Rizwan Shah, a 21-year-old cloth shop owner left home for Macchi Bazaar, the main market area here, to buy plastic bags on Sunday evening but he never returned. Rizwan, who succumbed to his bullet injuries in the anus and thigh on Tuesday morning, is the fifth person killed in the police firing that followed an altercation and a riot on January 6. Testimonies from the people raised doubts that the police had targeted Muslims, but the ADGP denied the charge.
According to the police, five people were killed and more than 200, including 90 police officers, were injured in the violence that followed a small fight between a food stall owner and a rickshawman in a sensitive area here. However, family members of all those who were killed and injured alleged police high-handedness. An eyewitness, Abdul Rehman Shaikh, said: “The others were using stones. The police used bullets. Is that fair?”
“My son was innocent. He used to be scared of fights and riots. He was a calm, quiet boy,” Raeesa Bi Shah told The Hindu. Rizwan was married eight months ago, and his 17-year-old wife Nargis is pregnant. Asked what her demands from the police were, Nargis could not talk and collapsed on the floor. “They killed young, innocent people. How can we trust the police anymore?” asked Rizwan’s father Hasan Shah.
“Why were only Muslims killed? Only Muslim houses burnt? Can the police explain? More than 70 Muslim youths were hit and shot at, whereas only two Hindus have suffered bullet injuries. What can we expect from the police who did this?”
The distrust of police and tales of atrocity are not confined to the families of those who were killed. At Macchi Bazaar, where curfew has been imposed since Sunday evening, people alleged that it was the police who set fire to their houses and looted cash and gold ornaments.
Refusing to be kept indoors by curfew, people came out of their houses to talk about “abusive use” of force by the police. “My old mother, who is bed ridden, was sleeping, when the police entered our house and fired teargas shells. The women police hit her with lathis. They called us names and said we will not be spared,” complained Kahirunissa Bano. Teargas still hangs over her two-room house.
“After curfew was enforced, the police came and damaged our rickshaw and broke our doors,” Mohammad Hussain Rustom said. Similar allegations came from all quarters of the Muslim-inhabited area, where vehicles and hand-carts were gutted at every corner.
“As soon as I heard there were clashes, I took my two daughters and left the house in fear. But I could see police and a few other people entering my locked house. They took everything they could, and burnt the rest,” Tasleem Yusuf Katik said. A sum of Rs. 50,000 that she had saved for her daughter’s wedding next month, clothes and gold ornaments were all gone, she said, standing on burnt debris, the remains of what was her house till two days ago.
Her neighbour Nafisa Shah has a similar story, but is not sure if it was the police who burnt her two-storey house beyond recognition. “The police could not save my house. I do not know whether they did it, but it was their responsibility to ensure safety. Where will we go now?”
The residents of Macchi Bazaar this correspondent spoke to also alleged that the police had not taken Panchnama, required to estimate the loss incurred. “My shop was burnt with materials worth Rs. 7 lakh in it and the talathi who came to record the Panchnama refused to talk to me,” said Habib Ahmed Haji.
Although a relatively small number, two Hindu families this correspondent spoke to said their houses had also been looted and burnt. “They burnt everything. I had just fled with my daughter to save our lives, but when I came back everything was gutted,” Priyanka Sonar said.
Another allegation is that the police did not follow the standard operating procedure of using teargas and lathi charge before firing at the people. Added to that is the complaint that they fired, aiming at the chest directly. “Did the police shoot to kill my brother? The bullet went through his chest,” said Asif Ali, brother of 23-year-old wireman Imran Ali. Egg vendor Asim Shaikh, 23, was also hit in the chest and near the navel. “My son died while going through his routine. Who will support the family now?” his mother Abida Bi asked. “We want to know who ordered the shooting. Were the police told to kill people?” his brother Shaikh Wasim wanted to know.
Fear and frustration are palpable in the bereaved families and among those who survived. “My son went to buy chicken for the house and never returned. What was his fault?” asked Parveen Patel, mother of Raees Patel, 17, who was killed on Sunday. “We do not need to tell you if we feel safe anymore. How can we bring up our boys in such an atmosphere where we are openly targeted?” asked Raees’ grandfather Dawood Rahid Deshpande.
Deputy Tehsildar Abdul Halim Ansari, whose 30-year-old son Hafiz Asif Abdul Halim was also killed in the police firing, is angry with the system of which he is part, and refuses to go back to work. “The system is biased. How can I go back and work there? My son had not done anything wrong,” Mr. Ansari told The Hindu.
“There is no guarantee that this won’t happen again. The police have failed us. We have nothing against Hindus, but we do not trust the police,” said 23-year-old Shaikh Akbar Sultan, who survived bullet injuries in the shoulder.