On Friday, Shakuntalaben couldn’t turn away from the TV screen. At the home of her nephew in Pij village in Gujarat’s Kheda district, she was watching the disturbing visuals of the brutal assault by policemen on her 57-year-old husband in Alabama.
Today, she is desperate to visit the US —- but only so that she can bring her husband back home as quickly as possible.
The assault on Sureshbhai Patel by police in the northern Alabama city of Madison, which left him partially paralysed, has led to widespread outrage, an apology from the local police chief, arrest of the officer in charge and a lawsuit in a federal court.
But, for Shakuntala, that’s hardly any consolation.
“I am shocked,” she told The Indian Express, in a mixture of Gujarati and Hindi. “The way they threw him to the ground was unkind. He is an old man. I am worried about him. My son told me that although movement has returned to one hand, other parts of his body are still paralysed. He committed no crime.”
Shakuntala was to travel with her husband to Alabama on January 29 to help her son Chirag, an engineer, and his Punjabi wife manage their 17-month-old son Ayaan. But she could not obtain a medical clearance in time.
On February 6, a week after Suresh reached Madison alone, he went out for a morning walk when he was stopped by two policemen who were responding to a call about a “suspicious person” in the neighbourhood.
Suresh did not know English and was unable to answer their questions. Then, the officer on duty slammed him to the ground while questioning him and claimed that Suresh was “trying to walk away”.
Like her husband, Shakuntala can’t speak English, and says she will never live in the US ever.
“I am scared to live in a country where they attack you for no reason. I want to go there now because my husband and my son need me, but once Suresh recovers, I will bring him back to India. I wish my visa is granted on humanitarian grounds so that I can be there to take care of my husband. It is the US government that is responsible for his condition,” she said.
So traumatised is Shakuntala that she has shifted from her sparse, single-storeyed house to her nephew’s home in the same “NRI” village where they say at least 3,500 of the 7,000 houses are locked, with their residents staying abroad for most of the year.
Her nephew Dakshesh and his wife Monica say that Shakuntala has been “disturbed” ever since Chirag conveyed the news of the assault, and that the video “left her speechless”.
When Shakuntala spoke to Suresh for the first time after the incident, on Monday, she said that “my husband only said, ‘I did not commit any crime. They attacked me’.”
Dakshesh said, “We were having our breakfast when the news channels showed the footage. My aunt was so disturbed that she could not swallow a morsel after that.”
Shakuntala added that her husband was used to going for long walks. “Even back here, he could never stay indoors. He liked interacting with people, walking around the village and exchanging pleasantries. He used to walk from our home to our fields about 7 km away, every day,” she said.
Dakshesh said the police officers “were brutal”.
”Did they not understand that he was an elderly man who did not know English? My uncle could have suffered irreversible injuries,” he added.
Chirag has since filed a lawsuit in the Federal Court in Alabama against the City of Madison through his attorney Hank Sherrod.
Shakuntalaben added that he has also turned down an offer from the Indian community there for funds to help the family.
“My son is right in refusing that money although it’s very kind of people to stand with us. Chirag has filed a case in the court seeking compensation for medical expenses from the US government. They should pay for it without being asked,” she said.