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Tennis star Somdev Devvarman speaks out: ‘Police brutality horrible, off the charts’

Written by Shahid Judge
| Mumbai |

Updated: July 12, 2020 8:38:00 pm

Somdev Devvarman retired from the game in 2017

Voices from the world of sport rarely travel beyond the game. But then, there are those who believe that by speaking out, they can make a difference to the world beyond the court.

“I am more likely to say something,” says former India No.1 tennis player, Somdev Devvarman. Especially, he says, when the issues that confront him demand it — police brutality and racism.

Speaking to The Indian Express Thursday, the 35-year-old referred to recent cases of violence and alleged police brutality in the country, which he described as “shocking”. He also recalled instances of racism that he had faced as a player from the Northeast.

“Police brutality in India is off the charts. It’s horrible. It’s simply a misuse of power. We read how they have gone out and burnt villages, thrashed people, detained people, and how some have died in stations. Just now, there is a case happening in Tuticorin (Thoothukudi) in Tamil Nadu. There was the Delhi case that I also tweeted about. And the worst bit is that none of this is shocking to us. Why is this okay?” he said.

The tweet he was referring to was part of at least four from May 30 to June 28, when he pointed to the protests in the US against the killing of George Floyd and said it made him “wonder how we feel about police brutality in India”.

On June 24, he tweeted: “So the police in Delhi were filmed beating people up and forcing them to sing the national anthem. People die and get severely injured because of this brutality. And nobody is held accountable? Nobody. How is this ok?”

The reference was to an incident during the February communal riots in Delhi. One of the four men who were beaten, 24-year-old Faizan, died in hospital later. The Delhi Police had filed an FIR in the case against unknown persons.

The next two tweets — on June 26 and 28 — referred to the deaths, allegedly in police custody, of a father and son in Thoothukudi, and the alleged torture of a youth in Tenkasi, both in Tamil Nadu. “How many deaths will it take till they know that too many people have died? Authority misusing power and not being held accountable,” he wrote.

Devvarman, who retired from the game in 2017, said he was “thankful” that police in India generally “don’t have guns”. “They have sticks. They come out there and they hit you. It has happened to a friend of mine and me at a concert. We were just walking by and there happened to be a crowd and the police weren’t sure of what was going on, and they were going out and hitting people… I don’t think that’s okay,” he said.

Highlighting the issue of racism, Devvarman, who hails from Tripura and built his career in Tamil Nadu, went on to recall a personal experience. “Early on, I was called a watchman. My nickname was Bahadur, people said that all my life,” he said.

“Last December, I was in Kolkata and after an exhibition match, I was just running around in the field cooling down. About five or six kids came up to me and said ‘Chinese’. I don’t think they were being racist. My wife was with me, she was livid. Not in the sense that she wanted to beat these kids, but she wanted to teach and educate them. I started throwing balls with the kids. They weren’t discriminatory towards me. They thought it was a joke and kind of laughed it off. But the truth is that they were like ‘Hey, you are different from us’. That’s why I think we all need to be educated and made sensitive to these topics,” Devvarman said.

Somdev Devvarman: Why are we comfortably numb?

Now, he says, the time has come for Indians to introspect and change. “I had friends with whom I grew up, who wouldn’t eat at the same table as me because they were Brahmins. People wouldn’t eat on the same table because somebody was a Muslim,” he said.

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