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India: Police must enforce rule of law and curb hooligans

Plea from a film maker

by Rakesh Sharma, 2 February 2009

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From: Rakesh Sharma at yahoo.com>
Date: 2009/2/2

For information and circulation.

To send any protest letter, or to raise the demand for a probe into the dubious role of the police and their possible complicity re. destruction of footage, write to the Maharashtra Chief Minister (chiefminister at maharashtra.gov.in, ashokchavanmind at rediffmail.com) and the Police Commissioner (Fax : 022- 22621835)

From: Rakesh Sharma
- Date: Mon, Feb 2, 2009 at 2:57 PM
- Subject: Letter 3: Destruction of footage: crew statements and FIR
- To: dcpzone4 at mtnl.net.in
- Cc: Indian Documentary Producers Association

February 2, 2009
- Fax CP 022—22621835

Hasan Ghafoor, IPS

The Commissioner of Police, Mumbai

Sub: Destruction of footage - FIR and crew statements

Dear Sir,

At the very outset, I and my team would like to thank you for the prompt response to our second complaint letter of January 31 – yesterday, on Sunday, a copy of the FIR registered by the local police station was delivered to my office. While we await your response to various issues raised in the two complaint letters, we would like to bring to your attention the following:

1. The FIR is not based on either of our complaint letters to you, but on the basis of an email by one Aishwarya Rai, who has no connection with us. We have furnished various details in our complaint letters that find no mention in the FIR. We would like these letters to be treated as our formal complaints/ statements to the police and as the basis of the FIR.

2. While my crew was being questioned in the wireless van, I personally spoke to the PSI on a crew member’s cellphone, furnished details, questioned his idea of taking my crew to the Wadala TT police station for further interrogation and demanded their immediate release. He told me he’ll have to take instructions from PI Chavan, who later released the crew, but refused to return the footage tape. We have earlier put on record the details of our interaction with him and await your formal response.

3. The FIR copy was accompanied by a letter requesting my crew to present themselves at Wadala TT police station. I and my crew will readily make ourselves available for any statements or details that the Mumbai Police may require further to our written complaints to you. We have been asked to present ourselves to PI Chavan for recording our statements, the very officer whose role maybe probed by you. Further, the crew, especially the young husband-wife duo Richa and Rrivu, both trained recently at FTII, are understandably shaken up and have little confidence in meeting the very same policemen who seemed to pander to the mob and its leaders, while questioning the couple, confiscating their footage.May we request you to direct a senior officer, no less than the rank of a DCP, to record all our statements.

4. Most importantly, to us, they key issue is the destruction of our footage, a direct attack on our right to free speech, our right to information and our right to livelihood (to be able to work safely). The mob’s main objective was destruction of the footage as it contained some interviewee’s remarks they found objectionable. They succeeded in their objective, whether through police negligence or complicity or otherwise. After seeing the FIR, we would like to emphasise that to us, the main violation concerns destruction of footage.

5. In this context, I’d also like to put on record that on Jan 30, I and my crew have received phonecalls from Sh Umesh Gaikwad of Bajrang Dal (from 9867389533), disclaiming responsibility for the destruction of footage, suggesting that it was done by another group. One Ram called from 9370364539, claiming to be the leader of the attackers, and while speaking to me, said – "Your people were lucky. And so are you as I wasn’t personally around at the end or else we’d have smashed your camera as well." There have been no phone calls since then.

6. The policemen on bandobast duty present at the spot prior to and during the incident, as well as personnel from the wireless van themselves are witnesses to the incident and in know of the perpetrators. The bandobast personnel witnessed the gathering of the mob as well its ringleaders. The wireless van policemen and PI Chavan recovered the footage tape from a Wankhede and his associates. My crew saw various policemen bring in 3-4 other people as well! The FIR makes no mention of anyone, identifies no one, but an anonymous crowd of 100-150 people.

