A 23-year-old Dalit labourer and trade union activist from Punjab has been behind bars for a month without bail. Naudeep Kaur was arrested on January 12 when she had joined a protest by labourers at Haryana’s Kundli. The young woman has been in police custody for nearly a month without bail and has allegedly suffered sexual abuse while in custody.
The matter gained traction after the tweets of Meena Harris, the niece of US Vice-President Kamala Harris. A lawyer and author, Meena Harris was among the celebrities showing support for the protesting farmers after the issue was flagged by pop icon Rihanna.
On Saturday, Ms Harris tweeted an image of posters seeking Naudeep Kaur’s release, juxtaposed with images of a mob burning posters of celebrities who had drawn flak after tweeting about the farmers’ protest.
Weird to see a photo of yourself burned by an extremist mob but imagine what they would do if we lived in India. I’ll tell you—23 yo labor rights activist Nodeep Kaur was arrested, tortured & sexually assaulted in police custody. She’s been detained without bail for over 20 days. pic.twitter.com/Ypt2h1hWJz
— Meena Harris (@meenaharris) February 5, 2021
Naudeep Kaur had been working at a firm in Kundli Industrial Area in Sonipat, around 3 km from the Delhi-Haryana border, where farmers have been protesting for more than two months.
With a family history in activism — her parents are members of farmer unions in Punjab and sister is a student activist in Delhi University — she had joined “Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan” a trade union that worked to ensure labour rights.
Within four months, she was fired. On January 12 she was protesting in the Kundli industrial area with 20 others demanding wages, when they clashed with the police.
Later, Naudeep Kaur was arrested and a battery of charges — murder, extortion, theft, rioting, unlawful assembly, extortion and criminal intimidation — was made against her.
Denying all allegations, Naudeep Kaur’s sister Rajveer Kaur has accused the police of custodial torture and sexual assault on her sister.
“The government is afraid of the unity of workers of farmers and that is why my sister is being targeted,”Rajveer Kaur told reporters. “She has been beaten up in the police station by male staff and has even been sexually assaulted. There are injuries in her private parts. There should be strict action,” she added.
“We have filed an application in the court regarding complaints of assault against her. The court has ordered a medical examination. But we are yet to receive that report,” said lawyer Jitendra Kumar, who is representing Naudeep Kaur.
The police have denied all allegations, calling them “concocted”.
“The activists’ attack upon the police resulted in injuries to seven personnel, including a woman constable,” said Sonepat police in a statement issued on Saturday. “The allegations of sexual assault seem to be an afterthought and the police department clearly negates them. Also, Kaur was constantly in the presence of two women personnel,” the statement added.
On Monday, the Punjab State Commission for Scheduled Castes asked the Additional Chief Secretary (Home) to ensure relief for Naudeep Kaur. The Commission has also sought a report by February 23. In a communique, the Commission said it has taken suo motu notice of the issue since the woman is a resident of Sri Muktsar Sahib district.