OPINION

Named, shamed, and living in fear

The charred remains of a motorbike and the damaged railing of the park housing the tomb of Sadaat Ali Khan and his wife at Parivartan Chowk in Lucknow.(Below): Police try to get a car that was vandalised in the violence back on its wheels near the Madehganj police outpost in the Khadra area of Lucknow.Omar Rashid

The charred remains of a motorbike and the damaged railing of the park housing the tomb of Sadaat Ali Khan and his wife at Parivartan Chowk in Lucknow.(Below): Police try to get a car that was vandalised in the violence back on its wheels near the Madehganj police outpost in the Khadra area of Lucknow.Omar Rashid  

In early March, the U.P. police put up several hoardings in Lucknow identifying those accused of violence during anti-CAA protests in December 2019. Omar Rashid reports on the accused who are struggling to fight the stigma of being featured on the hoardings though they have not been convicted

On March 16, the Lucknow administration served a ‘demand notice’ against 20-year-old Osama Siddiqui and 12 others stipulating that they deposit Rs. 21.76 lakh, plus a 10% collection charge, within a week. If they did not, they faced confiscation of their property or even arrest under the U.P. Revenue Code of 2006. As the family wasn’t home, officials pasted the bill on the door of their house in Khadra locality in old Lucknow.

Yasmin Siddiqui, Osama’s mother, was agitated. Osama was accused of vandalism and arson during the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019 on December 19 in Lucknow. He is out on bail after spending three weeks behind bars. “Without any query, you have made him guilty. Our boy was not involved,” she said. The notice was issued after an Additional District Magistrate Court fixed liability against 13 persons for damaging public and private property in the Hasanganj police station area during the protest. This particular demand notice was in continuation of the series of notices and orders served by the administration on 57 people, including the 13 persons accused of vandalism with a “common object” in the city since late December.

Those listed have been asked to cumulatively pay Rs. 1.56 crore as fine to the government or risk confiscation of their property. The sum was divided under four police station areas which witnessed violence: Qaiserbagh (Rs. 1.75 lakh), Hasanganj (Rs. 21.76 lakh), Hazratganj (Rs. 64.37 lakh) and Thakurganj (Rs. 67.73 lakh). Even as the accused were trying to recover from the shock of receiving the notice, the administration escalated matters in a dramatic fashion on March 5, when, under the cover of the night, it erected around 100 large roadside hoardings at key parts of the city, showcasing the names, photos and residential addresses of the accused. The hoardings did not mention that they were yet to be convicted of the charge by any court and almost all of them were out on bail. The intention of the U.P. government was clear: Cabinet Minister and government spokesperson Sidharth Nath Singh tweeted, “Name and Shame of rioters will put a deterrent under Yogi rule”.

Scarred by the episode, Osama, a third-year B.Com student, declined to be interviewed. Yasmin narrated Osama’s experience on December 19. Till 2 p.m., she said, he was spending time with his friends in the lane outside his house, after which he ventured out towards a stationery shop, the family unaware of the violence going on some distance away. He took shelter in a house in the neighbourhood to escape the violence but was caught by the police as they came looking for other members of the mob.

However, the Additional District Magistrate found no merit in Osama’s claim that he had ventured out 2 km from his house when all the shops were shut. On that day, the police were asking the protesters through the public address system to go back to their homes, as prohibitory orders had been enforced. “It’s not possible that a peace-loving person will venture out to purchase stationery near the protest site,” said the recovery order against Osama, one among the many accessed by The Hindu . However, there was no mention in the order of any direct evidence, be it a photograph or a video, of Osama’s involvement in the violence other than his circumstantial presence.

Yasmin was distraught. Not only did Osama miss an examination due to his detention, but after stepping out on bail, he has had to battle the stigma brought by the name-and-shame hoardings. Osama is reluctant to attend college functions these days as he is flooded with curious phone calls and haunted by taunting videos shared by his peers on Tik Tok of the hoardings, Yasmin said.

As the family braces for a legal battle, their immediate concern is the hefty sum demanded. When the case is in court, and Osama is yet to be declared guilty, why should he be asked to pay, Yasmin asked. Her husband doesn’t have a job or business any more. Their main source of income is from the rent they earn from a portion of a refurbished building they once ran as a school. “We won’t be able to pay the fine,” said Yasmin.

