'I lost 5 years of my life'
The heartrending story of aspiring footballer Gary Vaz, arrested and thrashed by the police as a teenager five years ago for scuffle with a player during a game; while his case was finally transferred to the Juvenile Justice Board last month, his ordeals since that day have left him scarred for life.
After five years of being let down by the criminal justice system, all that Gary Vaz (22) feels today is indifference. In March 2007, Gary, then a 17-year-old boy, was involved in a scuffle during a football match with a 15-year-old boy (name withheld) and accidentally broke three of his teeth. More than six months later, the boy’s mother registered an FIR against Gary. The police then arrested Gary and allegedly thrashed him.
Though his case was to be filed before the Juvenile Justice Board, it ended up at the Magistrate’s court. On November 26, the Dindoshi Sessions Court transferred his case to the board, but it’s a case of too little, too late. “I feel indifferent about it because the damage is already done. I’ve lost five years of my life,” said Gary.
The harrowing ordeal of his arrest and the prolonged trial that followed has scarred Gary’s memories of five crucial and formative years of his life, even forcing him to seek psychiatric treatment. He said, “Last year, I tried to play football again for the first time, but I was tackled and my heart started beating fast. The whole incident flashed before my eyes. I have stopped playing football now.”
In 2008, MiD DAY had reported how overzealous police had arrested Gary after the incident, at the insistence of the boy’s mother. Gary’s lawyer Wesley Menezes said, “The police ought to have sent the case directly to the board. The police always mess things up, but Gary’s previous lawyers took their fees but never bothered to file a transfer application, something that ought to have been done years ago. While passing the order, the judge said lawyers needed to be more diligent.” The court finally transferred Gary’s case last month due to the efforts of Menezes and advocate Sanjay Waghmare.
On the evening of March 3, 2007, Gary, a resident of Amboli, had gone with some friends to a neighbouring building to play football. “I was the goalkeeper and the boy was elbowing people while playing. He ran towards me and elbowed me to score a goal. We got into a scuffle. When he wheeled around, I accidentally punched him in the jaw, breaking his teeth.”
A commotion ensued, and the boy’s mother threatened to take action against Gary. However, a local resident intervened and settled the dispute. “It was agreed that I would never step into their building premises again. His mother made me promise. He had made me out to be some sort of goonda and a bully. I had my exams the next day and fared badly in them because I was traumatised by the whole incident.” said Gary. The boy’s teeth were fixed by one of his relatives, a dentist.
As the months passed, Gary’s friends would continue playing in the neighbouring building, but Gary refused to join them. “I was scared of his mother. But many residents of the building, my friends’ parents, even the managing committee, repeatedly reassured me. They said, ‘Don’t worry; if anything happens, we are there to take care of her. You can come to play’.” One day, Gary finally mustered the courage to venture into the building to play, at the insistence of his friends.
“At the time, my parents were away and my sister and I were alone at home. Two plainclothes policemen came to my house in the evening and said they wanted to help ‘settle’ the matter with the boy’s mother. I was naive and happy that the matter would be settled and went along with them. But as soon as we sat in a rickshaw, they began abusing me and pulling my ears. I couldn’t believe it and began crying. In fact, they were surprised and kept asking me whether I really was Gary Vaz, because they thought I seemed too tender and soft to be a goon,” Gary added.
At the police station, a police officer, identified as Bodke, repeatedly slapped Gary. “Whenever any other person would come to the police station, the officer would call me a rapist and a womaniser. I was terrified and didn’t even defend myself from his blows as I thought that would make it worse. They had a strap with them, which they threatened to whip me with. It had the words meri baat suno written on it. I thought I would be in jail for five or six years.”
The cops booked Gary under Sections 504 (intentional insult to provoke breach of peace), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 325 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt) of the IPC. He was 17 years and eight months old. Though he was granted bail the next day, the damage had been done.
When the story was published in MiD DAY in January 2, 2008, the then Senior PI NM Sampatwad took serious note of it and also reprimanded the investigating officer.
Gary is now pursuing a BSc degree after having completed his Std XII exams last year. His father Robert said, “It has been a complete nightmare. I still cannot sleep at night. The case has ruined my son’s life. I was told the police had been bribed into doing this. He would sit at home for days and never went out.”
The other side
Referring to the scuffle, ACP Sampatwad said, “Such incidents happen quite often, but I do not remember the case right now and I don’t have the papers with me, so I cannot comment.”