7. All the people rounded up, including Wankhede, were let off soon after PI Chavan interacted with one of the senior politico-religious delegates and apparently a local corporator/ politician, both summoned by Wankhede and others in the mob for help. Is their pressure the reason why all were released and all the names have been omitted from the FIR recorded by PI Chavan?

8. To us, the circumstances of the destruction of footage aren’t clear, primarily due to misleading statements by PI Chavan to us, especially about the tape being safe in his personal custody. Did he lie to us at the time? Was the tape already damaged? If so, why did no one tell us till it was delivered to us in a damaged state? Why did he first tell us he will release the tape only after 7 days, and then offered later to do so in 2-3 days after the event was over? Was this to enable the perpetrators to continue participating in their event and disperse even before we gained access to the tape or learnt of its condition and filed police complaints?

We have already asked for you a serious probe into the role of the police personnel present on the spot and await a response.

We also expect Mumbai Police to send out a firm message to hooligans and goons, that we remain a democracy, not a mobocracy, that we continue to have a rule of law and a police force that enforces it. Incidents such as this send out a terrible signal – that mob rule prevails even if policemen are around, and that mobs can enforce their writ and merrily destroy footage if they don’t like any response or a statement!

Yours sincerely

Rakesh Sharma

cc: DCP Sanjay Baviskar

Indian Documentary Producers’ Association

Original Message
- From: Rakesh Sharma
- To: Indian Documentary Producers Association
- Sent: Saturday, January 31, 2009 9:56 PM
- Subject: Police returns damaged footage tape illegally confiscated after Bajrang Dal assault

From Rakesh Sharma at yahoo.com>

January 31, 2009

Fax : 022— 22621835

Hasan Ghafoor, IPS
- The Commissioner of Police, Mumbai

Sub: Confiscated footage returned in damaged condition

Dear Sir,

This is in continuation of our formal complaint to your office yesterday (copy enclosed). On the night of Jan 29/30, upon their release by the police, when my crew arrived in the safety of the office, they informed me that the following sequence of events took place concerning the tape inside the camera on which footage was being recorded:

1. The crew comprising Jogesh and the husband-wife duo Rrivu and Richa, arrived at the venue at 7 pm and upon identifying themselves as independent film-makers were welcomed by the organizers and escorted to the press enclosure, from where they filmed for 3-4 hours.

2. At about 11 pm, after the main programme was over and the speakers had dispersed, as is normal practice, my crew started filming some audience reaction at the venue ground itself.

3. While a sadhu delegate from Simla was speaking about what dharma means and expressed reservations about use of violence, some onlookers objected to his statements. Even as they clashed, another group surrounded my crew and asked them to immediately delete or erase the footage. Within minutes, they were surrounded by 100-150 people. The cameraman was attacked by the mob, manhandled, his clothes torn and the tape forcibly taken away.

4. Even as the assault was taking place, a police wireless van from Wadala TT police station arrived. The crew immediately told them about the tape just snatched by the mob.

5. Within 2-3 minutes, one of the policemen apprehended a man called Wankhede with the tape and took the tape in his physical custody. The tape was neither handed over to the crew, nor even shown to them.

6. In the meanwhile PI Chavan arrived on the spot, questioned the crew and allowed them to leave. However, when they asked for the tape, he refused to return it and asked them to come 7 days later to collect it.

7. The crew, understandably traumatized after the intimidating and violent assault by the mob, left immediately for the safety of the office.

After learning the facts from the crew, we called PI Chavan at approx 1:30 am the same night and asked him to immediately give the tape back to us. His response was: "cassette aamcha kade surakshit aahey, kalji karu naka…mi cassettela safe madhey thevlela ahey. Ha karyakram jhala nantar mi tape don-teen divasat parat karnar…Aamcha seniorla sangayla lagnar" (The tape is safe with me, do not worry, I have kept in the locker. After this programme is over in 2-3 days, it will be returned. I’ll have to consult my seniors). At no point were we informed by any of the policemen, either on the spot, or on the phone later that the tape had sustained any damage.

