BEKAL (KASARAGOD): On Wednesday, Kerala woke up to another alleged instance of police brutality. A video clip widely shared and viewed on Facebook and WhatsApp showed police officers trying to drag away a man from a restaurant in the dead of the night, with wailing women and children trying to stop them. In the melee, the man's dhoti comes off. The horror was captured by passersby.
In another clip, two police officers enter the restaurant and drag out a youth by his collar. Moments before that, a sub-inspector entered the frame and used his lathi on the youth.
The incident happened at Sea Park Hotel -- a roadside neon-lit eatery with sea-facing outdoor seating -- at Trikkannad, 2km from Bekal Fort, on the Kasaragod-Kanhangad coastal highway.
Here's what happened, according to the police. The narrative does not quite hold up in the court nor adds up when the CCTV footage is reviewed.
Additional sub-inspector of Bekal station Sebastian P J and two civil police officers reached the restaurant at 11.30 pm and asked the staff to shut it down because it was past the deadline of 9.30 pm. The officer said he wanted the eatery to be shut because neither the customers nor the staffers were following the covid protocol. But the restaurant owner Abdul Rasheed's son Safir (19) and his brother-in-law Haris U V refused to close the eatery.
"Haris then accused me of often trying to shut the restaurant and caught hold of my neck and pushed me out," said additional sub-inspector Sebastian.
Since the police officers were outnumbered, Sebastian said, he left the eatery and informed the station house officer (SHO). Bekal DySP Sunil Kumar C K said Bekal police officers led by the SHO went there to arrest Haris.
"But they created a planned scene. When the officers were leaving with Haris, a woman blocked them and started wailing. The children too cried. But none of the officers touched the woman or the children," said the DySP.
When Haris said he was a heart patient, the police left him. The restaurant owner Rashid, who also tried to block Haris's arrest, then voluntarily courted arrest and was taken to the station. Haris said Rashid's son Safir was also detained but he jumped out from the police jeep.
They were charged with assaulting a police officer and obstructing a public servant from carrying out their duty. The DySP said the restaurant did not have a commercial licence and wilfully violated covid protocol. He said the police allowed restaurants to give takeaways to customers to finish their food even after business hours, provided they turn off their lights.
"But Safir refused to even turn off the lights. If Safir and Haris were not there, this issue would not have happened," Sunil Kumar said.
Udma panchayat vice-president K V Balakrishnan of the CPM said the restaurant encroached on government land and did not have a license.
'Police excesses a routine'
Ranjith Janardhanan, who has a 50% stake in the business, said the restaurant stood on his uncle's property.
"We invested Rs 20 lakh to set up his business. My partner Rashid designed this restaurant like a country boat. It caught the imagination of our customers and they keep posting photos of our eatery on Instagram and Google," Janardhanan said.
"But importantly, the restaurant is a livelihood for 20 persons and is doing its bit to improve tourism in the area," he said.
Rashid said the additional sub-inspector Sebastian was the only trouble-maker for the business.
"He used to come once a week and create trouble, assaulting and abusing my staff," he said.
Rashid's son Safir, who manages the restaurant, said Sebastian broke his iPhone XS Max two months ago.
"The next day he broke another old iPhone 6 which I gave to my staff," he said.
"Once the SI threw a glass of pineapple juice on my face saying I put more sugar in it," Safir said.
While speaking to the staff and owners, one Nazar Thekupuram (38) stopped by. He runs a roadside eatery at Poochakkad, 5km away on the same highway. He said Sebastian was a menace to his business also.
"He stopped troubling me after a CPM leader intervened," he said. Nazar opens his eatery at 4 pm and closes at 11 pm. "That's why I get some business," he said.
Sea Park opens around 10 am with one set of staff. They leave by 6 pm and another set of staff takes over. Interstate truck drivers and highway passengers pull over for food and toilet breaks. Sebastian, who denied the allegations against him, said interstate truck drivers never followed covid protocol there. Ranjith Janardhanan said eight CCTV cameras covered the outside and inside of the restaurant.
"I reviewed footage from all the cameras. There are shots where Sebastian and Safir and Haris are engaged in heated arguments. At no time did they touch the officer," he said.
Janardhan also said that Rasid owns three other roadside eateries on the same coastal highway and all of them stay open late into the night to cater to travellers and truck drivers. "No other place faces trouble," he said.
Court grants bail to Rashid
The Judicial First Class Magistrate Court - II in Kanhangad granted bail to Rashid who was charged with Section 332 of the IPC (hurting a public servant with intent to prevent them from discharging his duty) on Wednesday. Rashid's advocate Unnikrishnan T P said the court granted him bail the same day despite being accused of assaulting a police officer because he had submitted CCTV footage that prima facie disproved police's charges.
On the contrary, footage showed the restaurant owners and staff were assaulted, the advocate said.
He said the allegation that the restaurant did not have a license was irrelevant in this case.
"If the business did not have a licence, the panchayat can take action against it. Sending 20 officers to the restaurant cannot justify it," he said.
The court also took the statement of Rashid who alleged the police assaulted his son Safir.
"The court observed that Rashid's allegation can be investigated," the lawyer said.