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Official suspended in UP for mask assault

A sub-divisional magistrate has been suspended and a police case registered against him for assaulting people in the name of implementing Covid-19 protection guidelines in Uttar Pradesh’s Ballia district.

While Ashok Chaudhary, the SDM of Belthara Road, had been suspended on Thursday evening, he was booked on Friday under IPC Sections 323 and 504 for voluntarily causing hurt and intentional insult and provocation to break public peace after videos of him assaulting people on the road, inside offices and at shops sparked outrage and threats from local traders to down shutters.

Many of these people had been wearing masks and there was at least one woman at the receiving end of the blows. Video clips of Chaudhary and four home guards, who too have been benched and booked for the same offenses, brutally assaulting shopkeeper Rajat Chaurasia and his younger brother Ashu have been widely shared on social media and have attracted condemnation. Chaurasia, who has been left nursing a broken arm, had posted the videos on Twitter and tagged chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s office.

A Hindi tweet from the chief minister’s office on Thursday announced: “Taking cognizance of the misbehavior with the people, Ashok Chaudhary, SDM of Belthara Road, Ballia, has been suspended and attached with the Revenue Board.”

Chaurasia, 28, alleged that Chaudhary and the home guards had entered his grocery store and abused him for wearing a handkerchief instead of a conventional mask.

“When I told him that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said people could also wrap handkerchiefs or towels or cloth around their face, the officer got infuriated and dragged me and my brother out of the shop and beat us with batons,” Chaurasia said.

“They continued to assault us for about 20 minutes. My brother was also beaten although he was wearing a conventional mask,” he added.

A police officer at Belthara Road told reporters on the condition of anonymity that Chaudhary had claimed he brought the suspension upon himself by assaulting people. “He said he wanted to be suspended so that he could take some rest during the pandemic,” the police officer said.