• September 30, 2020 3:01 pm

Reporting From Delhi

Trial by taunts

ByANUSUYA

Nov 1, 2019

Sarvjeet Singh was declared a pervert based on Jasleen Kaur’s testimony. Four years later, the court acquitted him

In August 2015, a Facebook post by Jasleen Kaur, a student in Delhi, went viral. She alleged that a man, later identified as Sarvjeet Singh, “made obscene comments” to her at a traffic signal in Tilak Nagar. In the media trial that followed, Singh was called a “pervert” by multiple TV news channels. While Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal cong-ratulated Kaur for her “bravery”, Singh was arrested and booked by the Delhi police.

Four years later, Singh was acquitted of all charges, with a Delhi court saying the “testimony of the complainant is not trustworthy and casts doubt on the case of the prosecution”.

It’s been a long, hard road for Singh. He says he was fired from his job as a supervising manager at an offset printing company because of Kaur’s post. He has struggled to find full-time employment since given his criminal record and his need to take leave to appear for court hearings.

The media, on the other hand, faces no consequences.

Media trial

Kaur was a student of St Stephen’s College, Delhi, when she posted about her alleged interaction with Singh on August 22, 2015. She lodged an FIR the same day. The chargesheet was filed six months later and the first court hearing took place in March 2016.

In that period, several TV news channels broadcast primetime debates where Singh was called all manner of names and declared a criminal without trial. Singh, however, singles out Times Now as the channel that damaged his life the most.

On Times Now, Arnab Goswami — who has since established Republic TV — held a primetime debate where he called Singh a “pervert” multiple times. Kaur was a guest on the show. Goswami said, “I believe had Jasleen not put it up on Facebook, had the media not put it up, the police would have done nothing.”

Goswami then called Singh a “potential rapist”. “The greatest coward is a person who sits on a motorcycle and thinks they can abuse a woman and can get away with it. This person is a potential rapist.”

Another Times Now reporter, Pooja Shali, who now works at India Today, interviewed Singh on camera. She repeatedly asked him to apologise to Kaur, saying, “Don’t you feel ashamed of what you have done?” Singh replied, “No, I don’t feel ashamed because I haven’t done anything.”

On India TV, a debate on Singh anchored by Meenakshi Joshi was titled, “Manchala chedta raha bhid dekti rahi”. Roughly translated, it goes, “He kept teasing and the world kept watching.”

On ABP News, anchor Sumaira Khan, while expressing her admiration for Kaur, declared, “The man who eve-teased you is behind bars.” Singh has never been jailed in this matter.

NewsX called Singh a pervert as well during an “exclusive interview” with Kaur. The show used the photograph Kaur had taken of Singh at the traffic signal, marking his face with text that read “Delhi Pervert”.

On the same show Swati Maliwal, the Delhi Commission for Women chief said, “I believe that it must have been very intimidating, especially when he said ‘Tum complain karke dikhao – I dare you to complain – then I will look at you and make sure that you suffer.” It appeared the anchors and the guest had already found Singh guilty.

In 2016, the News Broadcasting Standards Authority fined Times Now Rs 50,000 and asked it to broadcast an on-air apology for interviewing Singh in an “aggressive, intimidating and browbeating style”, and telecasting the interview “with taglines treating the accused as guilty”. The channel did not apologise.

Newslaundry contacted Pooja Shaili, the reporter who interviewed Singh on Times Now. Shaili said she could not comment as she no longer worked with Times Now and she would need the permission of her boss at India Today to speak.

Singh, meanwhile, says no other reporter had “forced him to apologise” the way Shaili did. “She was supposed to do a live interview with me but if you look at the interview, it appears as if she was interviewing herself.”

Interestingly, in September 2018, The Print reported that a former Times Now employee had contacted the news website to “apologise…for playing a part in [Singh’s] character assassination”.

Newslaundry tried contacting Goswami, but could not reach him on his listed phone number. We texted him a request for comment as well. This article will be updated if a response is received.

Singh’s story

Newslaundry spoke to Singh to get his version of how the events unfolded.

