A poet from Jaipur, Bappadittya Sarkar (23), has alleged that he was questioned by the Mumbai police for over two hours on Wednesday night, after he was taken to the police station by an Uber driver who reportedly told the police that he had overheard, and recorded, his phone conversation on the protests against Citizenship (Amendment) Act. While police confirmed the incident, a senior officer said both the driver and passenger were “asked to go” as there was “no cognizable offence”. An Uber spokesperson said they were “reviewing the matter”.
Sarkar, who is in Mumbai since February 3 for the Kala Ghoda festival, told The Indian Express that he had hired an Uber cab, from Juhu Silver Beach to Kurla, at 11 pm Wednesday. After getting into the vehicle, he said he called up a friend in Jaipur.
“We were talking about protest cultures in different cities, what happened at Shaheen Bagh yesterday, people’s discomfort with Laal Salaam and how we could make Jaipur’s protests more effective,” Sarkar said in a WhatsApp message. Screenshots of his text message have been posted on social media. Sarkar said that about 20 minutes after he sat in the cab, the driver, identified as Rohit Singh, stopped the vehicle outside the Santacruz police station and asked if he could withdraw money from a nearby ATM. Minutes later, Singh returned with two constables. “That’s when I realised he had gotten me to a police station,” said Sarkar.
Singh reportedly told the police that he had recorded Sarkar’s phone conversation. According to Sarkar, Singh told the police: “Yeh desh jalane ki baat kar raha hai, bol raha hai main communist hoon, hum desh ko Shaheen Bagh banadenge, mere paas poori recording hai (He was talking about burning the country, saying he is a Communist, he will make the entire country a Shaheen Bagh, I have the entire recording).”
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“I told the policemen to listen to the recording and arrest me if they find me saying ‘Hum desh jala denge (We will set the country on fire)’ or anything that is inciting or can be perceived as anti-national,” said Sarkar.
Sarkar said that when he asked Singh why had brought him to the police station, Singh said, “Tum desh barbaad kardoge aur hum dekhtey rahenge? Main kahin aur le jaa sakta tha tujhe, shukr manno police station laaya hun (Will we just watch while you destroy the country? Be thankful that I brought you to a police station, I could have taken you elsewhere).”
Sarkar said: “That was a scary moment for me. The fact that I could have just disappeared”.
He said that for the next two-and-a-half hours, the police questioned him on the books he reads, poems he writes, his views on communism, CAA, the ‘Mumbai Bagh’ and Shaheen Bagh protests, and also on why was carrying a tambourine with him. He said police also asked him how he managed to earn money while attending protests.
Sarkar, a Mass Communication graduate from Fergusson College in Pune, writes poems and works as a multimedia freelancer.
The Mumbai Police, however, denied asking these questions. “Both the driver and passenger had come to Santacruz police station. They were asked basic questions about where they were going. After verifying the driver’s claims, no cognizable offence was made out and both men were asked to go,” said a senior police officer.
Sarkar said he was allowed to leave the police station around 1.30 am, while Singh left a little before him. “This incident shows we are in a fascist state. The police were polite but it was unnerving. I just wanted to be part of as many protests as possible to show solidarity. CAA is a law against the poor,” he said.
Sarkar said he had participated in the protests at Shaheen Bagh and Jaipur, including at the Jaipur Literature Festival where he was reportedly detained along with other protesters. He claimed he joins a protest every day, and carries his dafli (tambourine) with him. “I love creating slogans and saying them, this instrument just brings rhythm,” he said.
On Thursday morning, Uber apologised to Sarkar and promised to take action. “As soon as the incident was brought to our attention, we took it up on priority. We are in touch with both the rider and the driver, and are reviewing the matter,” said an Uber spokesperson.
Meanwhile, Sarkar attended the protest in Mumbai’s Nagpada area on Thursday. An hour after his arrival, he said, police took him aside and told him not to play the tambourine. “It can be used as a weapon in a mob-like situation,” said senior Police Inspector Shalini Sharma.
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