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Innocent techie suffers due to shoddy police work

November 5, 2007

Ever since I read about the wrongful arrest of 26-year-old Lakshaman K (a techie who works with HCL) the story stuck in my mind. I was horrified and indignant not only because an innocent man had been put behind bars but also because Lakshmana had been denied bail and as a result spent several weeks in inhuman conditions in jail. He was arrested for allegedly defaming Chhatrapati Shivaji (a famous historical figure, a king) on the social networking site Orkut.

So if he didn’t do it, why was he picked up? Well, it was Airtel’s fault. They provided the wrong IP address!

This is how the horror unfolded for Lakshman:

In the early hours of August 31, Lakshmana Kailash K was asleep at his home in Bangalore. He was woken up by eight policemen from Pune who came knocking on his door and waved the Information Technology Act, 2000, in his sleepy, terrified face. Get dressed, he was told, we are taking you to Pune for having defamed Shivaji. Lakshmana protested that he didn’t know anyone called Shivaji.

He was charged under Section 295A of the IPC for a “deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings, and Section 67 of the IT Act for publishing “lascivious” material.” And he was thrown into the overcrowded Yerwada jail, where he had to spend 50 days with 200 undertrials.

We all know how bad the situation is in jail, where prisoners live in inhuman conditions and do not have access to basic hygiene. Lakshamana relates the horror of having to use the same utensil for eating, drinking and for the toilet. As expected, his health suffered and this is in addition to the mental trauma he went through.

The political angle
The fact that Lakshamana was denied bail stinks of political highhandedness. Shivaji is almost an icon to some political parties and as this article explains, whipping up passions when he is seen to be denigrated in any way can “transalate into electoral gains.” There have been other instances where an ‘insult’ to Shivaji has led to political parties indulging in riots. There was a shocking incident a few years ago when thousands of priceless books inside the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) were destroyed by a political party because this ‘reason’.

Shameless lack of repentance
For some unfathomable reason, the police did not let Lakshman go even after they found out their ‘mistake’ – they waited for nearly three weeks before releasing him! And when they finally did so, they said, sorry, but so what, we made a mistake!

Airtel was worse. They did say sorry, but horror of horrors, two days after Lakshmana was released Airtel approached him for non-payment of his bill! A man who had lost 12 kilos, was traumatized and had kidney and other health problems due to his 50 days in jail and all because Airtel had provided the police with the wrong IP address!

Why such callousness?
Where the police are concerned, Lakshamana is just another wronged detainee. The police are used to dealing with hundreds of such cases (which usually go unnoticed because victims are poor) and they never have to bother with an apology. Just type in illegal detention India in google and you will know what I mean. But mind you, the police aren’t stupid…they don’t wrongfully arrest a well connected person.

Lakshman is neither well-connected and nor is he poor, but he is an ordinary middle-class guy and for the police, well, I can see why they felt that too much of a fuss was being made. Procedural delays concerning bail orders and release orders is not spectacularly new for the police. So I guess if they said sorry they thought they were doing something great. After all, they had found the real culprits pretty soon! Guess they thought that Lakshmana should be thankful that he was not tortured and a confession extracted!!

Where Airtel is concerned, frankly I have very low expectations of justice from money-making corporations, although I do expect efficiency. Airtel is not very efficient either as one can see.

From our police I have expectations – high expectations. They work for us, the public, and they need to be taken to task for wrongful or illegal detentions. There has to be accountability. But the law does not allow for this.

As for Airtel, they should give Lakshmana health coverage for life and also pay him a huge compensation.

Support from MSHRC
Thankfully, the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission (MSHRC) is taking up cudgels on Lakshaman’s behalf and has issued notices to the Police. I don’t know whether anything will come out of this though as the police cannot be sued.

Update 14th Jan 08: Lakshamana has sued the Pune Police and Bharti Airtel for Rs 20 crores.

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27 Comments leave one →
  1. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    November 5, 2007 8:40 am

    Laksahman should sue Airtel, using the best legal help available. Make the pay a penalty that really hurts. They must be made to rue the day they decided to set up shop.