Violence in Parivartan Chowk

The Siddiqui family’s ordeal offers a snapshot of the overall situation of the 57 accused. The unusual orders for recovery of damages and name-and-shame hoardings were an extension of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s call for “revenge” against those who vandalised public and private property on December 19.

That day, parts of central Lucknow were engulfed in violence, as the call for protest against the CAA took a nasty turn. Police forces, including the Rapid Action Force personnel, charged at the protesters and fired several rounds of tear gas to push them back into the bylanes from where they threw stones and bricks at the police at intervals. An auto driver died due to a firearm injury. While the protest was scheduled at the centrally located Parivartan Chowk, which was cut off by police through barricades, the riot-control forces appeared to be stretched and struggled to contain the swelling numbers of protesters in other locations.

At the end of it all, the worst-affected site was Parivartan Chowk, where several motorbikes, three OB vans and a State bus were gutted, as miscreants, many of them with their faces covered with handkerchiefs, threw stones and allegedly set fire to the vehicles parked at the location. The Lucknow administration estimated the overall damages at Rs. 1.56 crore, of which Rs. 1.02 crore was for damage to vehicles alone, most of them belonging to the police and other government bodies. All liability was fixed under the principle of joint and several liabilities, meaning the accused would be individually as well as collectively liable for the entire fine amount. The recovery amounts were issued by the concerned Additional District Magistrate after verifying damage claims made by those who suffered the loss.

The extent of damage claimed

In actual terms, the list of vehicles damaged was given as: 25 bikes, four cars, 3 OBV vans, one State bus and the window shields of three buses. The police outpost of Madehganj was targeted and one police vehicle and bikes parked outside the outpost were engulfed in flames. Another car nearby was also damaged.

The list prepared by the administration included items used and owned by the police such as four pairs of fire boots (Rs. 24,000), four helmets (Rs. 10,000), body protector (10 units) worth Rs. 50,000, four plastic sticks (Rs. 4,000), four fire extinguishers (Rs. 10,000), a dragon torch (Rs. 5,000) and a red blanket (Rs. 4,000). Around 145 metres of street railing worth Rs. 3.30 lakh was also damaged.

In Qaiserbagh, the police calculated damages worth Rs. 1.75 lakh: three police barriers (Rs. 24,000), 15 chairs (Rs. 6,000), and two police motorbikes. Most of the damage was done in the Thakurganj area. The Sathkhanda police outpost was torched and vandalised and vehicles outside it set on fire. The cost of the outpost building and three MCRs was Rs. 24 lakh out of a total of Rs. 67.73 lakh in Thakurganj. Once again, most of the damage was suffered by the police: a chair worth Rs. 7,000, a table worth Rs. 5,000, a camera DVR and camera monitor (51 inch) worth Rs. 4 lakh, a TV worth Rs. 3,000, a tubelight worth Rs. 1,800, three CFL bulbs worth Rs. 600, a water pump motor worth Rs. 6,000, a cooler worth Rs. 5,000, a plastic chair worth Rs. 4,800, and a bench worth Rs. 15,000. The police also included a toilet door (Rs. 5,000), two water cooler jars (Rs. 600) and three jars of Bisleri water (Rs. 600) in their claim. Apart from the three OB vans, the media also suffered damage: a photographer’s camera lens worth Rs. 1.45 lakh along with his Royal Enfield bike, a photographer’s lens and another’s bike were also gutted. The railing, footpath plaster, stone and welding at Parivartan Chowk accounted for Rs. 10 lakh.

Lack of evidence

As an overwhelming number of the accused (52 out of 57) are Muslims, there is a strong feeling in the community that the U.P. government’s action is disproportionate and discriminatory, and that it is indulging in excesses out of vendetta. The list also has two Ambedkarite Dalit activists, including a retired IPS officer. Many of those arrested in the case reported they faced communal slurs while in custody.

