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Anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests: Living in fear of the law and the law enforcers

A view of Aligarh Muslim University after the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.

A view of Aligarh Muslim University after the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.   | Photo Credit: PTI

In Uttar Pradesh’s Firozabad, for more than a week after six people were shot dead during protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, people living along the bypass near the Naini and Jatavpuri junctions shut themselves in their homes, too afraid to venture out.

Recalling the day of the killings, December 20, Abdul Lateef, a shopkeeper in Mohammedgunj, where the protest is said to have started, said everything was peaceful till the afternoon prayers. Suddenly, people started throwing stones and the police allegedly fired at them. Residents claimed that those who initially indulged in pelting of stones were not locals. Visibly angry, disappointed, helpless and scared of the police, the residents from near the protest site in Firozabad said that all those killed were not a part of the agitation. In the aftermath of the protest, the measures taken by the police frightened the people. Drones hovered over their homes, posters with pictures of protesters accused of inciting violence were pasted across junctions, and police were deployed heavily for at least a week after December 20.

Shaheen grieves the death of her brother Mohsin who was killed in Meerut, U.P.

Shaheen grieves the death of her brother Mohsin who was killed in Meerut, U.P.   | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Killed while coming home

The dead from Firozabad have been identified as Navi Jaan (22), Rashid (26), Mohammed Shafeeq (40), Mohammed Haroon (30), Mukeem (20) and Arman alias Kallu (24). Navi’s father, Mohammed Ayyub, had called him to inform him of the violent situation and asked him to come back home. Navi was rushing back when he was killed, his father said. Rashid was killed when he was on his way home after collecting his pending dues from a labour contractor. Haroon was also on his way home after selling his buffalo for ₹33,000. Mukeem and his paternal uncle Kallu were on their way home from a bangle manufacturing unit where they worked. And Arman, who had been warned by his elder brother Farman of the situation, was also in a hurry to get back. The families of all the men denied that any of them had participated in the protests on December 20 or earlier. “All of us are against what’s happening with our community in recent times. We have been living in fear. But my son never protested. He never had the time,” said Arman’s father, Yameen. When asked if he knew the meaning of CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), he said, “I only understand that we will be asked to prove our identity and show documents from 70 years ago.” Yameen’s family want Arman’s killing to be probed and no wrong person held responsible for it.

 

As the protests across U.P. turned violent, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath vowed to take “revenge” on those who had destroyed public property. At least 19 persons died in the State, most of them from gunshot injuries. Except in Bijnor, where they said that they fired a bullet at a protester in “self-defence”, the police have maintained that they did not shoot at protesters elsewhere in the State. Over the course of the protests, about 1,240 persons were arrested, 5,558 others detained under preventive custody, and 370 cases lodged. According to government figures, 288 policemen were injured. The government has also issued notices threatening to fine and confiscate the property of at least 498 alleged vandals.

More than 10 days after the anti-CAA protests turned violent, people continued to keep awake in shifts in Ahmed Nagar, Meerut, huddled around bonfires, to “prevent a surprise raid”. “The police are still detaining young men. Nobody knows who could be lifted at night,” said Mohammed Salahuddin, brother of Aleem, 24, a sheermal maker who died of a bullet wound on his temple.

Police run past a burning bank building as they clash with protesters during a rally against the Citizenship Amendment Act, in Muzaffarnagar on December 20, 2019.

Police run past a burning bank building as they clash with protesters during a rally against the Citizenship Amendment Act, in Muzaffarnagar on December 20, 2019.   | Photo Credit: PTI

 

In Muzaffarnagar, a cross-section of people said police action started after local MP and Union Minister Sanjeev Balyan came to Mahavir Chowk with his security persons. A promiment Jat leader of the BJP, Balyan is accused of inciting riots in Muzaffarnagar in 2013. He is seen as a polarising figure who emerged on the scene when he participated in the 'mahapanchyat' in September 2013, which was followed by the riots. Senior police officials did not deny his presence on the spot on December 20, but added that there was no pressure from him to take action.

