The seven stitches on Banshi Hansda’s nose are growing fainter but his anger is still fresh. No less than the Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren ordered the police to take action against his assailants, but over a month later, the police are yet to even file a first information report. The reason was simple, the 40-year-old Adivasi man alleged: two policemen assaulted him with a rifle butt, and the police were trying to cover things up.

On the evening of December 12, Hansda, a resident of Dhawaiya village in Gomia block, was cycling back home from the mining equipment factory where he worked in Bokaro district, when he saw a police checkpoint looming ahead. In deference to the police, he got off his cycle, walking up to the barricades. The policemen asked him a few questions, before letting him off.

Hansda walked a few steps ahead, then stopped to urinate on the side of the pucca road.

Suddenly, he felt a strong jab on this face.

The policemen hit him with a rifle and pushed him on the ground, he alleged. “Sala abhi tak kya kar raha hai, bhagta hai ke nahi.” Why are you lingering here, why haven’t you sped off, he recalled them saying.

Hansda got up, lifted his cycle, and pleaded with the policemen. “I folded my hands and asked them what mistake have I made. Why have you hit me?” he said. But in response, the policemen hit him again, he alleged. This time, they hit him on the nose with a rifle butt.

“I touched my nose and blood was dripping,” Hansda recalled. While he bled, he quickly picked up his cycle and rode back home, 6 km away. When he reached home, his wife saw Hansda had a broken tooth in addition to a thick gash on his nose.

In the hospital

Hansda went to the hospital with his wife and brother. But on the way, at the Gomia railway crossing, the policemen stopped him. One of them, he recognised, was sub-inspector Suman Kumar Singh of the Penk Narayanpur police station, who had once threatened to hit him over a land dispute with another village resident. Singh asked him why he was defaming the police. “I told them that I was not defaming them and I would only say what happened to me,” Hansda said.

The policemen followed him to Muskan Hospital, where he told the doctor that the police had hit him. Singh repeatedly accused Hansda of lying. “He said he would pay the fees for my treatment and I should not take the matter forward.” Hansda claimed Singh paid the initial treatment fees of Rs 5,000.

Dr Irfan Ansari, who treated Hansda, was not available for comment. His assistant Akbar Ansari could not confirm who paid the initial treatment fees but said the hospital had sent Hansda’s medico-legal certificate to the nearest police station at Chas. The officials at the police station did not share a copy with

The next day, police officials interrogated him at the hospital, said Hansda. In the village, meanwhile, the sarpanch visited the family and offered to broker “a deal” with the police: “he offered us Rs 50,000 for the treatment,” said Rajesh Hansda, Banshi Hansda’s brother.

The sarpanch Guru Prasad confirmed he had received a call from Singh to speak to Banshi Hansda and his family. But he claimed that was because Hansda had levelled false allegations against the police: “I went to their house to tell them to say the right thing and not put false allegations, because he was drunk and no such thing happened.” He alleged that it was Hansda’s family that asked for money. “His brother had asked me for money and I told him I would arrange for it,” Prasad claimed.

Rajesh Hansda denied this. He said his family bore the treatment cost of Rs 25,000 by borrowing money from a local women’s self-help group. The sarpanch belonged to the Mahato community, a dominant community among the Other Backward Classes. He had close links with the police, Rajesh Hansda said.

The chief minister takes note

Banshi Hansda was discharged from the hospital on December 15. The same day, a civil rights group called the Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha posted a tweet about his assault, tagging chief minister Hemant Soren. “Till when will the Adivasis face such oppression?” the tweet asked.

Soren’s party, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, claims to represent the state’s Adivasi communities, who form 26% of the population. While it was in the opposition, the political party vociferously took up cases of alleged police violence on Adivasis. One of the first decisions taken by Soren, after his party came to power in December 2019, was withdrawing the sedition cases filed by the police against Adivasi protestors who participated in the Pathalgadi movement.

Soren instantly responded to Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha’s tweet, asking the Bokaro police to investigate Hansda’s case and take action against the guilty.

But the police did not contact Hansda for two weeks.

On December 29, he went to the police station and submitted a complaint. He waited for over two hours but the station house officer did not file an FIR.

“He said he will speak to the SP [superintendent of police] and then only file an FIR,” said Rajesh Hansda, Banshi Hansda’s brother, who had accompanied him to the police station. The family attempted to file an FIR online but could not find the relevant police station on the police website.

In January, Banshi Hansda sent another complaint letter by speed post to the police station and the superintendent of police. But he still hasn’t received any response. The district administration has not given him any compensation either.

An FIR was crucial for the investigation to go further, activists said. “Unless an FIR is there, how can one take action against the perpetrator or give compensation,” said Siraj Dutta of Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha.

Dutta said police atrocities against Adivasis have continued, despite the change in government. In June 2020, the Central Reserve Police Force personnel allegedly assaulted at least 20 Adivasis in Anjedbeda village in West Singhbhum village. The paramilitary personnel claimed that the village residents had “Naxal links”, which the Adivasis denied, said Dutta, who visited the village and wrote a report on the matter.

While Chief Minister Hemant Soren is quick to respond to complaints of police violence on Twitter, Dutta said, “it has not really translated into action on the ground.”

For that matter, over a year after the announcement of the withdrawal of sedition cases against Pathalgadi supporters, only 60% of cases had been withdrawn.

Pending FIR

The station house officer of Penk Narayanpur Police Station Arun Kumar Sharma told that sub-inspector Suman Kumar Singh and two constables had been suspended from duty, based on Hansda’s complaint.

When asked whether an FIR had been filed, he said it would be filed only after the investigation was completed. But what stopped the police from filing an FIR, which is usually the first step in an investigation? In response to this question, Sharma shot back: “Why would the police beat him? He consumed alcohol and falsely painted a picture of the police beating him. Why would the police do that?”

“He was riding a cycle, he fell down, and accused the police of beating him,” Sharma said.

Hansda dismissed the allegations. “I am not that stupid,” he said. “If I had to fall, why would I fall at that point with my cycle. Only I am aware of the condition in which I got back home.”

His brother, Rajesh Hansda, said he was adamant on getting the police to file an FIR. “Today this has happened to my brother but tomorrow it could happen to other Adivasis,” he said. “We want justice because my brother is not at fault.”