Singh, the subject of a viral video where he’s thrashed by cops in Mukherjee Nagar, has since gone off the radar
Sarabjeet Singh’s house is locked. It’s been four days since a video of him and his minor son being thrashed by police officers went viral, and his friends and neighbours in Gandhi Vihar, Delhi, are tight-lipped about his present whereabouts. A neighbour suggests that they’re at the local gurudwara in Rakab Ganj, while the Rakab Ganj gurudwara’s junior vice-president, Kulwant Singh Bath, tells Newslaundry noncommittally: “He might be at his home, we don’t have him here.”
Singh, who drives a tempo van, was caught in the eye of a storm when several videos on June 16 were posted on social media, showing what looked like a heated argument between Singh and a police officer outside the Mukherjee Nagar police station. Singh brandished his kirpan (a dagger customarily carried by Sikhs). The police officer went inside the police station and returned with a group of officers. An officer in civil clothing restrained Singh. Singh’s 15-year-old son was caught in the scuffle and he and his father were thrashed with lathis.
In the heated aftermath of the incident, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to the Delhi police and the Ministry of Home Affairs over the alleged assault of Singh and his son. On June 19, the bench said: “[The] Delhi police has many fine officers, if there are some who can’t control themselves, action needs to be taken against them. Those who assaulted the father are separate but identify the ones who assaulted the child. If uniform force is acting in this manner, it would scare citizens.”
The Delhi police suspended three officers. Cross cases have been filed in connection with the incident, including one against Singh on charge of assault using weapons, based on the statement of the policeman who suffered injuries while on duty. Singh’s son is also named in the FIR. An FIR has been filed against the policemen involved and the case has been transferred to the Crime Branch.
The PRO of Delhi police, Madhu Verma, said: “On the basis of … preliminary findings, three police personnel, including two assistant sub-inspectors, were already placed under suspension for their unprofessional conduct in handling the situation.”
The incident got a political shot in the arm with Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MLA from Rajouri Garden Manjinder Singh Sirsa protesting outside the Mukherjee Nagar police station on June 16, saying the policemen should be fired “as they insulted the man by attacking his turban”. Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal demanded a probe while condemning “police brutality”.
But what exactly happened on June 16? Newslaundry tried to find out.
What Singh’s family and supporters say
Sarabjeet Singh’s house is on the ground floor of a building in one of the narrow lanes of Gandhi Vihar. Comprising a small, congested room and a kitchen, it’s where Singh lives with his minor son and father Manjeet Singh. His wife doesn’t live with them; according to Singh’s father, they never got along and have filed for divorce.
When Newslaundry visited on June 17, less than 24 hours after the events of the video unfolded, Sarabjeet Singh and his son weren’t home. Neighbours stated they were at the Rakab Ganj gurudwara to meet MLA Manjinder Singh Sirsa. Manjeet Singh sat outside the house, surrounded by a cluster of neighbours and well-wishers, all urging him to fight for justice. The group included representatives from the Shiromani Akali Dal Sarana, the faction of the SAD which takes care of gurudwaras. They told Manjeet variations of the same thing before taking photographs with him.
Hours before, Arvind Kejriwal had paid the house a visit to “inquire about the health status of the victims and saying he will look into the matter,” Manjeet said.
Manjeet’s face was grim. According to him, his son and grandson had been driving Sarabjeet Singh’s Gramin Seva van on June 16 when they stopped to pick up a passenger. A police jeep came from behind and asked Sarabjeet to move his van as they couldn’t move ahead. They started hurling abuses at him. My grandson apologised and started moving the vehicle. The police officer was so cruel that he just went inside the station and came running outside with more people and started abusing and shouting [them].”
Manjeet said Singh knew he was going to get beaten up, and that’s when he took out his kirpan. “Anyone would do it for self-defence. An officer in civil clothes held him. And then they started beating him badly.” He asked why his son and grandson were beaten up if they could have been taken into custody. “Their medical examination was only done after they made a lot of noise. The police did some formalities in the name of medical facilities.”
There are many versions of this story, many of which state that Singh’s display of his kirpan is what triggered the assault by the police. Other reports state the minor son had driven the vehicle towards the police to try and stop them from assaulting his father.
The SAD Sarana, which organised a protest outside Mukherjee Nagar police station on June 17, was particularly upset that several media reports referred to the kirpan as a “sword”. Its vice-president, Gurubind Singh Mintu, told Newslaundry: “The Constitution has given us the right to carry it. But has it given them, the police, the right to beat us inhumanly? They could have arrested him and taken further action, but instead, they beat them up cruelly.” Showing his own kirpan, he said it’s used “whenever there is injustice or as a form of self-defence”.
Gurubind also blamed the police for giving the incident “communal colour”, by focusing on the kirpan. “It is a strategy by the police so that the focus is shifted from them. It is very clear that the policemen involved in this need to be dismissed for their actions. I request our prime minister not to doubt our loyalty towards the country, as no one is more patriotic than us. When we organise langar, we don’t discriminate between communities. Then why are we dragged in the name of religion.”
