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Funerals under the barrel of a gun

Policemen cremate the body of a 19-year-old Dalit gang rape victim in the early hours of September 30, 2020 in U.P.’s Hathras district.   | Photo Credit: PTI

“There were loud and persistent knocks on the door. They asked us to hurry while we were bathing my son for his funeral and preparing for namaaz. It was not dawn yet, but the police said we had no time,” said Nafeesa Parveen. Her son, 28-year-old Mohammed Mohsin, had succumbed to bullet injuries the day before in a brutal police crackdown in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, on those protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), following Friday prayers.

It was December 20, 2019, and anti-CAA protests were erupting across the country, nine days after Parliament passed the law. Horrifying accounts of police heavy-handedness were trickling in from U.P. By the time I went to Meerut, a number of Muslim youth had been killed in police action. Hundreds of young Muslim men were forced to go underground as the police brought out FIRs against nearly 2,000 unknown persons, which allowed them to nab anyone they suspected of participating in the Friday protests.

I also met the families of Zahir Ahmed and Mohammed Asif. They too narrated stories of rushed funerals under the barrel of a gun and before the crack of dawn.

“The police arrived late at night and said we had to bury Asif immediately. The family burial ground was a few kilometres away, but they said there was no time to go that far. They said we should take him to the nearest graveyard, which was barely a few 100 metres away. When we arrived at the cemetery, we saw police personnel with spades. A grave had already been dug,” said Asif’s mother-in-law, Shameem.

At the time of the funeral of the three men less than 24 hours after the protest, the post-mortem reports were not available to the families. The police had also named the three dead men in an FIR, and the families had little expectation of a fair investigation by the police against their own.

The parallels between what unfolded in U.P. last December and last week are hard to miss. The family of a 19-year-old Dalit girl who was allegedly raped and murdered by four Thakur men in Hathras was also denied permission to conduct rituals and prepare their daughter for her farewell. The police prepared the cremation site, installed a generator and flood lights, and brought logs and fuel. They consigned the young woman to flames in the dead of night without her family’s consent.

Many Kashmiris on social media too have tried to remind the country that this is also their lived reality, but rarely discussed.

As in Meerut, in Hathras too the state has been criticised for its failure to ensure a proper investigation of the ghastly incident and gather forensic evidence in time. A whisper campaign aimed at maligning the victim and her family, including by a BJP leader, and loose remarks that seek to absolve the four accused men indicate that justice will be an uphill battle in an environment where caste hierarchies are deeply entrenched.

Sometimes present-day events allow journalists to see past stories in a new light and identify patterns. From the vantage point of Hathras, it is evident that caste, class, religion and ethnicity can dictate whether dignity in death is an equal right.

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2020 8:19:40 PM |

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