Following my conversation with DCP Sanjay Baviskar last evening, PI Chavan called to inform me that the tape was being immediately sent to me through PSI Shinde. Even at this stage, there was no mention of any damage to the tape.

PSI Shinde arrived in office at about 11 pm, with a damaged tape, with the tape actually torn and dangling out of the casing, rendering it unusable. I promptly called PI Chavan, who now claimed that the tape had been damaged by the mob. He further claimed that my crew member Richa was aware of the damage, who immediately denied this cover up in PSI Shinde’s presence. I then called DCP Baviskar to inform him of the damage. Since he appeared to have an inaccurate briefing of the incident, I apprised him of the sequence of events outlined above. I reiterated to him that the tape, once confiscated, was either in the possession of the mob or the police, and the responsibility for the damage lay with either or both. He gave me a formal assurance to investigate the matter.

I and my team find this entire episode very shocking and the dubious sequence of events forces us to ask some pointed questions:

1. Why did PI Chavan say to us that the tape was safe with him when less than 24 hours later, he returned it in a damaged condition?

2. Where, when and what were the precise circumstances that led to the tape being damaged after PI Chavan had secured it in his safe custody?

3. If the tape was already damaged upon receipt, as claimed now by PI Chavan, why did he not inform us and insist on keeping a damaged tape in his custody and refuse to return it to the crew? Why did he want to keep it for 7 days? Were any of his actions under pressure from the mob? Was the tape confiscated and the crew interrogated to appease the mob?

4. Most importantly, under what set of laws did PI Chavan confiscate the tape and keep it in his custody?

5. Did PI Chavan make a panchnama while seizing the footage tape? If yes, did the independent signatories on the panchnama see the damage and put it formally on record?

6. Why we were never informed by anyone at any stage about the damage?

7. If PI Chavan as per his claim recovered the tape in a damaged condition, then why did he not take immediate action on the spot, against the perpetrators? Why did he instead release immediately the people from whom the tape had been recovered? Was this done by him under some external pressure?

8. Have formal investigations been commenced and a case/ FIR registered by the police regarding the incident? If yes, may I request you for a copy?

A couple of years ago, I filed lawsuits against the New York Police Department and the New York city Mayor’s office for violating my Right to Free Speech by preventing me from shooting freely on the streets of New York city. These landmark lawsuits resulted in an out-of-court settlement in which, inter alia, the regulations were amended to enable documentary film-makers to film in New York without any harassment by NYPD or other agencies.

It is shocking and shameful that while I can film freely on the streets of New York city, I cannot do the same in my own city. It is even more disturbing to find that the police, instead of discharging their lawful function in this instance, seem to have pandered to the sentiments of the mob, thereby victimizing the victims further.

May I request you to investigate the matter thoroughly, especially the role of the police personnel present on the spot as well as their failure to book any of the perpetrators thus far and take appropriate action against those responsible for the footage tape’s destruction/damage.

The damage to my filmed material on the tape is extensive and irreplaceable. This act of mob violence and what appears to be police negligence, if not complicity, has caused me, my film and my crew, incalculable loss, agony, mental harassment and physical distress, for which any amount of compensation would be inadequate. The most disturbing aspect, however, is the damage to the footage tape when it was apparently safe in police custody. This is also a serious infringement of my right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in Article 19 (1)a of the Indian Constitution.

Incidents such as this raise serious questions about the ability of Mumbai Police to act in a fair, timely and non-partisan manner. We hope you will take serious note and take all necessary measures not just concerning this incident, but at an overall policy and training level as well, as this is by no means an isolated incident.

Yours sincerely

Rakesh Sharma

cc: DCP Sanjay Baviskar and Indian Documentary Producers’ Association

TEXT OF FIRST COMPLAINT MADE A DAY PRIOR