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Cops arrest and assault NGO workers in Bengaluru

Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru | October 29, 2008 13:15 IST

Human Rights Watch has sought for detailed inquiry into the the mass arrests and ill-treatment of activists working on sexual orientation and gender-identity issues in Bengaluru [Images] and punishment for those responsible for their arrests.

On October 20, the police arrested five eunuchs, detained representatives of a non-governmental organization trying to negotiate their release, and subsequently attacked a group of peaceful demonstrators protesting the arrests.

 A total of 42 people were detained. The negotiators later informed Human Rights Watch that police officials told them higher-level authorities had ordered a campaign to arrest the eunuchs on serious charges.

"These arrests clearly show that it is time for India's repressive attitudes and laws to change," said Dipika Nath, researcher in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program (LGBT) at HRW. "Such blatant police violence points to a system where prejudice trumps justice," Nath said.

The police arrested five eunuchs that morning in the Girinagar area of Bangalore. Such arrests, usually on begging charges, are routine in the city. This time, however, the police took the eunuchs to Girinagar police station, verbally abused them, and beat one of them severely with a lathi, activists involved in the case told HRW.

A five-person crisis team from the Bangalore-based NGO Sangama went to the Girinagar police station to assist in their release, which had taken only a few hours in previous cases. The team is trained in legal procedures and has frequently worked on similar cases involving LGBT people.

Instead of releasing those arrested, Girinagar police sent the crisis team to the Banashankari police station. Team members told HRW that officers there beat, slapped, and kicked them, before returning them to the Girinagar station, where officers sexually abused two members of the team.

Police charged all five with unlawful assembly and obstructing a public servant, and placed them under arrest.

About 150 human rights activists, along with lawyers, gathered outside Banashankari police station and began a peaceful protest against the arrests at about 1900 hrs.

The police also arrested six activists who entered the police station to negotiate. The activists told HRW that the policemen at the station sexually harassed and verbally abused them.

The police also assaulted two femal members of the team while placing them in the lockup, and sexually harassed two eunuchs as well.

At about 1945 hrs, the police started attacking the activists gathered outside, particularly targeting those who had cameras. The police lathi charged the activists and arrested 31 people.

The 31 activists wer put in a police van with barely enough room to lie down, and were not fed or allowed to use a toilet for the  next 18 hours.

The activists eventually appeared before magistrates and were all released by 1700 hrs on October 21.

The five eunuchs originally arrested were freed on bail on October 22.

"These arrests and assaults on human rights defenders show the sheer indifference to the principles of justice as well as the letter of the law.When police can seize dozens of activists on the flimsiest of pretexts, all of civil society is in danger." Nath said.

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