“Does anyone bring sticks to get labourers their rights? Attacks unarmed policemen? Try to kill them? Labourers bring their complaints to us too, we talk to the owners and get them what they’re owed. These people are extortionists. This isn’t the first time they have done this. A case of extortion was registered against Navdeep Kaur in December as well. We didn’t arrest her then but that day, the limits were crossed. Look at my hand, the scar on my head.”
This is the statement of station house officer Ravi Kumar of the Kundali police station in Sonipat, Haryana. Ravi is the one who arrested Navdeep on January 12. On that day, FIRs 25 and 26 were registered at the Kundli police station against Navdeep and an unknown person. Another FIR had been registered against her on December 28 last year.
A member of Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan, Navdeep was arrested from the Kundli industrial area. Soon after, Shiv Kumar, the chief of the organisation, was arrested as well.
Many questions are being asked about their arrest. While Navdeep has made allegations of torture and sexual harassment, the circumstances surrounding Shiv’s arrest are far from clear.
Differences between two FIRs
FIR number 26
This FIR was registered by Lalit Khurana, an accountant at Shahran Elecmech Pvt Ltd in Kundli under sections dealing with assault and extortion. It alleged that at 11 am on January 11, 40-50 people, including two or three women, barged into the company and started asking for money. When the management refused, the group became violent and were thrown out of the premises by a security guard. The police were also called.
The FIR goes on to state that when the police arrived, they were attacked with sticks by the group and some policemen got hurt. Navdeep was part of this group and she ran away after allegedly threatening the company’s representatives.
Newslaundry visited the site. None of the street vendors agreed to talk about what had happened. A guard of the company, on condition of anonymity said, “There was some pending amount of some labourer. Some people came here demanding money to be paid. We didn’t let them enter the premises. Both the gates were closed. They created ruckus at the gate, threw bricks but no one came inside. I didn’t even know any of them.”
FIR number 26
Gagandeep, 35, who owns the establishment, had a different recollection of the events from the FIR. He said, “We had no role in the incident. Whatever happened, it was between the police and them. They didn’t even enter our company premises; they were outside the gate. They had sticks in their hands. Our guards didn’t open the gate. They were outside and everything was recorded in cameras, which we gave to the police. They had nothing to do with our company.”
Gagandeep claimed he didn’t know Navdeep or Shiv. He was in a hurry and was leaving in his car. Before leaving, he said, “We didn’t even know Navdeep or the other boys. After the arrest, we came to know that there is some girl from Punjab who goes to companies on behalf of labourers.”
It is apparent from the statements of Gagandeep and the guard that Navdeep and her associates never entered the company’s premises. The claims of extortion in the FIR appear to be false as well. SHO Ravi shared many videos of the incident but none are from inside the company premises.
Site of the incident.
Newslaundry met many workers who work at a tea shop outside the company premises.
A worker named Deepak Chauhan, who is a resident of Sonipat, said, “We were inside. We didn’t see what was happening outside. However, the labourers here have no problems. I have been working in this company for eight years. They were trying to do union shenanigans, but that doesn’t fly here.”
FIR number 25
This FIR was registered by SHO Ravi under sections dealing with assault, attempt to murder, voluntarily causing hurt, snatching and extortion.
It also claims that Navdeep and her associates entered the company premises. The SHO states in the document that when he reached the site, two-three girls and 50-60 boys were standing there sloganeering with sticks. When he tried to assuage them, the girl leading the crowd challenged him and stirred the crowd against him. The group got physical with the police and many of them were injured. An attempt was also made to snatch a carbine with the police. Meanwhile, the public had gathered on the spot and the group were dispersed with their help.
One of the girls was subdued at the site but the rest managed to escape. She was later identified as Navdeep, this FIR states. This is in contrast with FIR number 26 where it was claimed that she had escaped from the spot.
Further, in FIR 25 it is written that her name was found out during the questioning while FIR 26 says that she told her name herself.
FIR number 25.
Navdeep’s lawyer Jitendra Kumar, who is arguing her case in a Sonipat court, pointed towards these discrepancies and said, “The police haven’t pulled any punches in invoking the harshest sections of the law but legally there are problems in both FIRs. For instance, FIR 25 was registered first and FIR 26 second. The time difference between the two FIRs is a few hours. In the first, the complainant claims that Navdeep was arrested by the police. The other FIR says that she escaped from the site. These are legal shortcomings which we are raising in the court.”
The two FIRs also don’t agree on the time of the “crime”. FIR 26 states 11 am while FIR 25 says it happened around noon. If we accept the SHO’s timeline, Navdeep was arrested at noon but the FIR was filed much later, at 5.39 pm.
December 28 FIR
The FIR registered against Navdeep on December 28 by Shamsher Singh, an employee of Topas Night Patrolling Pvt Ltd, which provides security services in the Kundli area, also accused her of extortion.
Shamsher claimed Navdeep and her associates misbehaved with a guard and the owner of factory number 367, Vikas. They were forcefully asking for money. They had sticks and when stopped, started fighting. He and some of his colleagues were injured in the fracas.
When Newslaundry went to the spot, there was no company there. Construction work was going on but no guard was present at the gate. The labourers had no idea about the incident of December 28. The guards at nearby companies also denied any such incident having taken place.
SHO Ravi Kumar
When Newslaundry contacted Shamsher, he said, “There used to be a company of Maggi here. They tried to extort money from the owner.”
