara and hence has contacts there. The next day, by noon, my parents and uncle reached the police station,” she said.
After she returned to Vadakara with her parents, Amrutha said, she has not been allowed to step out of the house. “It’s like I am trapped here. My parents are ordinary people. What they believe is that I have done something wrong. Society doesn’t like a woman travelling alone at night. I will file a case under the SC/ST Atrocities Act for the slur, and the mental harassment I was subjected to. The police even took my personal diary and gave it to my father. He was reading it on the train as we were traveling to Vadakara,” she said.
The police, however, denied the allegations. Town police Sub Inspector Vipin Das said that what his colleagues did was normal beat patrolling and not moral policing. “The woman was seen alone at night in an unsafe location. The police personnel had told her that they can drop her at a bus stand or railway station, but she declined the offer. Then they called Pratheesh to ask him to accompany her. He was drunk. The police could not leave a 21-year-old woman alone at night fearing for her safety. She was taken to the police station and sent with her parents,” he said.
When asked why her parents were called, the SI said that it was their social responsibility.
Pratheesh said that this was most shameful and stressful day in his life. “At one point the police even threatened that they would kill me. I said if I was killed that would be the end of their career. I questioned them on what charges they would use even if we had sex. This angered them. Amrutha is a bold woman who is used to travelling inside and outside the state. After the Kochi metro became operational, there are street lights on all the roads. The threat she faced was from the police only,” he said.
He has been admitted to the General Hospital at present.
Pratheesh said that he was beaten on the face and chest and locked with a handcuff. “What crime did I commit? At the police station, I was made to remove my clothes and sit with only my inner wear. The visual from the CCTV is projected on a screen kept outside, and they taunted me saying everyone could see me. It was torture and mental harassment that lasted for more than a day. I was not drunk, I clearly remember whatever I had said,” he said.
He also alleged that police also took possession of his mobile phone and changed its settings, because of which he had lost all his contacts and data. He claimed that this was in retaliation to him attempting to go live on Facebook regarding the harassment.
Last year, a Kerala couple had streamed an incident of moral policing by police officers live on Facebook. Pratheesh said that he intends to file a complaint with the State Human Rights Commission, and approach the court.