Reign of Terror in Uttar Pradesh

ACTIVISTS visiting UP as part of fact-finding visits report a frightening situation where the lives, property, and liberty of Muslim minorities, as well as anti-CAA protestors and rights activists, are under assault by the Uttar Pradesh police and paramilitary, egged on by openly inflammatory language by the Chief Minister Ajay Singh Bisht (who styles himself Yogi Adityanath). Bisht has declared it ‘sedition’ to raise slogans demanding ‘freedom’, and has declared that his forces will take “revenge” on anti-CAA protestors.

CPIML PB member and AIPWA Secretary Kavita Krishnan was part of a Ham Bharat Ke Log fact-finding team to Meerut, and she and AISA General Secretary Sandeep Saurav participated in the Karwaan-e-Mohabbat fact-finding team to Muzaffarnagar.

Key Findings of Ham Bharat Ke Kog Team

Uttar Pradesh is under a reign of terror. Uttar Pradesh government is employing unlawful and lethal tactics to harass and intimidate the citizens that are protesting against Citizenship Amendment Act (“CAA”) and National Register of Citizens (“NRC”). The authorities are brazenly targeting Muslims, besides all peoples movements and human rights activists, throwing democratic norms, constitutional rights and the due process of law to the winds. The goal is not just to suppress all dissent against CAA/NPR/NRC in Uttar Pradesh, but to send a signal to anyone who may dare to raise a voice against anything.

Under this regime, UP police has acquired a notorious reputation for repeatedly breaching the due process of law, including over 3,500 ‘encounters’. But ever since the beginning of the anti-CAA/NPR/NRC protests, UP police has crossed all limits of a constitutional democracy. There is little doubt that all this is happening under the personal direction, sanction and supervision of the  Chief Minister. He publicly announced a doctrine of revenge against the protesters. In a shocking audio tape in wide circulation, a senior police official can be heard saying that he has the CM’s instructions and full immunity to beat the violent protesters to pulp, so as to teach everyone a lesson. Sadly, none other than the Prime Minister has openly supported this wanton cruelty and breakdown of law and order.

Worse, the government has made it very hard to gather information about what exactly is happening in Uttar Pradesh. Internet has been shut down for good part of the last week almost all over the state. Media persons, human rights activists and even lawyers have been detained for trying to find out about the detainees. Opposition leaders have been prevented from visiting the places affected by police atrocities. Therefore we still do not quite know the extent of police repression. But we can see a pattern in what we have learnt so far from various reliable sources. (detailed report based on information from nine districts enclosed). It is clear that the police and authorities in Uttar Pradesh are guilty of the following:

  • Denial of constitutional rights to legitimate, democratic and peaceful protest:  Authorities clamped down on anti-CAA/NRC protests even before it could begin. Permission for peaceful assembly and demonstration were summarily denied, Section 144 was used indiscriminately and activists who could have launched a protest were detained without any basis. This, while the police failed to prevent violent protests by supporters of CAA / NRC (in particular, demonstrations led by members of BJP).

  • Curtailing of information flow. Authorities have imposed internet shutdowns and limits on transportation to prevent peaceful protests against CAA / NRC.

  • Unlawful Mass Detentions/Arrests.  Police have undertaken mass detention and arrest of protestors using outdated colonial era laws (Section 144). Human rights activist and himself a retired Inspector General of Police, Shri S R Darapuri, currently under treatment for cancer, has been arrested. Magsaysay Award winner Sandeep Pandey was placed under house arrest.  A score of other social activists are under arrest. There are several cases of police detention without production before a magistrate as required by law. As of December 25, UP police said that they had arrested 925 people and preventively detained more than  5,500 others. We still do not have a full picture of the number of persons detained without a charge or those who are missing. Indiscriminate detentions and arrests are going on and Muslim localities spend nights in fear of midnight knock.

  • Reward posters: All over the state, ‘reward posters’ have come up with pictures of the protesters, without any attempt to establish their guilt, offering rewards to anyone who offers information.