The protests leading up to the December 19 incident were largely taking place without any leaders or banners. But after the violence, the police tried to project certain outfits, most of them linked to Leftists and Muslims, as the alleged brains behind the protests. In Lucknow, the police identified the Popular Front of India, an Islamic outfit, as the “mastermind” of the arson and vandalism and also held culpable the Rihai Manch, a rights groups headed by Mohammad Shoaib, a senior lawyer who helps terror accused fight legal battles and is known for helping a dozen of them get acquitted.

Shoaib, president of the Manch, was arrested despite being under house arrest during the violence. The exposure on the hoardings has brought a sense of insecurity to those named and shamed, who now fear attacks by vigilante right-wing mobs. Shoaib is used to such threats. In 2008, a mob of lawyers attacked him brutally within the compound of Lucknow court for taking up cases of terror accused.

Over the years, Shoaib has facilitated the acquittal of more than a dozen men implicated in terror cases. Many cases encountered by him involved dealing with dubious FIRs with suspect timings and places of arrests. Little did he know that he would find himself a victim of a similar situation. Shoaib had been placed under house arrest by the police since 5.30 p.m. on December 18 to prevent him from attending the protest at Parivartan Chowk the following day. It was around midnight on November 19 when four cops summoned him, apparently at the call of a local circle officer. Shoaib went along with them, leaving his spectacles, mobile phone and medicine behind, hoping to return home soon. After his wife Malka Bi called the district police chief, two constables came and took the medicine for Shoaib, who was eventually arrested.

The police claimed in the Allahabad High Court that he was arrested at 8:45 a.m. on December 20, from the Clarks Avadh hotel intersection, a charge contradicted by prima facie details.

The police alleged Shoaib indulged in arson, stone pelting and vandalism at Parivartan Chowk and the recovery order against him implicates him for not providing evidence to counter the police charge. Shoaib pointed out that the police has no proof against him — no footage, no photo. “It’s wrong if a recovery is done until someone is proven guilty,” he said.

Ironically, the police submission before the Additional District Magistrate lays bare the lack of clear evidence against Shoaib. The videos and photos of the protester could not be made available because the protesters razed three OB vans that stood between them and the police, said the police. Moreover, whatever photos were clicked were of their assembly prior to the violence and were not clear.

The government’s decision to put up the banners caught the attention of the Allahabad High Court, which, after a rare Sunday sitting, directed the Lucknow administration to forthwith remove them, judging them to be an “unwarranted interference in privacy of people” and in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution. The action reflected the “colourable exercise of power” by the government, the Bench ruled. The Bench directed the Lucknow administration to submit a compliance report by March 16. However, the Yogi Adityanath government failed to comply and instead approached the Supreme Court which, while not granting a stay against the High Court order, sent the matter to a larger bench.

Activists, clerics, labourers

A look at the profiles of the 57 persons named and shamed indicates they are not as privileged as the government argued in court while opposing the suo motu notice. Barring a handful of social activists and clerics, most of those implicated are those struggling to make ends meet. Many are daily wage earners and labourers, with little political or social influence.

Ashma Izzat, a lawyer, who has been fighting legal battles for 25 of the accused, including two minors, said almost all of them are not in a position to pay the fine. Some are unemployed or live in shanties. Waseem Sayyad, a waiter, lives in the premises of the Imambada as he can’t afford rent.

Izzat also argued that the administration did not follow proper procedure in issuing the orders. “They didn’t serve the orders to the accused but put up big hoardings. We applied for certified copies of the order so that we could challenge it and get a stay. So far we have got copies of only three people,” she said.

One of them, Kaleem, is a rickshaw-puller. The other is a Bengali waiter who works in a Mughlai restaurant. Izzat said her clients were scared to come out or open up. “I can’t disclose their location. They are in fear. They feel they could be arrested again,” she said.

The fear and insecurity are palpable even among the rest. Robin Verma, who teaches management at the Shia PG College, was picked up by the police on December 20 from a restaurant outside the BJP headquarters along with this reporter, and added to the list of accused. Ever since the hoardings came up, many of them along his route to work, Robin, who belongs to the OBC Kurmi caste and is the son of a retired Provincial Armed Constabulary personnel, said he stopped using public transport for security reasons. The police had initially issued notices to 95 persons in Lucknow. But 38 were exonerated from the charge of damaging property as police could not produce satisfactory evidence, following which the administration served recovery orders on 57.

