The High Court has ordered for a CBCID enquiry into the case of the arrest of the 5 human rights defenders.
View the copy of the order here
Five human rights defenders of Dalit Foundation, three of whom were women, were arrested on the 15th of August, 2010 on false charges of impersonation among others. They were on a field visit as part of a human rights monitoring training in which the lead trainer was Henri Tiphagne, Executive Director of People’s Watch who has also been referred to as ‘the absconding accused’ in the FIR.
From 11-20 August 2010, People’s Watch organized a training session on Dalit Human Rights Monitoring in association with the Dalit Foundation in Nagamalai Puthukottai, near Madurai in
Tamil Nadu, with 61 participants from around the country. The training included 2 days of fieldwork experience in fact-finding. Mr. Gnana Diraviam, Mr. Anandan, Ms. Bharathi Pillai, Ms. Niharga Priya and Ms. Sudha made up one of 13 monitoring teams taking part in the training. On 15 August 2010, at approximately 6.30 pm, as part of their fieldwork exercise, the group went to Veeravanallur Police Station, in Tirunelveli District of Tamil Nadu, on the basis of information received about a Dalit youth who had allegedly been tortured by police officials at the station.
Intending to gather information in relation to the case, the group met with a Sub Inspector, Ms P. Roswin Savimo, and an Inspector of Police, Mr T. Murugesan. The group explained their participation in the training programme, requested permission to be provided with documents relating to the case and showed Mr Murugesan their training manual which included details on the Dalit Foundation and People’s Watch. Mr Murugesan questioned the human rights defenders and kept them in an office in the police station for some time.
At approximately 9.30 pm Mr Ramu, the Deputy Superintendent of Police of Ambasamudram, an adjacent district, arrived, after which the group was moved to another room which was guarded by three constables. When the three women human rights defenders requested to leave, offering to come back the next day, Mr Ramu told them that they had to stay since they had to be questioned thoroughly. Gnana Diraviam then used his mobile phone to call Mr Pandian, a Program Assistant from the training program, at which point Mr Murugesan confiscated the group’s mobile phones.
The group was held at the police station until 11.00pm, during which time each individual was taken separately to have their identification details recorded. The five human rights defenders were then charged using the Indian Penal Code under Section 170 (impersonating a public servant), Section 353 (assault or criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty), Section 416 (cheating by impersonation) and Section 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation). None in the group were informed at that time that they were being arrested or told the details of the charges against them.
While this was taking place, Mr Pandian, Mr Henri Tiphagne, and other staff of the Tamil Nadu Unit of People’s Watch were attempting to contact the Veeravanallur Police Station and the police officials concerned, but their calls were either ignored or cut off. Later that evening another member of People’s Watch, Mr Chithirai Selvan, went to the police station to try and meet the group, but was not allowed to do so. Instead he was made to sign some papers by the police without being told what they were before being asked to leave the station immediately. Shortly afterwards the Regional Human Rights Coordinator of People’s Watch, Mr S. Ganesan, went to the police station and was told that the group had been taken to the house of the Judicial Magistrate in the nearby town of Cheranmahadevi in order to be remanded into judicial custody. They appeared before the Judicial Magistrate in his home at 11.45pm, when they learned about the charges being filed against them and were told that the complainant in the case against them was the Sub Inspector of the Police, Ms P. Roswin Savimo, who was present at the hearing.
The group was then taken to hospital for medical examination. At approximately 2.00am, the three women human rights defenders were transferred to Kokarakulam Women’s Sub Jail in the city of Tirunelveli. The two male human rights defenders were taken to Ambasamudram Sub Jail. In the case remand report Henri Tiphagne, who is also a member of the National Human Rights Commission’s National Core Group of NGOs, is referred to as ‘the absconding accused’ despite the fact that to date no charges have been brought against him, nor was he present at the police station at the time of the arrests.
The bail petition in respect of the 5 dalit activists was heard on 19 August 2010 in the Cheranmadevi Judicial Magistrate’s Court where a lot of documents like the registrations forms of the training program; the attendance sheets of the training programs; the schedule of the fact findings that all the 13 teams had been deputed to; another sheet showing where all the fact findings teams had gone and whom all they had met in terms of officials including photographs of collectors and other police officers that the other teams had met during their fact finding missions; the detailed program schedule and documents of Dalit Foundation and PW such as FCRA, registration deeds, income tax exemption documents , 80 G exemption documents, 35 A in the case of Dalit Foundation etc were produced. The Judicial Magistrate then left saying that the orders would be passed after lunch. After lunch a volley of senior police officials from the Police Station descended on the Court of the Judicial Magistrate, worried with the arguments that had been put forth and almost sure that they needed to put more pressure on the Court.
Then in the evening the bail was ordered with the following conditions:
- that the accused should sign a personal bond for Rs 25,000;
- that the accused should produce sureties signed by the Tehsildar (Taluk level Revenue Administrator);
- that the accused should sign twice daily before the Veeravanallur PS. in the morning at 10 AM and in the evening at 5 PM;
People’s Watch planned to get the sureties signed by the Tehsildar on 20th August 2010 since there are two accused from Karnataka. It was not possible to get the sureties signed since the clerk who was to provide the first entry for such certificates in the office of the Tehsildar was on leave and had left with the keys of his cupboard with him!!!
