Silchar doctor versus Police: What’s wrong with GP Singh's apology and how it fuels 'trial by media'
May 23, 2021, the day started by reading a set of tweets by Special DGP, GP Singh. “In an early morning operation by Assam Police and Assam Rifles, six DNLA terrorists were neutralised in Dhansiri area of Karbi Anglong district. A large cache of arms & ammunition also recovered,” is what he informed the country and the world.
It was a moment of pride for men in uniform and the ones who take pride in those men. The forces navigated through unchartered territories and executed an operation against armed terrorists. If that would have happened in the jungles of Central India or the Western border, within moments, new channels would run “Breaking News” on it.
There were congratulatory messages on his Twitter thread but those didn’t last long. A few moments later, Dr. Indadul Hussain Mazumdar shares a series of tweets and the attention shifts. From “Brilliant Police Operation” to “Mental Police Officers,” for the netizens to make such a big shift, it just took one thread of a few tweets. Dr. Indadul starts his tweet with an image of his wounded hand and tags IMA, Health Minister, CM… and calls upon his “Medical Fraternity and fellow Covid Warriors.”
Dr. Indadul tweets, “He was pulled out of the car by a man who identified himself as SDPO.” He states he was slapped and he and his “DRIVER” were charged with lathis. He was “ASSAULTED HIS LINE OF DUTY AS A DOCTOR,” and he is mentally, physically shocked and has no clue by when he “will be fit to contribute in the fight against the COVID pandemic.” He tags news channels, media houses and as were the intentions, it becomes news. Medical associations condemn the alleged Police assault and demands immediate action. Call for “Share Share Share” continues on Social Media.
Dr. Indadul travels to Silchar from Lakhipur which is about 20 kilometers, meets colleagues at Silchar Medical College and Hospital, discusses the matter with Superintendent of Police, Cachar, and then holds a press conference. After his statement on social media, he follows up with another set of remarks for TV channels and newspapers. Meanwhile, according to him, the SP assures him, “You complain or not, rest assured, we will take action against anyone found guilty.”
The trial by media begins, the Assam Police gets called rouge again and again. As the pressure mounts, exhibiting the “Humane Heart” approach, Special DGP, GP Singh tenders an “unconditional apology.” Immediately after that, one section of the social media activists starts celebrating. Many go on to say that GP Singh initiated a probe and once the officer was found guilty only then the apology was tendered.
Singh mentions that the “matter is being enquired and resolved” however, what follows – “On behalf of Assam Police personnel involved, I tender unqualified apology and look forward to working in unison with all frontline workers to save the people of Assam from deadly COVID-19 pandemic.” What the trolls, a significant share of them are doctors, miss here is that “unqualified apology” is spontaneous with no preconceived notion. It has no related expectations. It is said to express a genuine feeling of regret. It is an apology from the heart and not the mind or in this case, from the insights of the investigation.
The apology does not come at the end of the investigation but at the very beginning. Yes, the Police must apologise for hitting a doctor or for that matter hitting anybody just for violating the curfew norms. Last year, police assault on human beings, mostly poor vendors and hawkers took the Internet by storm. It went so far that the Apex Court had to intervene. It was clear that the Police wanted to induce fear among the masses to ensure the lockdown was followed. In Silchar too, vegetables were thrown in the pit, and small-scale businessmen were tortured. The same was filmed and shared thousands of times. Many captioned, “Ou Thik Aase.”
There is no doubt that it is criminal to assault a doctor on “his line of duty.” Dr. Indadul has joined as a Medical Officer at Kharupetia PHC which is in Darrang district more than 300 kilometers away from the place of the incident. He had a pass from the District Disaster Management to travel to Darrang and return to Silchar. According to him, he went to join his duties and returned due to some urgent work. He also states to the press that “A family member whom he himself got admitted to the ICU died due to COVID,” and that is another reason for his return. The incident happened, according to him, as he was returning from Darrang district to Silchar at around 8:00 pm.
Dr. Indadul is a resident of Kunjabasti area, he was stopped by the Police at Pailapool Chariali which is around 600 metres crossing his house. He did not miss a turn! “I went to the chemist to procure some medicines. I know someone at that medical store and he had told me that rare medicine is available and therefore I went there,” he says on record, speaking with Barak Bulletin.
In his tweet, he writes, “I was traveling with a permission letter from the DC but to no help.” He says the same during the press briefing too. When asked about the pass, to Barak Bulletin, he says, “Nobody even asked for the pass. I was stopped and when I said I am a doctor why did you stop me, the SDPO replied, ‘what if you are a doctor, I am an SDPO’ and started beating me.” He adds, “No I did not show the pass, as they did not ask for the same.”
There is no reason to disbelieve Dr. Indadul, but it is true that he would be in trouble if he had shown the pass. The pass allows Dr. Indadul and his driver travel to Darrang and return in a private vehicle. There was a third person in the car. “Yes, the third person in the car was my family friend. But that was not the reason why we were stopped or beaten. The SDPO did not even ask about the third person. He simply said, ‘Level Dikha Raha Hain’ and assaulted me and my brother who was driving the car,” Dr. Indadul says.