Among those implicated was Mohammad Anas, a B. Com student, who claimed he had gone for coaching when police stopped him and challaned him without any proof. Mohammad Tariq, a student, claimed he had gone to fetch medicine for his father when he was nabbed by the police, allegedly at 11:30 a.m., before the protest even began.

The Additional District Magistrate, however, relies on the police claim that they were arrested from the spot and did not produce any evidence to prove their innocence. A similar pattern of fixing culpability follows in several other cases. The case of Kalbe Sibtain Noori, son of prominent Shia cleric Kalbe Sadiq and Maulana Saif Abbas, is peculiar. Noori had submitted that he had visited the Imambada area on the day of the protest to restore calm. But his own admission went against him and he was issued a recovery order for being present on the spot as “a conspirator”. Abbas had claimed that he led a peace march in Muslim areas to calm the situation and appealed for calm on social media. That too didn’t hold in the Additional District Magistrate’s court.

While much outrage was created over the notices for over Rs. 1.56 crore to 57 persons, in the recovery orders, the magistrates hold that the police made “insufficient efforts” due to which liability of several guilty persons could not be determined. While 10,000 attended the protest, how were only 57 issued damage notices, they asked.

Among the well-known people to feature on the hoardings was S.R. Darapuri, a 76-year-old retired Dalit IPS officer and now social activist who identifies as an Ambedkarite. His arrest caused much furore among civil society as he was under house arrest on the day of the protest. The police claimed he served as a “catalyst” and enabler to the violent protest through his social media appeal to gather against the CAA and for attending a dharna, curiously described as a meeting by the police, on December 16 at the Ambedkar statue.

Darapuri responded to the notice by stating that he did not ever favour violence, nor did he make a call for it. While the Additional District Magistrate ruled that Darapuri did not provide any evidence to rebuff police allegations, Darapuri said the police have no evidence against him. Darapuri is unhappy that the Additional District Magistrate did not consider his explanation or hear his plea, and that the order was passed solely on the basis of the police report.

Moreover, the recovery order was not served on him and others like him till date, he said. “In the writ petition we filed in the High Court we submitted that we came to know about the illegal recovery order through these hoardings,” he said.

Authority to issue notices

While many questions arise on the individual cases and the contention over fixing culpability of the accused without any conviction, a larger question has been the legality of the competent authority to issue notices for damages, for the losses suffered during the public demonstration.

In February, the High Court had directed a stay on a recovery notice served on a Kanpur resident, Mohammad Faizan, by the administration, offering him “ad-interim protection” and said the matter relating to issuing notices to alleged vandals was already being heard in the Supreme Court, through a writ petition by Parwaiz Arif Titu challenging the state decision on competent authority. In a separate case, the High Court granted same relief to four others in Bijnor, citing the same argument.

Additional District Magistrate Trans-Gomti Vishwa Bhushan Mishra, who drafted the notices and orders in Lucknow, was confident they hold legal ground, and stated that “there is not a single stay against my notice or any other notice issued under my format.” Mishra, who has a degree in law, said: “If there was any question of legality, it could have been raised before the High Court and my order could have been stayed.” He also said he has been liberal with the orders and acquitted most of those who responded to the notices. He said the Kanpur order was quashed only due to techno-legal reasons.

On March 18, the Allahabad High Court asked the U.P. government to file a reply in the recovery of damages ordinances brought by it after PILs challenged them. Darapuri and others are waiting for the High Court to reopen so that their writ petition against the recovery order can be heard. Once the Supreme Court reopens, all eyes will be on how it takes up, first the question of the banners, which still stand in Lucknow, and then the larger issue of extracting punitive compensation from individuals who are yet to be convicted of crime by a court, but are subjected to public shame, insecurity and uncertainty.

They didn’t serve the orders to the accused but put up big hoardings. We applied for certified copies of the order so that we could challenge it and get a stay. So far we have got copies of only three people.

Ashma Izzat

Lawyer fighting legal battles for 25 of the accused

Without any query, you have made him guilty. Our boy was not involved.

Yasmin Siddiqui

Mother of Osama Siddiqui, who was served a ‘demand notice’

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