  2. November 5, 2007 9:53 am

    the sad part is that legally he cannot sue neither Airtel nor maharastra police

  3. November 5, 2007 9:58 am

    Even if Airtel has given the wrong IP address, police should have verified. It seems Section 295A of the IPC for a “deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings” is not applicable to politicians as seen from Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP) issue.

  4. November 5, 2007 10:05 am

    Oh My God! Horrible harrassment. It could have happened to any one of us. He should sue both Airtel and THE DEAF POLICE.

  5. November 5, 2007 10:19 am

    legally he cannot sue neither Airtel nor maharastra police!

    I wonder why not?

  6. November 5, 2007 10:43 am

    It is like being stuck in one kafkaesque nightmare — wrong IP address… it can happen to any of us….

    I am sure that he can sue for something like mental trauma, or worse – judicially question why a company with such shoddy procedures should continue to hold a license for a high sensitive area like telecom……the RTI already exists for looking at police procedure…

    I hope that the police and the corporation settle a decent compensation… and let the public know what steps they have undertaken to ensure that the innocent don’t get to spend time in prison….

  7. November 5, 2007 10:44 am

    ps.s. it will be interesting to see if something like breach of fundamental rights can form the basis of a law suit……

  8. November 5, 2007 10:45 am

    Bharath, I am sure he can sue Airtel and the latest I heard is that his family members and well wishers are persuading him to. Right now he must be in a state of shock.

    Vivek, agree with that whole-heartedly!

    Ankur,
    why do you say he cannot sue Airtel? Is there some technical reason?

    Old Sailor, you are absolutely right. It’s outrageous that politicians can get away with anything, whether it’s defamation or even murder!! And about the fact that the police should have verified – absolutely! Surely the police can’t be so inept as not to suspect that a man is innocent!

    Harini,
    thanks for your response. However I doubt whether the police can be legally sued or forced to pay compensation. However perhaps the human rights commission could pressurize them to do something voluntarily. But this case might set a precedent and my guess is that the police will turn a blind eye. Perhaps they can put pressure on Airtel though.

  9. November 5, 2007 11:35 am

    “deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings”

    What I fail to see is the religious connection. Shivaji is hero but not a religious symbol. He was a warrior and a king but not a god, if I understand my history correctly. I have seen numerous Shivaji monument but not seen people performing rituals. Only a certain political party has vested interest in such incidents.

    Though one would expect Police to be efficient and make investigations, often it is not the case. There are more than enough cases where police force was too eager to make an arrest and close the case. This being a technical case, our run of the mill police force does not have enough knowledge to know what is an IP address let alone a wrong IP address. Statement from assistant commissioner (* Netaji Shinde says, “Yes, we made a mistake. So what?” *) shows the attitude the corrupt officials have towards a common man.

  10. November 5, 2007 12:51 pm

    Definitely a sad news to hear. This is one of the sub-titles which came in TOI, bangalore edition

    ” We made a mistake, so ??? ” – says the great police folks.

    Again one reason, i appreciate american policy. If the same would have happened there, then those police man and ISP who gave the wrong IP could have geared up for paying a huge amount for the victim and public sorry.

    More important they won’t dare to come up with a statement like our great souls did, which is even more painful.

  11. November 5, 2007 1:22 pm

    Interesting but not surprising. The world writes a tonne about how Yahoo’s giving of an IP address led to a chinese man being incarcerated. And how Google is evil for censoring search results in China.

    May be this post should be sent to Liberty and other human rights organisations who can see that calling a country a democracy is not a reason to assume anything vaguely decent about the Human Rights performance of a country.

    Shameful.

  12. wishtobeanon... permalink
    November 5, 2007 1:40 pm

    Shameful indeed! I feel really sorry for Lakshmana. It could have been any one of us like someone said here.
    The politicians and the police act more like dictators and the ‘goondaism’ only seems to be increasing!
    Why aren’t the politicians who go on a violent rampage ever booked for their crimes?
    I hope wrongfully indicted people and victims get their justice. There is no difference between these religious parties and the Taliban.

