PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Sunday took notice of the alleged "police brutality" in Umerkot against protestors from the Kolhi community.
According to a statement by the party, the PPP chairperson has demanded the provision of speedy justice to the affected members of the Hindu community through an impartial inquiry and has called for action to be taken against police officials involved in the alleged torture. "To protest is the right of every Pakistani," said Bilawal, according to the statement.
According to local reports, members of the Kolhi community living in the Fazal Chopan village had staged a sit-in at Allah Wala Chowk against the alleged atrocities of the influential Chopan family, who own the village.
The protest was led by Haryan, Popat and Rukhma Kohli, along with others who carried banners and placards and chanted slogans against the village owners, including Shah Nawaz, Haji and Allah Dad Chopan. The protestors from the Hindu community alleged that the village owners had demanded that they "be presented young girls" and ordered the residents to vacate the village upon failing to do so.
The protesters further alleged that on their refusal to comply, they were beaten up.
According to the protesters, as the sit-in continued, a contingent of Umerkot police, led by Station House Officer (SHO) Syed Atif Shah, reached the site and tried to disperse the protesters, which led to a tussle between the two sides.
The protesters then reportedly pelted a police van with stones, breaking its windowpane. In response, the police baton-charged the crowd, injuring two people, including an elderly woman who received a blow on her forehead and fainted.
Five people were also picked up by police but were released after the police party came under attack, said the protestors.
The protestors demanded that the police register a case against the influential landlords who had harassed them as well as the police officers who had subjected the community members to a baton charge.
Faiz Muhammad Chopan, an owner of the village, refuted the allegations levelled by the Kolhi community, calling them "baseless". He invited a partial inquiry to "unveil the entire cooked and planned story".
He alleged that political opponents have used one of the village families for their gains, adding that 200 households of Kolhi community have been settled in the village for decades.
He further alleged that it was only a single family from his village which took part in the protest, whereas others had been "supplied" from Khipro city of the Sanghar district.
IGP takes notice
Later in the evening, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Fazal Chandio, DSP Pithoro Abdul Razzaque Bugti, SHO Dhoronaro Ahmed Bux Rahimoo, PTI leader Lekhraj Malhi, and PPP leader Suleman Rahimoo held talks with the community and assured them that justice would be served.
Dhoronaro police, on the complaint of a Kolhi community member, filed a case against Shah Nawaz, Allah Dad and Haji Chopan for trespassing in their houses, sexual harassment and trying to dispossess them forcibly.
People from the community told Dawn.com that they had visited Dhoronaro police station earlier for the registration of a case and when none of the police officers heard their pleas, they had decided to protest.
SHO Dhoronaro, however, denied that members of the Kolhi community visited him for the registration of a case, saying that they simply staged a demonstration in Umerkot and "with ulterior motives pelted the windows of the police van".
DSP Umerkot said that police personnel involved in torture would face disciplinary action after an inquiry.
Sources within the police, on condition of anonymity, told Dawn.com that SSP Umerkot has suspended four police officers for their alleged involvement in torture.
No arrest was made till the filing of this report.
Sindh Inspector General of Police (IGP) Dr Syed Kaleem Imam, also took notice of the alleged police torture on women and sought an immediate and detailed report from the Umerkot SSP on the matter, a statement released by the Sindh police said.
'Constantly under pressure'
PPP Senator Krishna Kumari — who belongs to the Kolhi community — told Dawn.com that she is in constant communication with the affected community. She said that the women say that "they are being asked to vacate their homes and are being told that they have occupied government land".
According to Kumari, the women say they are constantly under pressure and when they protested, the police subjected them to torture.
Senator Kumari said that the demonstration was peaceful but "members of opposition parties took advantage and pelted the police vehicles with stones, forcing the police to baton charge the protesting crowd".
She said that she is also in touch with the SSP of Umerkot.