ASP Balveer Singh tortured minors: Victims tell TNM they were beaten, teeth grinded

The policemen tortured two underage boys for several hours, grated their teeth with stones and produced them before the Juvenile Justice Board in handcuffs.
IPS officer Balveer Singh
IPS officer Balveer Singh
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Pressure is mounting on the DMK-led government to act decisively against IPS officer Balveer Singh in the Tirunelveli custodial torture case, even as more shocking facts continue to emerge. After going to great lengths to find and speak to the survivors, who are still cowering in fear, TNM has found that two of them are still in their teens and are “children'' as per the Juvenile Justice Act that deals with children in conflict with the law. One of these minors belongs to an extremely marginalised Scheduled Caste community. The two minors were beaten with lathis and a big stone roller was grated against their teeth at the Ambasamudram police station before they were handcuffed and locked up in a cell in the neighbouring Vikramasingapuram police station. The only difference in the treatment between the adults and the children was that the police pulled out the teeth of the adults with pliers while sparing the underage detainees.

According to the tortured minor who spoke to TNM, they were first picked up by the Ambasamudram police in connection with a brawl that broke out on March 10. After nearly four hours of torture, the detainees including the minors were transferred to the Vikramasingapuram police station where they remained in the lock-up without first aid or an attendant until 8 pm. Later when they were produced before the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB), where, according to the victims, they were in handcuffs. The handcuffs were removed before they were produced before the board.

When TNM traced the family of one of the victims, 17-year-old Nagarjun (name changed), they were initially very reluctant to speak to this reporter and feared for their safety. They finally agreed to speak when we told them about the misinformation campaign against the victims and the efforts to project them as hardened criminals.

Nagarjun said that the beatings and abuse started from the instant they were apprehended and taken to Ambasamudram. He said, “The ASP sir (Balveer Singh) started beating us, he did not speak to us. The police used stones to grind our teeth and hammered us with batons,” he said.

The victim’s mother Muthulakshmi (name changed) told TNM that both her sons were arrested by the police and tortured in police custody. “The police smashed the teeth of my elder son Nedumaran (name changed) and beat up my younger son who is just 17 years old. Nedumaran’s clothes were stained all over with blood. The police asked us to bring new clothes and told us to get rid of the blood-stained clothes,” she said.

TNM also spoke to Geetha (name changed), the mother of another juvenile victim who was tortured at the Ambasamudram police station. “My son is not revealing any details of the torture even to us. He has an injury in his hand, one of his fingers is swollen,” she said.

For details of what happened to Geetha’s son, we spoke to the other child victim, Nagarjun, who confirmed that his 16-year-old friend, the son of a daily wage labourer, was also subjected to custodial torture at the Ambasamudram police station. “My friend was beaten up badly. The small finger one one hand broke because they used a lathi to hit him, he was also hit on his thighs with a lathi,” he said while also describing his own condition, “I am not able to bend my hand, they hit me here with a lathi.”


Recalling the events, Nagarjun said that neither the then ASP Balveer Singh nor the other officers who accompanied him wanted to know any details. There were no questions, no interrogation, the children said, it was just plain punishment. Once inside the Ambasamudram police station, all of them were taken straight to the last room inside the police station which had no CCTV camera.

No distinction was made between the adults and the minors even though the Juvenile Justice Act, Section 10(1) clearly says, “As soon as a child alleged to be in conflict with law is apprehended by the police, such child shall be placed under the charge of the special juvenile police unit or the designated child welfare police officer who shall produce the child before the Board without any loss of time but within a period of twenty-four-hours of apprehending…”

The law categorically mentions that children alleged to be in conflict with the law should not be placed in a police lock-up or lodged in a jail.

Nagarjun said, “When they were beating me with a lathi, I told them that I am a student and that I had come here only to accompany my elder brother back home. The officer did not understand because he knew only Hindi. He did not tell or ask me anything. The ASP sir kept beating me first and then it was the other officer, I don’t know if he is an inspector or sub inspector. The officer is from VK Puram police station, he first hit my hand, then on my thighs and legs."

Locked up in a cell

After the custodial torture at the Ambasamudram police station, the minors were moved to the VK Puram police station and locked up in a cell. “Four of us were lodged in a cell at the VK Puram police station. Then they took away my elder brother and his friend in a separate vehicle at around 8 pm. They took me and my friend to the member madam’s house (JJ board). The madam asked us some details and we told her,” Nagarjun said.

Speaking to TNM, Henri Tiphange, Executive Director of People’s Watch, wondered how an IPS officer brought juveniles to the police station and indulged in torture. “This is a crime under the Juvenile Justice Act, the gravity of the offence has multiplied. The family is from a Scheduled Caste background, too. The police will have to register an FIR under the Schedule Caste and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act,” he said.