  13. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    November 5, 2007 3:34 pm

    Irrespective of whether or not Airtel and the police can be successfully sued, this MUST be made at least a test case before the NHRC. It would be good if a human rights group could be prevailed upon to pursue it. Can people like us follow it up with a letter campaign? Nita, what do you think?

  14. xntricpundits permalink
    November 5, 2007 4:12 pm

    1]I think we are missing the big picture here-that is of moral policing by a bunch of confused people.Don’t these so called guardians of Indian culture have anything constructive to do?Why don’t they stand for real issues which plague the Indian society?It’s high time that they stop protecting some imagined real Indian culture.The sooner they get out their illusion the better(for all of us)
    2]Social networking platforms are fast becoming the playgrounds for the “hate groups” to spread hatred.It’s a disturbing trend which is on rise across all social networks.Banning or blocking groups or sites works only to a certain extent because the moment you ban they hop to find another medium for communication.Ignoring them is one option that i think is the best.

    Hope Lakshmana recovers soon.

  15. November 5, 2007 5:17 pm

    xnegvx, there is no religious sentiment involved at all…it was convenient to slap this act on the victim because it meant more punishment. And I am completely in agreement with xntricpundit here when he says the issue is one of moral policing.

    xntricpundit, you are being too kind by calling these people confused! I do agree it was overzealousness because of the Shivaji factor that got the police to behave in this hysterical manner. Moral policing has reached endemic proportions in Maharashtra. And ofcourse it’s nothing but hypocrisy of the first order. They don’t care about Indian culture! They are political mean machines! Which actually brings me to Shefaly‘s point!

    Shefaly. it is really ironical that it is democracy in a twisted way which is fueling this trend (of moral policing) because of the masses of the illiterates who vote and fall for religious and sentimental rhetoric of the equally uneducated but cunning politicians. And where human rights are concerned, I guess you are right democracies don’t necessarily have great human rights records. But then it’s all very relative…I guess human rights situations are worse in those countries which are not democracies…the only advantage of a democracy is that it comes out!

    Wishtobeanon
    , yes Taliban is the right word for these moral police!

    Vivek, there is something called petitiononline which anyone can start. And ofcourse the best thing is if one knows people in any human rights organisation. But I am sure that any citizen can collect a group of people and follow up with national human rights commission. One can also invoke the RTI act as Harini mentioned. luckily we are a democracy and these processes are available to us. They may work slowly but they do work.

    Arun, as you said, if this were America this case would have been handled very differently. Probably someone would have caught it all on secret video and sent the expose to a news channel and it would have become a national debate….!

  16. wishtobeanon... permalink
    November 5, 2007 8:40 pm

    It looks like http://www.petitiononline.com is a good place to start a petition.

  17. November 6, 2007 1:20 am

    I think whatever I say will be predictable to those of you who read my comments, including you, Nita.
    Democracy is NOT the answer. The answer is a FREE society. Not the tyranny of the majority, which is what is a democracy.

  18. November 6, 2007 2:09 am

    What a horrible thing to have happen to you. I feel so bad for Lakshman. This is the sort of thing that I imagine in detention centers where people are held without due process. If there is a mistake there is no way to counter it. And even if there isn’t a mistake, it’s a horrible way to treat a human.

    Rambodoc is right, it’s not democracy that fixes situations like this. Democracy can lead to the mistreatment of people that are different or are used as scapegoats. A free society is what is needed.

    Thank you for posting this, Nita.

  19. November 6, 2007 10:55 am

    wishtobeanon, thanks for putting up that link.🙂
    Rdoc, am not sure I understand what you mean by a free society.
    Ordinary girl, I think democracy is the best thing that we have today. Evil things will go on as long as human beings live as ruthless people will always exist but in a democracy it all comes out and finally the fear of punishment and exposure keeps these things in control. Different countries have different records but the thing is that there are always institutions to help us fight. What each country needs to do is strengthen its institutions (India has come way to go here!) and ensure that citizens are educated, enlightened and informed.