In the tweet, Dr. Indadul mentioned that he and his driver were “lathi-charged”, but, brother was driving? “See, he is like my brother or older friend. He helped me with the car as I wanted to go to Darrang and return. He is not my driver but was just driving the car,” the young doctor says. But in the tweet tagging IMA and ministers, doctor Indadul mentioned driver and not brother. Why would introduce his brother to the world as “my driver”?
When asked about the third person, doctor Indadul replies, “He is my friend and boarded from Itkhola, Silchar. He came along to buy medicines and to give us company as the car was returning to Silchar.” Here is a problem. People who know Silchar or Cachar would understand that one can come from Pailapool to the town for medicine, but 28 kilometers to the outskirts for medicine is a little questionable.
Moreover, as Dr. Indadul said that before leaving for Darrang on May 20, he himself admitted a family member to the ICU who unfortunately died due to COVID. Being a doctor, didn’t he think that he was risking his friend’s life by inviting him into his car as he came in contact with a COVID deceased?
He tweeted, he was assaulted in the line of duty. How were you on duty 300 kilometers away from your place of work? “What do you mean,” doctor Indadul replies. “Am I still not in service? And even if I am not on duty, does that give a police officer the right to assault a doctor. The officer said behes (argue) mat kar. Even if there was an argument, does that give him a right to assault me? I don’t want the matter to be blown out of proportion, but I want it to simply settle.” He is correct, the Police does not have the right to assault him even if he is not in the line of duty, but then he must not tweet stating he was assaulted in the line of duty.
The SDPO, after an initial statement, stopped responding to queries. He simply said, the senior officers are looking at the matter and it is being probed. As we visited the spot, many who noticed the incident confirmed that there was indeed an argument and the police might have charged not only Indadul but others in the locality and market area who violated the curfew norms. Before concluding the conversation, Dr. Indadul said, “SDPO did not hit me with the lathi and the wound I displayed on Twitter was not incurred by his assault. Maybe they were his PSOs. I don’t know who is a PSO and constable, the natural instinct is that we get scared of Police. I was in shock as they started beating me. I have no grudges against anybody. My only issue is that, despite being a doctor, I was treated like a criminal for no rhyme or reason. That is the only reason I brought it to the notice of all. I want justice.”
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and Dr. Indadul indeed deserves justice. Have you filed an official complaint? “No, I have not filed a case yet. You have to understand it is difficult during the lockdown to travel and file a case. There are a lot of logistical issues as two people cannot sit on the same motorcycle. But I will file a case,” he replies.
This is the first problem with GP Singh’s apology. The new means of achieving justice is by defaming someone on social media where the entry barrier is very low and the factual verification is none. The moment an officer of Singh’s repute apologises to Social Media trolling, it fuels the trolls and the craving for on-the-spot justice without any investigation increases. Dr. Indadul opened the Twitter account in May, all probability, yesterday, just to share what he went through. It was a legal issue, not a lawyer, not a police complaint, not a discussion with the Indian Medical Association, not a discussion with his reporting manager. The first step he takes is on Twitter. It wasn’t always the case. Victims lodge complaints, these are probed and actions are taken. When there is inaction and people break silence on media or social media, it becomes news. But here, the tweet was the first step of action, which is becoming the first step of action for an entire generation.
There is a deeper problem too with GP Singh’s apology. This is the officer that has been “Sonu Sood” of Assam throughout the pandemic. From issuing passes to the people in distress to arranging medicines. GP Singh was tagged even for innocuous issues and he responded with help. He cared during the first wave and he is caring in the second wave. There is no doubt there are thousands in Assam who aspire to become the next GP Singh. He motivates igniting minds to undergo the rigour of the Civil Services examination and become Civil Servants. His apology is a massive demoralisation for that growing tribe. The future rests with that tribe.
Lastly, the apology serves as a partial judgment before or during an investigation. If guilty, actions must be taken against SDPO Lakhipur or his PSOs. But if not guilty, does the young IPS officer deserve to go to the bed with the burden of letting down the entire Police department on a day his colleagues neutralised terrorists? Who knows, he might be idolising GP Singh, does he deserve to feel that it is because of him, the senior officer had to bend down on his knees? Police too are frontline warriors, they might not be in PPE but are never scared of slipping into one. This SDPO, recently arrested a few criminals, most happened to be positive for COVID19. His team got infected after the operation.
As we embrace digital India, it is certain that we are running out of patience. GP Singh has exhibited a humane heart with the unqualified apology, but for the trolls, it is them 1 and Assam Police 0.
Dr. Indadul has deleted his earlier tweets and as per sources, two PSOs have been closed. Hopefully, the meter will be investigated thoroughly according to the law of the land as truth must prevail.