Nagarjun's mother also told TNM that she was asked by the VK Puram police to book cabs to transport the children to be produced before the court and JJB member. “I booked two cars and spent Rs 3,500. I also had to pay a bribe to the police and took care of their lunch and dinner expenses,” she said.

The meeting with the survivors on April 3, who were tortured at the Ambasamudram police station on March 10, also revealed that they are under extreme pressure not to testify against the officer. The alleged protection being given to the officer from the establishment is significant considering human rights groups and the opposition are up in arms over the incident.

ASP Balveer Singh suspended

The entire case came to light when a video of three men from Ambasamudram surfaced on social media narrating their ordeal about how they were tortured by the then Assistant Superintendent of Police Balveer Singh in police custody. After carrying out a preliminary inquiry, Tamil Nadu Director General of Police Sylendra Babu ordered Balveer Singh’s transfer and placed him under vacancy reserve, but stopped short of formally suspending him. When public pressure grew on social media, the Tirunelveli District Collector ordered a Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) enquiry by the sub-collector of Cheranmahadevi as per the Police Standing Orders. Superintendent of Police P Saravanan was transferred on April 3 and has been placed under compulsory wait.

However, this action by the state government against the 2020 batch IPS officer did not cut ice with human rights activists and opposition parties. A special call to attention motion was moved by the opposition parties in the Tamil Nadu Assembly forcing Chief Minister MK Stalin to announce the officer’s suspension on the floor of the house. The Chief Minister also assured the Assembly that his government will not tolerate any acts of custodial violence.

While Stalin promised that action will be taken against the IPS officer after a detailed probe is concluded, there have been multiple direct and indirect attempts using lawyers and local leaders to pressurise the victims not to testify against Balveer Singh.

Threatened and intimidated

The victims also told us that they have been constantly receiving threatening calls and warned against speaking out. “After Netaji Subash Sena organisation came forward to help us in this case, we have been receiving calls from local leaders, unknown people, and those who never bothered to check on us when we were tortured. They call us and ask us to withdraw the complaint and tell us not to antagonise the police officers. They are asking us to tell the authorities that we fell down and broke our teeth, otherwise the police will book us in some other case. It's like a threat. They told my elder brother they are ready to give whatever compensation we want,” one of the victims of custodial torture Chellappa told TNM.

Thirty-year-old Chellapa, who runs a mutton shop, was picked up along with his brothers by the police after a group clash on March 10 and taken to the Ambasamudram police station. At the police station, the then ASP Balveer Singh allegedly unleashed violence against them. Chellappa lost three teeth during the custodial torture. “Totally, nine people were detained by the police, including three from the group which was against us. They took us in an autorickshaw to the police stations. ASP Balveer Singh did not ask us anything. He was in uniform while detaining us, later he came to the police station in tracks and t-shirt and he was wearing white gloves. He used a stone like this to smash our teeth, he kept continuously hitting at my teeth. We were not allowed to speak, they forcefully put that stone into my mouth and slapped me. They did not listen, I was profusely bleeding.” Chellappa said.

Speaking to TNM, Chellapa’s brother Mariappan said that he was beaten up in custody using a lathi and his teeth were smashed using a stone. “Two other police officers held me and ASP Balveer Singh tortured me, smashing my teeth and beating me. I pleaded with him to let me go but he did not listen to us,” he added.

Another victim Anthony, who lost one teeth during the alleged custodial torture, said that his body was shivering while undergoing torture. “We were literally scared for our lives. We had no hope that we would walk out of the police station alive. We were beaten up very badly. There were a lot of police officers inside the room but none came for our rescue,” he said.

While this incident became the trigger for public outrage, it was not the only one. At Vikramasingapuram, a few kilometers from Ambasamudram, an auto driver, Vedha Narayanan, was picked up by the police on March 23 over a domestic dispute and also subjected to alleged custodial torture. He was taken to the first floor of the Vikramasingapuram police station and his teeth were allegedly uprooted by the then ASP Balveer Singh using a cutting plier and his ear was also pierced. After Vedha Narayanan decided to lodge a complaint against Balveer Singh, he was approached by two police personnel attached to the Vikramasingapuram and Kallidaikurichi police stations who tried to force him to sign on a blank paper.

Speaking to TNM, Vedha Narayanan said that the police personnel – Boghan and Rajkumar – asked him for a meeting. When he met them, the duo asked him to sign on a blank paper. “I refused to sign and I have decided to fight my case,” Narayanan added.

Watch: Tirunelveli custodial torture: Juvenile victim speaks to TNM | Balveer Singh IPS | MK Stalin

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