  20. sid permalink
    November 9, 2007 2:56 pm

    Interesting scenario in our country isn’t it? Those who are meant to be in jail are in parliament while those who shouldnt be in jail have been languishing for years… the bottomline.. its thanks to people like you and me who are all talk and absolutely no action that this state of affairs has come to be… i’m sure this is the only country which claims to offer fundamental freedoms but slaps anybody who dares to challenge history… But seriously, we deserve what we get… unfortunately we have the worlds largest middle class but also the world most spineless populace… Lakshmanan’s only crime…his daddy wasn’t a politician or mafia don…. if his dad had been either, he would never have faced the similar scenario… remember the case of those delhi boys who were arrested bcoz they dared to call the police at night while they were being robbed… does anyone remember? no… so lets just get on with life and accept that the govt can do no wrong, hear no wrong and see no wrong… lets not waste time on idle talk

  21. November 9, 2007 3:36 pm

    talk for yourself Sid. I am proud to be a writer. that’s my job. this post isn’t drawing room talk.
    I can be nothing else. If that’s not good enough for people, too bad.

  22. Partha Sarathi Biswas permalink
    January 15, 2008 12:19 pm

    Hi
    I am Journalist from Pune. I wud like to get in touch with Lakshman.. Please give me his mailing address

    I have never interviewed Lakshaman and I think that is clear from my article. Therefore I do not have his contact nos. – Nita.

  23. Akshay permalink
    February 16, 2008 5:20 pm

    This is complete madness.
    I hope he gets the compensation he deserves.

  24. bharat permalink
    February 17, 2008 1:08 pm

    Nita, even if you havent met lakshman & I see your a journalist bring this ariticle to newspaper/whatever let others people know regarding this. @least people would get an idea of wtf is going on ! Anyone could be a victim of such situations.

  25. Ravi permalink
    February 17, 2008 7:21 pm

    I think airtel must be sued $100 million like they do in united states for falsifying identities. Then only it allows them to think twice before releasing any false information regarding their customers.
    I couldn’t understand why someone be handled so bad and punished for saying wrong words against a dead person. Thats totally ridiculous. Its not necessary everybody should revere gandhi or abdul khalam. People have their opinions. Ok maharastrians respect shivaji but who cares! There are millions of indians who ever heard of him. I m not disrespecting shivaji but it just doesn’t make sense to give trouble to somebody who has no respect for dead people.

    Ravi, this obsession with dead leaders gets on my nerves when it hurts living people. But nowadays it’s become a fashion to use the names of dead leaders for one’s political benefit. Once it gets in the papers how strict the state is being about those who malign say Shivaji, it gets these politicians brownie points! Instead of real work, this is what politicians do, put pressure on the police! – Nita.

  26. Madanmohan mioshra permalink
    June 14, 2008 8:13 pm

    Well This incident is cruel in it’s very sence that even after recognizing that it was not laxman’s ip, he was not released, and more over, the actual person behing this is not still behind the bars. All because of the fault of airtel, which was catalysed by Pune Police.
    AIRTEL IS THE WORST SERVICE, I HAVE EVER SEEN.

  27. nehru mantri permalink
    June 14, 2008 11:47 pm

    Nita
    There is nothing wrong with Democracy but it is the Indian version of Democracy that is at fault. In the right circumstances Lakshman would have access to a lawyer immediately to represent him and put forth the consequences of the wrongful detention. There would have been an outpouring of public scorn on Airtel and in the media which would be hard for them to ignore. People could communicate with each other and refuse to use any of Airtel’s services until Airtel respects the public it serves. The person in the police force issuing the order has to be shamed by NAME. It shouldnt be a problem to squeeze Airtel. They make money off mainly tech savvy people and such people can be persuaded with reason to go for someone else other than Airtel.

    Thanks Nehru M.I agree that we have a lot of feudalism in our country that operates more strongly than the democracy. The political establishment are full of goondas and the police are in their pocket. Naming the officer would be impossible as he would be protected by the politicians. We have a democracy but our institutions are not strong enough. The police in India report to the politicians. The recommendations of the supreme court to delink the two are not being followed! Almost all states have opposed it. – Nita.

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