Five days after eight people, including a journalist, were stripped and assaulted inside a police station, pictures linked to the incident in Sidhi district of Madhya Pradesh were widely circulated on social media on Thursday.
This came after Neeraj Kunder, a theatre artiste, was called to the Kotwali police station on Saturday – months after BJP MLA Kedarnath Shukla’s son Gurudutt filed a police complaint, alleging that a Facebook profile named Anurag Mishra was posting objectionable comments against him and his father, police said.
However, police said disciplinary action has been initiated against two officers for leaking the pictures, and that the journalist who was arrested is facing another case against him linked to trespass on a nursing hostel property.
As the cyber crime department of the police arrested Neeraj in the incident on Saturday, more than 50 people, including News Nation stringer Kanishk Tiwari, and several theatre artistes and activists, gathered outside the police station in protest, sources said.
“During the protest, some of them started sloganeering against (MP CM) Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the BJP and the local MLA. Police claimed that they tried to reason with the protesters that they have valid evidence against Neeraj but they did not listen. The police arrested some of the protesters…They were beaten up and put in a lock-up. They were stripped and then some cops took their photos and leaked them. No one has access to the police station so it’s obvious that the police leaked those pictures.This is extremely wrong,” said Brijesh Pathak, a veteran journalist in Sidhi.
Among the 10 persons arrested were artistes associated with theatre group Indravati Natya Samiti, including Neeraj Kunder, his brother Shiv Narayan Kunder, Roshni Prasad Mishra, Narendra Bahadur Singh, Rajneesh Jaiswal, besides YouTubers Kanishk Tiwari and Aditya Bhadauria, activists Sunil Chaudhary and Ashish Soni, and Neeraj’s cousin Ujjawal Prakash. However, Mishra said Ujjawal and he were not subjugated to the assault.
Police said they were all granted bail the next day.
Pathak said Neeraj is a renowned artiste and shares a good rapport with several BJP leaders, including CM Chouhan, and was close to Kedarnath Shukla months ago. “Cyber crime department didn't take action for a very long time but then MLA Shukla started pressuring them.” He said Kanishk Tiwari also runs a popular YouTube channel called MP Sandesh.
However, Roshni Prasad Mishra, who was among those arrested, said that the comments that were posted on Facebook were not objectionable but only criticism over Shukla’s failure to fulfil his promise of building an auditorium. “Kedarnath Shukla was upset with us as we stopped inviting him to our programmes. Actually we were very close to him earlier…he never fulfilled the promises. In fact, when we tried it on our own with the help of former collector Abhishek Singh, he didn't let us do it and even got the collector transferred…the comments were related to his work. He assumed that Neeraj was doing it.
“They called up Neeraj stating that they wanted to talk to him. But when he reached there, they arrested him. They created hindrance in his bail…we started protesting outside the police station…some people from the AAP and Congress also joined the protest. They raised slogans against Shivraj Singh Chouhan and BJP…police got agitated and started arresting people. They arrested some of us and many of the protesters fled.”
Mishra said that only he and Neeraj’s brother were not beaten up. “They were hitting people with pipes, sticks and their hands…while assaulting Kanishk Tiwari, the thana in-charge kept saying that whoever speaks anything against Shivraj Singh Chouhan, BJP and the MLA will be stripped, beaten and paraded without clothes…A sub-inspector who was posted at Amilia police station…came there to beat Tiwari because he had done some story against him…There were 12-15 cops in the police station and most of them were drunk.”
Neeraj Kunder, who has also been vocal on social issues, said his relations with MLA Shukla soured after he organised a hunger strike against the latter over hurdles to efforts towards constructing an auditorium. He claimed that the legislator has since been angry and even got a cultural event – which Kunder was organising – cancelled 10 days ago. “He made baseless allegations that I am using the (Facebook) profile to defame him.”
However, Sidhi SP Mukesh Kumar Shrivastav said, “We have attached TI Manoj Soni and Amilia SHO Abhishek Singh Parihar and an inquiry has been initiated against them in connection with the leaking of photos. But this matter is different from the initial offence which was registered by us on March 16. Actually, the initial complaint came to us five to six months ago after which we started our investigation. The FIR against Neeraj was registered on March 16 after we got a response from Facebook. On April 2, we arrested Neeraj, which led to the protest.”
The SP said that Neeraj’s supporters were raising slogans against the CM and BJP. “We tried to reason with them but they were not ready to listen. They blocked the road. So we took preventive action but all of them were given bail the next day.”
Shrivastav added that Tiwari already had a case against him for barging into a nursing hostel. “Investigation of that case is also going on. However, the photos should not have been leaked.”
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