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Arrest of septuagenarians leaves families aghast, civil society outraged in Lucknow

Picture shared by Mohammad Shoaib (extreme left) on December 18 showing him under house arrest.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Malka Bi’s mobile phone displays the desperate message she sent to the official numbers of five senior police officers at 1:08 am on December 20. It was a little more than an hour after four policemen whisked away her husband Mohammad Shoaib ,72, in a jeep purportedly for interrogation.

Since Internet and SMS services were disabled following the violence during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act on November 19, a few hours earlier, her messages did not get delivered. Mohammad Shoaib, a senior advocate and socialist activist, had been placed under house arrest since the evening of December 18 to prevent him from attending the protest at the Parivartan Chowk.

It was around midnight on November 19 that four cops said he was summoned by the circle officer and took him with them. Mr. Shoaib, who suffers from blood pressure and thyroid ailments, was already in bed.

“He then went to his room and changed his trousers. I didn’t even get to see his face when they took him. He didn’t take his spectacles or carry his mobile,” said Ms. Malka.

Clueless and desperate to know her husband’s whereabouts, Ms. Malka then dialled the number of the district police chief and informed him that her husband needed to take his medicines. Ms. Malka says the officer sent two policemen to her house to fetch the medicines. The two also told her not to worry and assured her Mr. Shoaib would be back in an hour or at the latest by the next morning. For two days, however, she didn’t hear anything about him.

Malka Bi, wife of advocate Mohammad Shoaib.

Malka Bi, wife of advocate Mohammad Shoaib.   | Photo Credit: Omar Rashid


“On the third day, when I heard he is in jail, I was relieved. Initially, I didn’t know where they took him, or where they would dump him or kill him. Koi theek thodi hai [what’s the guarantee],” said Ms. Malka, recalling the anxious moments.

Among the more than 1,200 persons arrested by the U.P. police over the violent protests in the State, Mr. Shoaib heads the Rihai Manch, an organisation with which he has helped acquit more than a dozen persons ‘falsely’ implicated in terror cases, bringing him under police radar several times. In 2008, he was also brutally assaulted by fellow lawyers in Lucknow and Faizabad, in the court compound as they did not want him appear for terror accused.

According to the FIR lodged at Hazratganj police station on December 19, Mr. Shoaib faces several serious charges like rioting, attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy, though his name does not feature in it.

In its submission before the Allahabad High Court, which was hearing a habeas corpus writ filed on behalf of Mr. Shoaib, the additional government advocate quoted police records to say he was arrested at 8:45 am on December 20 from the Hotel Clark Avadh intersection, a couple of km away from the advocate’s residence.

Ms. Malka alleges foul play in the police version as her husband didn’t even attend the protest and was under house arrest.

“When a person was at home, how can he be part of a riot? Police said they found him near Clark Avadh. If he is in police custody how can he reach Clark Avadh,” she asked.

The family of S.R. Darapuri, a retired IPS officer and an Ambedkarite Dalit political activist, is also asking similar questions, as like Mr. Shoaib he was under house arrest on the day the protest took place but was also sent to jail. He turned 76 on December 16.

Siddharth Darapuri, his grandson, says the senior Darapuri found out about the police picket when he stepped out for morning walk. The policemen, however, left the premises by evening.

“He was quite disturbed by the violence that happened during the protest. And at 12:35 am, he appealed to people through Facebook for peaceful protest and said violence was wrong,” said Siddharth.

The next morning at around 11:45 am, 8-9 policemen came and arrested Mr. Darapuri without informing his family where he was being taken. His son Ved Kumar says Mr. Darapuri did not attend the protest but posted a photo of him holding a placard, which read “Save Citizenship,” on Facebook to express solidarity.

Known for voicing issues concerning the marginalised, Mr. Darapuri also contested the Lok Sabha election in 2019 from the backward area of Sonbhadra. Ved claims his father was implicated due to his activism. “There is a political angle,” says he. “He works a lot for Dalits and forest rights of tribals in Sonbhadra.”

The civil society in Lucknow is outraged over their arrests, as well as that of cultural activist Deepak Kabir, Congress worker Sadaf Jafar, Ambedkarite scholar Pawan Rao Ambedkar and Robin Verma, a teacher-activist who works with Mr. Shoaib, and has demanded their immediate release.

DGP O.P. Singh on Friday justified the arrest of several activists and political detenus, saying they were picked up from the spot, but hinted that leniency could be shown.

“They did the work of incitement at the scene. But even then, we will have a look at the evidence, and on the basis of that take action against them and see what kind of Sections are invoked against them,” he said.

While Mr. Shoaib’s writ is listed for January 2, Mr. Darapuri’s bail plea will be up at a sessions court on January 3.

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Printable version | Sep 16, 2021 4:26:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/arrest-of-septuagenarians-leaves-families-aghast-civil-society-outraged-in-lucknow/article30420117.ece

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