In Meerut, locals said the police were “seen” with local BJP leaders in Muslim-dominated areas. In Nehtaur in Bijnor, they alleged that police mitrs (friends of the police) colluded with the police to target Muslims. Using communal slurs and calling Muslims “Pakistanis” was a common method to provoke, they said. Akhilesh N. Singh, Superintendent of Police (City), Meerut, was seen in a widely circulated video clip telling Muslims to go to Pakistan. He claimed that he said it after a group of protesters raised slogans in favour of Pakistan. Director-General of Police O.P. Singh reprimanded Mr. Singh for his choice of words in the situation. He continues to hold the same post.

 

 

‘For Muslims, a police state’

At places where the police took local religious leaders into confidence, the violence was contained. For instance, in Aligarh, the police used the services of Shahar Qazi and other religious leaders to continuously make appeals for peace after some initial violence. In Meerut and Muzaffarnagar, apparently no such attempt was made on December 20. In fact, the locals said they saw the police with local BJP leaders, instigating the protesters. The prominent Shia cleric, Maulana Asad Raza Husseini, and his students were beaten by the police who said that protesters took refuge in Sadaat Hostel, a seminary-cum-orphanage headed by Husseini. “The local right-wing leaders in collusion with the district administration tried to communalise what was a protest against the CAA by targeting prominent Muslim families and their businesses by arbitrarily sealing their shops,” said Akram Akhtar, an advocate and social activist.

Locals also said that men in uniform barged into Muslim localities destroying property and stealing jewellery. They raided houses in the dead of night to detain alleged protesters, the locals said. They also said the police had “promised” compensation provided they keep the looters “unidentified” in their complaints. “I have still not got the post-mortem report of my brother. How do you expect me to take any legal action,” asked Salahuddin.

Grieving a loss: Arshad Hussain at the lane where his son, Anas, was shot.

Grieving a loss: Arshad Hussain at the lane where his son, Anas, was shot.   | Photo Credit: Anuj Kumar

 

 

In Nehtaur and Muzaffarnagar, the families were not allowed to bury the dead in their town as the police feared a breakdown of law and order. “When we went to the police station to complain, six rounds were fired in the air to threaten us,” said Shoaib Malik, brother of Suleman, the 20-year-old IAS aspirant who died of injuries from a 9mm bullet. “After 10 days, when we got the post-mortem report, we were shocked to find that Suleman’s age was mentioned as 35 and his grandfather’s name was indicated in the father’s column,” said advocate Afzal Ansari, Suleman’s uncle. He said the police refused to lodge a separate FIR against its men despite agreeing to do so initially. “We have only been given the stamped copy of the complaint,” he said.

 

Akhtar said Muzaffarnagar has become “a police state for Muslims”. He also followed the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 closely. “The well-off were looted while the poor were shot at,” he said. Even in places such as Saharanpur and Shamli which remained “calm but tense”, a large number of people were booked under Sections 147, 148 (punishment for rioting) and 152 (assaulting or obstructing public servants when suppressing riot) of the Indian Penal Code. “Sealing shops and asking for compensation without due judicial process is unprecedented. These are ways of frightening Muslims,” said Akhtar. The police and the district administration have asked the local media to publish names of those who have been booked for rioting in their news reports.

 

‘U.P. police is not communal’

The U.P. police maintain that protesters who have been identified through photos and videos shall be proceeded against. Officers cite Supreme Court orders on recovering money from rioters under the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984. The U.P. police issued notices to one dead man and two nonagenarians in Firozabad accusing them of vandalism. The Superintendent of Police admitted later that this was a mistake and promised that no action would be taken against senior citizens. Senior police officials in these districts insisted that they used only the “required force” to control the situation. In Meerut, a senior police official said Lisadi Gate, where all the deaths took place, was a hub of criminal activity. He claimed money was being pumped in from outside, from the Popular Front of India, to create a “communal situation”. “The policemen abused senior officials for sending them in with just polycarbonate canes. They wanted to have a free run and needed counselling on the spot,” he said. “In a law and order situation, there is no one rule. What works, works. The charge that the U.P. police is completely communalised is wrong.”