One of Singh’s neighbours claimed the issue was over the policeman asking for a lift and then for a bribe—a story that’s roundly shot down by Manjeet Singh. The neighbour added that Singh used the kirpan in self-defence: “Thoda ahem bhi tha ussmein (a bit of ego was also there in him). That doesn’t give them the right to thrash someone so badly. To beat up a 15-year-old kid is inhuman.”
Newslaundry briefly spoke to Sarabjeet Singh on June 17, but he was exhausted and reluctant to speak. “I apologise for being unable to talk to you, but mine and my son’s health conditions are not good and we require rest now,” Singh had said.
Manjeet Singh has been unreachable after his June 17 meeting with Newslaundry.
The police version
A day after the incident, the atmosphere outside Mukherjee Nagar police station was tense. The streets were patrolled by reserved police forces anticipating violence and a large group of people were congregated outside the police station.
On June 19, the street is quieter.
Three police officers have been suspended so far: Assistant Sub-Inspector Devender, Assistant Sub-Inspector Sanjay Malik and Constable Pushpender. They’re the three officers visible in the video using their lathis against Sarabjeet Singh and his son.
Yogendra Sharma, the policeman in civil clothes seen in the videos, was allegedly injured by Singh’s kirpan when he was trying to restrain him. Sharma tells Newslaundry he’s been undergoing treatment for this injury at Jagjivan Ram hospital.
Sharma says: “Some issue occurred outside the station between ASI Devender and Singh. Devender told me Singh’s van hit our jeep. Devender asked Singh how he could be so careless when it [the police jeep] is a government vehicle. Singh stopped his vehicle and they argued. Devender then came into the police station and said there is a Sardarji running behind me with a sword.”
Sharma says two or three policemen, him included, then went outside and Singh “swayed his sword” at all of them. “I nabbed him … His son started hitting me. I took some of the blows from lathis as I was on the top. My grip loosened, and he became more violent. He tried attacking my legs. He would have killed me. I constantly tried to control him, and this time he attacked my head.”
Sharma claims the police could not have brought the situation under control without resorting to violence. “They didn’t have the courage to come near him [Singh] without lathis as he had become very violent and had a weapon.”
Indian Express reports that according to an inquiry
by the Joint Commissioner of Police (Northern Range), “eight policemen, who clashed with a sword-wielding tempo driver Sunday, are constables who were recruited into Delhi Police just three months ago, and started beating the driver with lathis after one of the Assistant Sub-Inspectors, who has now been suspended, asked them to.” The home ministry has now sought a report about the incident.
Singh’s Gramin Seva van was impounded by the police and is currently parked outside the police station. A few policemen sit around it, chatting. A constable, on condition of anonymity, told Newslaundry both parties are at fault. “Yeh log bhi mamla sulta sakte the (the police officials could have just handled the situation). Their ego was hurt as he pulled out his kirpan. Even the sardarji was ill-tempered and didn’t know how to talk. His son was not supposed to be beaten up, that was wrong. But imagine if someone is trying to hit you with a vehicle. The situation was mishandled.”
Newslaundry was unable to access copies of the FIRs filed with respect to the incident.
‘The police mishandled the situation’
More than one video has been shot of the incident that played out outside the Mukherjee Nagar police station, but it’s hard to make out whether Singh’s van did indeed hit the police vehicle or whether the fight happened first.
One of the videos is clearly shot from above, possibly from the terrace of one of the surrounding buildings.
A student who is preparing for his UPSC exams tells Newslaundry he shot the video from the terrace of his PG accommodation. The student says, “I don’t want to disclose my name as I can’t risk my career. What if they decide to harass me after knowing I took the video?”
According to the student, the trigger was when the Gramin Seva vehicle came in the way of the police vehicle. “The police mishandled the situation, they beat them very badly. A situation that could have been solved by talking—the police made it worse. The son could not bear to see his father being beaten up and drove the vehicle towards the officers.”
The student did not upload the video to social media, he says. Instead, he claims two or three Sikh friends asked him for the videos as they saw him shooting from the terrace of his building. He gave them the video, and it subsequently went viral. He states he then deleted the video from his phone, and did not independently upload it himself.
A witness to what happened outside the police station is Dilshad, a carpenter who works near the police station. He says he doesn’t know “how exactly” the fight began, but the police beat up Singh very badly. “A police officer also got injured as [Singh’s] dagger hit his head. The son was beaten up after he tried hitting them with the van his father was driving.”
A witness who owns a shop near the police station says the fault lies completely with the police. “How safe am I if 15-20 policemen can’t handle one person with a dagger? The fault was completely on the side of the police. They always park their vehicles in the middle of the road. The Gramin Seva van brushed against the jeep and the policeman started abusing him [Singh]. The fight escalated. Though he took out his dagger, the first blow of lathis came from police officials.”
Meanwhile, Singh and his son are laying low. Neighbours state the minor son is so petrified that the sight of a Delhi government logo on a media person’s camera made him fearful and suspicious of the person holding it. Reports have also emerged on Singh’s criminal record: an FIR was lodged against him in April 2019 on charges of “causing hurt, wrongful restraint and criminal intimidation”, his wife complaint of abuse in 2006 but no FIR was filed, and he was detained under the Criminal Procedure Code in 2011 for “creating a ruckus”.