On August 21, 2015, Singh says he went to a shop in Tilak Nagar to get a pair of spectacles made. He was due to get them the following day. On August 22, he set off from his house to Tilak Nagar, travelling through Subhash Nagar where he encountered heavy traffic. Singh says he took the flyover to circumvent the traffic. When he got off the flyover, he stopped at a traffic signal, where his encounter with Kaur took place.

“I reached the signal and it turned red. Jasleen came in front of my bike,” Singh recalls. “I quickly applied the brake. She said to me, ‘Can’t you see the signal is red?’ I told her, “Ma’am, I know there is a red signal but I have to turn left and there is no signal [for turning], so you can go wherever you want to go’.”

Singh says this led to an argument that soon escalated. Enraged, he told Kaur, “Tujhe jaha jana hai tu chali jaa.” Go wherever you want to go.

Kaur took out her phone and clicked pictures of him, Singh says. “I wondered why she was clicking my pictures. After that, she called two of her friends. I asked them why she was taking my photo. They assured me that she would delete the pictures from her phone, and I went away.”

When Singh got home, he told his mother what had happened, and she “scolded” him. At 11.45 pm, his aunt telephoned his mother, who gave Singh the phone. His aunt’s first words to him were, “Tu ladkiyo ko chedta hai?” You harass women?

Singh says his mother tried to explain what had happened, but his aunt thought his mother was “shielding” him. The aunt sent Singh a link to Kaur’s Facebook post. Singh commented on the post with his version of what had happened, but the post soon went viral.

In the morning, Singh went to Tilak Nagar police station with his parents and uncle. Kaur had lodged an FIR the night before. “A lot of people from the media” were outside the police station, he recalls. That afternoon, the police came to his house to arrest him.

“They took me to the police station. I refused to go with them and went on my bike. My uncle and father went to arrange for my bail,” he says. “At the police station, they gave me a face mask and told me to wear it. They said I have to go outside the police station wearing the mask, where the media is waiting.”

Singh says he found it “humiliating” but the station house officer insisted he comply.

Meanwhile, a man who had witnessed Singh’s exchange with Kaur came to the police station to offer his testimony and became a witness.

Singh says he never interacted with Kaur on a personal level after August 22, 2015. In September 2015, the station house officer summoned Singh to the police station to meet Kaur’s parents. “They had come to withdraw the complaint,” Singh says. “But Jasleen did not want to cancel the case. The SHO told me when I reached the police station, so I went back home.”

Kaur did not attend most of the court hearings as she went to Canada for her studies. The Print reports that Kaur missed 14 hearings before finally appearing in December 2018, when she recorded her statement. Singh claims she was issued three summons and the court would have closed the case if she had not appeared.

Singh was fired from his job in August 2015, a day after the Facebook post was published. In 2016, he found a job with a marriage bureau but was asked to leave since he had to take leave for his court hearings.

Singh says he then attended a job interview in Noida, where he was asked in detail about the incident with Kaur. At the end of the interview, he was offered a salary of Rs 8,000. “I told them my bike’s fuel costs me Rs 6,000 a month, and did not take the job.”

In the past few years, Singh says he covered his face while travelling in public. “I would use a piece of cloth to cover my face and began wearing big goggles to conceal my identity,” he says. “People used to stare at me, which made me uncomfortable. Once, I was on the Delhi metro and a few boys recognised me. They said, ‘This is the same boy who molested a girl in Tilak Nagar’. I had to change my seat. I was tired of answering to people.”

Singh’s father Dilip Singh suffered a heart attack in 2015 and he blames the stress of the entire affair. He says the media needs to handle cases such as his “very carefully”.

“I think the media should not involve itself in such cases. Because in the initial stage, whatever the media says people tend to believe,” he explains. “Due to cases like mine, people might stop believing in the real ones.”

On her part, Kaur told ThePrint last year that she did not want to “stretch this”. “I started this fight for a reason and I am not going to shy away from it. I will come and give my statement in the court,” she added. Kaur denied getting summons from the court even though the same article carried a copy of a court notice summoning her.

Newslaundry could not contact Kaur or her lawyer despite repeated attempts.

www.newslaundry.com