On the same day i.e. 20 August 2010, The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court took up for hearing in Crl.O.P. 9606 / 2010, the anticipatory bail that had been filed for Mr. Henri Tiphagne on the 18th August 2010. The police did not provide the Public Prosecutor any response and hence the court posted the same for hearing on 24th with the observation that the police should not disturb Henri Tiphagne in the meantime.
During that weekend Mr. Henri Tiphagne received by post in his office in Madurai a notice issued by the Inspector of Police of Veeravanallur to appear before the Investigation Officer at the Veeravanallur PS on 23rd August at 10 AM to provide details of the case known to him. Mr. Henri Tiphagne also addressed a press meet in Tirunelveli telling the press what exactly had happened in Veeravanallur PS on 15th August 2010 and this was well covered in the local language media. (See the Media Coverage section of this blog)
Six sureties were got ready and produced on 23rd August 2010 but only four of the sureties were accepted by the court – 2 for Bharathi Pillai and one each for the two (Priya and Sudha).
Mr. Henri Tiphagne appeared as requested before the Inspector of Police. The Inspector of police was not there till 10.30 AM and instead it was the DSP Mr. Ramu who had been there at the time of arrest who was there and was getting ready to examine him. When the Inspector finally arrived, both the Inspector and the DSP left the police station leaving Henri Tiphagne in the room trying to contact someone on their mobiles separately for almost 15 minutes and then returned. The entire proceedings were also being videographed by someone who had a press ID card stating that he was a reporter with the Dinakaran news paper but he was never stopped by the DSP or the Inspector who were formally investigating Mr. Henri Tiphagne. He then provided a written statement with documents of 79 pages, received an acknowledgement from the Inspector and then left the PS.
Mr. Henri Tiphagne then left with Mr. Santosh Samal the Executive Director of Dalit Foundation, Ms. Cynthia Tiphagne and Mr. Satish of People’s Watch to meet the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Mr. Shanmuga Rajeswaran IPS and presented to him a copy of the representation that was handed over earlier to the Inspector of Police at the Veeravanallur PS. he provided a very patient hearing and assured that he would look into the possibility of transferring the investigation in this case. The Human Rights Defenders’ Forum of Tamilnadu had convened a planning meeting at the SOCO Trust, Madurai and this meeting decided that a state level demonstration will be organized in Tirunelveli on the 30th Aug 2010.
On the 24th of August 2010, the remaining sureties were produced in the Court of the Judicial Magistrate in the morning at 10.30 AM and in the middle of the afternoon session at 3 PM and then after accepting the sureties, the JM signed the bond only at 5 PM as a result of which the bail bonds could only be taken to the Sub Jail for women that day in Kokarakulam in Tirunelveli (45 minutes by car) whereas the two male members who were originally in the Ambasamudram sub jail were transferred to the Central Jail in Palayamkottai where bail bonds received after 5 PM are not released the same day.
On the same day the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court had taken up for hearing in Crl. O.P. 9606 / 2010 the anticipatory bail that had been filed for Henri Tiphagne that was heard on the 20th and posted it for the 24th. The court granted the anticipatory bail with the condition that Tiphagne appears before the police whenever he is required to do so by the police.
On the 25th of August 2010 the two male HRDs were released early in the morning from the Central Jail, Palayamkottai. Thereafter the 5 accused who were on bail travelled to the Court of the JM in Cheranmadevi to get the intimation from the JM Court to the Police station where the accused had been directed to sign twice a day.
The accused then signed both in the morning and in the evening at the PS. A petition was also filed of relaxation of the condition imposed by the JM in this case. The JM then posted this for hearing with notice to the Police to be heard on the 30th Aug 2010.
The 5 accused and Henri Tiphagne have filed two writ petitions before the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court – one to quash the FIR filed by the police which does not contain any of the ingredients of the sections of the Indian Penal Code under which the FIR was filed; and the second a writ petition to transfer the investigation to an independent police unit other than the local district police.
Mr. Henri Tiphagne was informed telephonically by the National Human Rights Commission’s focal point Mr. AK Parashar that the NHRC had taken on file the various complaints received in this matter with the first one being the one from Mr. Miloon Kothari and ordered notice to the Director General of Police of Tamilnadu and in addition an investigation by the Investigation team of the NHRC.
A team of two officials from the NHRC’s Investigation team, Mr. Sachin (DSP) and Mr. Ravi Singh (Inspector of Police) arrived in Tirunelveli on the 29th of August, 2010. Mr. Ravi Singh also briefly visited the offices of PW in Madurai on his way to Tirunelveli from Chennai.
On the 30th of August 2010, a team of three persons, from Dalit Foundation and People’s Watch, comprising Mr. Pandian (one of the three training co-ordinators at the Dalit Human Rights Monitoring training of Dalit Foundation recently) Mr. G. Ganesan, State Coordinator, Human Rights Monitoring at People’s Watch, Ms. Cynthia Tiphagne, Secretary to the Executive Director of People’s Watch provided them assistance by providing various documents in their custody and also made available the 5 accused persons to depose before them. Depositions were also made by the three-member team, lawyers and other witnesses on what had actually taken place. The team stayed on till the 1st of September in Tirunelveli. The NHRC investigation team also met the police officers and their witnesses in the Veeravanallur PS.