On Saturday evening, CJP received word that Uttar Pradesh student leader Pooja Shukla may have been abducted. The 23 year old firebrand activist who had raised black flags against Chief Minister Adityanath in June last year, was picked up from outside a friend’s house in Lucknow at about 4:30 pm. She was released and dropped back at the same spot shortly after 9 pm. What we discovered after she was released, is that she had been picked up, beaten and intimidated by police personnel!
Pooja Shukla was abducted by UP police at around 4.30 pm as she was just walking out of a friend’s house in the Polytechnic area in Gomtinagar. According to Shukla, two police vans loaded with about twenty police men and women, some in uniform, some in plainclothes came to detain her. “As they were forcibly detaining me, they kept thrashing me. The male police officers instructed the women constables to pull my hair and thrash me, ‘Phone chheeno S##@i se, baal nocho, (snatch her phone, pull her hair) they said’” informed a bruised and exhausted Pooja Shukla as she was let off at around 9.10 pm today after she was practically kidnapped by the police!
As she was picked up, her phone was snatched away from her and remained unanswerable even after several calls. Her worried friends kept trying to track her even as she was being taken to a deserted area. After reaching a certain spot, which was completely deserted, the police told her that they were planning to just leave her there. But a defiant Shukla refused to step out of the vehicle. “I told them, drop me back to the same place where you picked me” she said.
Meanwhile, the women police officers kept having a ‘good time’ with Pooja’s phone. Initially they didn’t answer calls, later they started proxy answering on Pooja’s behalf. Every ten minutes their narrative of where Pooja was, kept changing. To one caller they said that Pooja was at the mall, while to another caller they said she was taking care of her friend Sadaf’s baby who was unwell. To another caller, the lady constable said, “I am her mother and Pooja is sitting right next to me.” To their shock and dismay, the caller turned out to be Pooja’s father who informed them that Pooja’s mother was, in fact, sitting right in front of him. But the police woman did not lose a beat and casually responded saying, “Oh, I was joking, she is roaming around the mall.”
This was the most callous, careless and irresponsible manner in which a 23 year old girl was ‘picked up’ and “mentally tortured” for about five hours even as the friends and family remained extremely tensed and kept making multiple rounds of police stations in the vicinity, as also kept calling higher ranking officers. “We don’t know anything about the arrest of any such girl. We are right now busy with preparations for PM’s visit” was the standard response from most of them.
As Pooja returned, she recounted the horror, “They kept spewing horrible and obscene swear words at me.” Taunting at her on her stand for students rights they said, “Oh, you want publicity? You want media attention? You have been posting too much. Refrain from writing anything on social media otherwise the consequences won’t be to your liking!”
As they wouldn’t let her answer her calls, Pooja made an excuse that she needed to urgently use a washroom. When they stopped at a “Sulabh Shauchalaya” (public toilet), she made a quick call using the toilet attendant’s phone and informed her friends that it appears that she has been abducted and is being taken to some unknown location. After mentally torturing her for close to five hours and giving her some thrashing initially, they finally let her off only when Pooja started collapsing from fatigue and stress.
While dropping her, they said, “We will keep you inside [the jail] for so long that you won’t be able to come out. We are yet to impose NSA on you. We haven’t forgotten what happened at the [Lucknow] University.”
Sadaf Jafar, a teacher and supporter of the strike, who initially reported about this abduction, asked, “If none of the police officers whom we called knew if she was arrested, under whose orders was she picked up in this manner?”
The 23 year old student leader had gone on a hunger strike when the Vice Chancellor (VC) of the Lucknow University (LU) withheld her entrance exam results, barring her from taking admission in a master’s course. Subsequently, Shukla along with fellow protesters was brutalised by UP police, lathi-charged, her clothes torn, though there was FIR lodged against her. Due to the police torture she had fainted and suffered hypotension and dehydration. During this time, police also forced her to break her fast, stop the strike and take back her demands. Since then there has been constant threat to her life because of her peaceful movement against the irregularities in admission procedure of LU.
Interestingly this abduction and intimidation took place while PM Modi is on a visit to Lucknow to “attend a programme marking the third anniversary of three key urban development initiatives.” It’s shameful that on the same day that the PM is visiting, a student leader involved in a peaceful movement demanding basic students’ rights was abducted in this manner. It appears that the police were trying to prevent any protests that could take place on the PM’s visit given Pooja’s previous attempt to wave black flags at UP CM Adityanath in June 2017. It is also disturbing to note that just a few hours ago, police had manhandled some women for waving black flags at an event to welcome BJP Chief Amit Shah. What is the difference between police men and paid henchmen, when abducting, intimidating and brutalising a young girl is how they hope to curb voices of dissent?