We asked for the phone number of the owner of the company but he wouldn’t provide it.
A friend of Navdeep and Shiv, speaking of the incident of December 28, said, “The company was not paying money owed to a labourer, for which we went to protest. Although the case of the physical altercation has been registered against Navdeep and others, it was local goons posted as security who opened fire that day. Thankfully, nobody was hit with the bullets. The companies here have employed local goons.”
The site where the incident mentioned in the FIR of December 28 occurred.
Did Navdeep and Shiv extort people?
The head of Kundli industrial association Anshu Das Gupta told Newslaundry, “These people have been active since the farmers started protesting at Singhu border. We hadn’t heard their names before that. They have been creating problems for people in factories for the last two months. They used to go inside the factories, put up their banners and sit. They told labourers that if somebody didn’t pay money then contact us. Some labourers did go to them. They used to take up their issues and dozens used to gather with sticks and flags and marched on the factory. They wrote to one or two owners asking them to pay a month’s money to the labourer or they would do a revolutionary protest.”
He added, “The Kundli industrial area has been around for 40 years. There is an office of labour department here with a deputy commissioner. A worker has an option to go to them if he has any grievances. There is also a settlement officer there who facilitates settlements between labourers and companies. That officer can also take a complaint to the police before the settlement. Many times, when workers face a problem, the matter comes to us for settlement. We help in settling matters in the presence of an officer.”
We asked Gupta if the accused were extorting money from owners. He replied, “I have no clue about this because I haven’t gone to Kundli for the last two months. But whatever I know, it doesn’t feature anything about money. What their intentions were, I do not know.”
A signature campaign for the release Navdeep Kaur and Shiv Kumar at Singhu border.
Newslaundry spoke to some youngsters and labourers who worked with Shiv and Navdeep. Many of them would only speak on the condition of anonymity, so we have identified them with pseudonyms.
Rajiv has known Shiv since childhood and has participated in protests with him. On the allegation of extortion, he said, “Shiv used to fight for the facilities in the college. When he got the job in Kundli after his studies, he set up the Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan after he saw the poor state of labourers and how they were being exploited. Navdeep was also a part of that organisation. They used to help labourers to get their money when owners refused to pay.”
He further said: “The owners weren’t paying many labourers after the lockdown imposed due to Covid. They protested and got about Rs 5 lakh paid to different labourers. On the allegation of extortion, all I have to say is that do you think people worth crores would give money to about 50 people who have flags in their hands? The police are colluding with the owners to level these false charges so the exploitation of labourers can continue here.”
Navdeep’s elder sister Rajveer Kaur is pursuing her PhD from Delhi university. She said, “Navdeep had to halt her studies after Class XII due to financial reasons. She started working in a company in Kundli about five months ago. We thought we’d get her admitted in open school while she works part-time. Then the farmer protests started and she took part in them. She was removed from her job and her money was blocked. She got her money through Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan. She became an active member after that.”
On Gupta’s allegations, Rajveer said, “It’s not that they used to go to any company themselves. In many cases, they also took the route of the labour court. They maintained a diary which had all the details of which company owes how much money to which labourer, and whom they have helped get their money.”
Rajveer claimed the charges of extortion are baseless. She said, “The police can level any charge. Navdeep used to struggle for labourers to get the money they were owed.”
Shiv’s father is also named Rajveer. He is a farm labourer. He said, “They are being set up. I didn't even know that he used to protest for labourers. When I came here after his arrest then I found out about the protesting for labourers. I met many labourers who he helped get their money. In this situation, the blame for extortion seems false.”
Questions about Shiv’s arrest
Responding to the allegations, SHO Ravi said, “Let the allegations come. We have documentary answers to all questions. We shall answer every question in court. We have the video where our officers were attacked. Everyone had a medical checkup and Navdeep was arrested by a female cop. When she was taken to a doctor, she was accompanied by a female officer. We didn’t keep her at Kundli police station even for an hour. She was sent to prison the same day. We also have the signature of the doctors who checked her. We will answer every question.”
If Shiv Kumar’s associates and family are to be believed, the police arrested him on January 16 but didn’t notify anyone about it. His family learned of his arrest only after 15 days. “Shiv was arrested on January 23. His family was notified after his arrest. The arresting document has his mother’s signature too,” Ravi claimed.
Shiv’s father said, “Some policemen came to my house at 9 pm on January 23. I wasn’t home but my children and wife were there. My wife is illiterate and she has mental health issues. They asked where Shiv was and the kids told them he wasn’t there. The police told them to ask him to surrender when he returns. After that they made my wife sign a paper. We found out about his arrest on February 1. We haven’t been able to meet him yet.”
“I can’t understand why the police have arrested him. Shiv wasn’t part of what happened on January 12. He had fallen ill at the time. We aren’t being allowed to meet him. Who knows in what condition he is,” he added.
However, SHO Ravi said, “Shiv was present on January 12 at the incident. We were keeping a watch on him after the incident. We arrested him from the Singhu border on January 23. Anybody can level any allegations they wish. Every legal procedure was followed.”
Navdeep has obtained bail in the December 28 case while the other two FIRs against her are being heard in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. Shiv hasn’t got bail yet. He is in Sonipat jail while Navdeep is in Karnal jail. None of their family members have been able to meet them so far.