 

While the protests have largely been without any leaders or banners, the police have named Leftist and Muslim organisations in FIRs. In Lucknow, the police identified the Popular Front of India as the “mastermind” behind the violence and have written to the Home Ministry demanding that it be banned. The police said the outfit had mobilised outsiders, including those from West Bengal. Mohammad Shoaib, senior advocate and the head of Rihai Manch, a rights group that helps terror accused fight legal battles, was arrested despite being under house arrest during the violence. His colleague Robin Verma, many Ambedkarites, retired IPS officer S.R. Darapuri, and several other members of civil society were also arrested.

Scared of NRC more than CAA

There is an overwhelming feeling in Muslim localities in U.P. that the police action was disproportionate and discriminatory. Locals said the police was pursuing a vendetta against them. While many of them detached themselves from the violence during the protests and also condemned it, their concerns, insecurity, and confusion regarding the CAA, NRC and National Population Register was palpable. Noor Bano, a housemaker, was convinced that the NRC would follow the CAA and have an adverse impact on Indian Muslims. “How will we provide proof,” she asked. “And if it was fair, why would people come out to the streets?” Many said they feared the NRC rather than the CAA.

Students offer flowers to police personnel during their protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on December 19, 2019.

Students offer flowers to police personnel during their protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on December 19, 2019.   | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

 

Syed Husain Afsar, editor of Sunday Aag, an Urdu newspaper in Lucknow, said the CAA is only a trigger. Several factors were responsible for the large turnout on the streets, including the Ayodhya verdict, the dilution of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, and incidents of hate crimes. But the “riling up” by the “majority” and by media channels also played a role, he said. He rubbished the BJP’s argument that Opposition parties are provoking Muslims to take to the streets and argued that a large number of Muslims have started understanding the atrocities themselves. Another Muslim scholar said that the question of CAA-NRC had made the community aware of the “continuous injustice” meted out to them and amplified their fears that they would be reduced to “second-class citizens”.

In Jamia, the beginning

The unrest in U.P. — indeed, the nationwide agitation over the CAA — began only after the Delhi Police’s action at the Jamia Millia Islamia. On December 15, at around 6.30 p.m., security personnel barged into the university’s campus, admittedly “chasing after arsonists”, and began beating people up. Several videos and testimonies from students who were inside the campus and not participating in the protests revealed how the police launched multiple rounds of tear gas shells into the university. The whole area was enveloped in white smoke. Some shells were also launched into the university library’s reading room, by breaking windows and causing panic. There were several students seated in the reading room at the time. The police then stormed the library and severely beat up the students. According to several accounts, the police destroyed furniture and other university property and also hurled communal slurs. Many described the campus as a “war zone”.

 

Among those grievously injured at the library was LLM student Mohammad Minhajuddin, who was studying in a separate section meant for research scholars. He said that nearly 25 policemen broke into this section and launched an indiscriminate attack, during which he was hit on his hand followed by a whack on his left eye. Videos shared by students showed Minhajuddin lying against a wall on a university bathroom floor, surrounded by shattered glass from broken mirrors. He was later taken to AIIMS, where tests revealed that he had lost vision in one eye. The crackdown resulted in several suffering fractures and other severe injuries. At least 50 people got admitted to the Holy Family Hospital.

 

The police said they were following some of those who had set fire to buses at multiple locations and had run into the Jamia campus. Senior police sources said that a large number of personnel on the ground had been continuously on duty for over 56 hours in lieu of the ongoing protests and were in an “irritated” state, which may have been the reason many of them used excess force. The sources also said that crowd control personnel were only equipped with batons and shields and were instructed not to carry arms during the protest.

Policemen stand guard outside Jamia Millia Islamia following the protests against Citizenship Amendment Act, in New Delhi, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019.

Policemen stand guard outside Jamia Millia Islamia following the protests against Citizenship Amendment Act, in New Delhi, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019.   | Photo Credit: PTI

 

A volatile situation in Mangaluru

A few days later, on December 19, as protests raged across other parts of India, coastal Karnataka’s communally sensitive city of Mangaluru saw anti-CAA protests too. This was followed by violence and police firing that claimed the lives of Jaleel and Nauseen. All this happened within a radius of about 2 km of the office of the Deputy Commissioner in Bunder area, a major wholesale and retail trading centre near the fisheries harbour. Jaleel worked as a labourer in the fishing harbour and Nauseen was a welder in a shop near Juma Masjid in the area. The families of both claimed that they were not in any way involved in the protests and just happened to be in the vicinity when firing began.

D.M. Aslam, a member of the Muslim Central Committee of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi, said the police could have used restraint. “[The incidents of] stoning, throwing soda bottles at police and burning of tyres on the roads began after the Mangaluru police resorted to lathi charge... Had the police shown some patience, the protesters could have been taken into custody. The police should have allowed them to sit and continue the protest for sometime.”

M.S.M. Zaini Kamil, general secretary, Sunni Youth Sangha, Karnataka, has a video clip that indicates that at around 2 p.m., soon after the protest began, some police officials were trying to convince the youth to withdraw their agitation when two constables suddenly began lathi charging the protesters. Other police officials joined the constables, without waiting for orders, escalating the situation. This was followed by tear gas firing. “The violence could have been avoided if the police had shown some patience and common sense in controlling the mob,” he said, adding that action should also be taken against those who threw stones at police.

In another clip that went viral, Shantharam Kunder, an Inspector at Mangaluru East Police Station who was part of the police unit when the operation was on, is seen remarking, “So many bullets have been fired, yet no one has died.” Kunder has since been transferred out of station duty and a probe initiated into the incident.

Tear gas in a hospital

Later, the police entered the nearby Highland Hospital, where the injured had been admitted and the bodies of the Jaleel and Nauseen had been kept. Yunus, the CEO of the hospital, said it was the hospital that had called the police as people in large numbers were entering the premises. “But [they] burst tear gas shells… [the] smoke spread all over. We have conveyed our displeasure on the conduct of the police to Mangaluru South Police Station,” he said. However, the hospital did not file any police complaint or register a protest with the Indian Medical Association.

B.K. Imtiyaz, an eyewitness, said policemen kicked the doors of wards and even the doors of the ICU. Post violence, on December 22, Chief Minister B. S. Yediyurappa announced a compensation of ₹10 lakh each to the families of the two killed. But it was withheld the next day on the grounds that Jaleel and Nauseen were among those accused of violence and their names had been mentioned in the First Information Report filed on December 19.

A screenshot from a video that shows police breaking the door at a hospital in Mangaluru.

A screenshot from a video that shows police breaking the door at a hospital in Mangaluru.  

 

One of the injured, Abu Sali, 45, said he is worried about his future. Speaking at Highland Hospital, where he is undergoing treatment for injury to his right hand after being hit by a bullet, he said: “Though I am innocent, I am named as an accused. This situation is really haunting me. I do not know how my brother (Saif) is managing to meet the mounting treatment cost. He added: “I do not know anything about the CAA.” Sali said he was at a photocopy shop located near the neighbourhood State Bank branch when he saw a lot of policemen. The shopkeeper then informed him of the impending protests. “At around 5 p.m., when I was going towards the bus stand [near the branch], I was hit by the bullet. Two others, who were going ahead of me, were also injured,” he said. A passerby bandaged his wound and brought him to the hospital at around 6 p.m., he said.

In Nehtaur, when Arshad Hussain said his son Anas had been “martyred”, a foreign journalist asked, “For what/whom?” Hussain was so distraught that he could not remember his own number. Someone noted it down on a piece of paper for the journalists gathered. Hussain retorted, “apne Hindustan ke liye (for India, his own country).”

Watch | What's all about NPR?
 

Reporting by Omar Rashid, Anuj Kumar, Hemani Bhandari, Sidharth Ravi, Raghava M. and Raviprasad Kamila

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Printable version | Sep 22, 2020 12:20:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/anti-citizenship-amendment-act-protests-living-in-fear-of-the-law-and-the-law-enforcers/article30472753.ece

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