  • Inappropriate Charges.  Review of FIRs against detainees shows that the authorities have charged detainees with crimes that are not warranted by the alleged facts in the relevant FIRs, including charged like attempt to murder, rioting armed with a deadly weapon and criminal intimidation. Large number of FIRs have been lodged with anonymous accused running into more than 30,000 persons. This gives police the license to arrest anyone at any stage..

  • Torture during custody:  while a fuller picture of the treatment of those detained and arrested is yet to emerge, there are reports that they have been subjected to merciless beating and torture of various kinds. The same treatment was meted out to juvenile detainees in Mujaffarnagar who were placed with adults in violation of the law.

  • Intimidation of Detainees’ Friends and Family.  It has been reported that friends, family and counsel of detainees, who have approached authorities, have faced serious harassment, intimidation and in some cases detention.

  • Excessive, Deadly Force.  Police are using excessive (often deadly) force against CAA / NRC protestors.  At least 18 protestors, all Muslims, have died since the protests started, including an 8-year old boy.  Every available evidence points to police firing as the cause of these deaths. Yet the police claim that except in one case people died from crossfire from locally made weapons and that the police only fired rubber bullets and teargas shells.  However, a video from Kanpur showing a policeman firing from his revolver at the protestors belies these claims.

  • Denial of treatment to injured and dignity to the dead: The victims of police firing were denied medical aid by private hospitals on orders from the authorities. Post-mortem was delayed. Families of the dead have not received post-mortem reports. Relatives of the deceased were pressurized not to bring the dead body home and were rushed into burying it outside their family burial ground. No compensation has been offered to any injured or to the family of the deceased.

  • Punitive action targeted at Muslim Community. There are more than one reliable reports of the police raiding Muslim colonies, entering homes, ransacking them, and detaining people indiscriminately. In several places, state authorities have sealed shops and commercial establishments owned by Muslims. Notices have been issued to Muslims unrelated to any protest or violence to compensate for the damage to public property.

Press Note: People’s Tribunal on State Action in UP

At a People’s Tribunal organised by Karwaan-e-Mohabbat and many other associated organisations in Delhi including AIPWA, where members of the jury included Justice A P Shah, Justice Sudarshan Reddy, Justice V Gopala Gowda, Shantha Sinha, Prof Irfan Habib, Deb Mukherji, Chaman Lal, Dr. N C Saxena, and Anirudh Kala, testimonies were presented by victims of police brutality, various activists both present and who have since met victims, and experts on the various issues that the tribunal exposed.

During the proceedings, testimonies were presented on the deeply troubling violent reaction of the police in response to the anti-CAA protests in December 2019, the role of the CM and senior leadership in inciting this violence, the role of medial officers who were complicit in perpetrating violence and the effect on victims themselves.

During various fact-finding missions conducted by civil society organisations in Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Sambhal and Firozabad, from January 2 to 12, 2020 prior to the tribunal it was noted that all the violence was directed toward Muslim residents of these towns are now filled with immense grief and unimaginable fear. The scale of the violence is many times greater than this, but following is an account of the preliminary findings of the Karwan e Mohabbat fact-finding team:

1. Police firing

We visited families of the dead in these 4 towns – totalling 16.  All of the 16 killed in Western UP are young men from Muslim working class families.  Almost all their families said that they were not part of the procession, they were at the wrong place at wrong time. They died of bullet injuries.  Of the 16, for which we have information, 14 of them were hit above waist – on chest, face, head, neck.  

In Meerut,

  • Mohsin, 28, shot in the chest
  • Zaheer, 40, bullet went through one of his eyes.
  • Aleem, 23, shot in the head
  • Asif, 20, bullet hit his chest
  • Aasif, 33, a bullet landed on his back

In Sambhal

  • Bilal, 31, shot under the lower lip
  • Shehroze 19, shot in the stomach

In Muzaffarnagar,

  • Noora 25, hit on chest

In Ferozabad

  • Mukeem, 19, daily wage earner, hit in the stomach
  • Rashid, 27, bullet hit on head
  • Armaan, 24, daily wage worker, shot in the chest
  • Haroon, poor man, hit in the jaw
  • Shafiq, 39/40, daily wage worker, hit near the ear

Some of these men died on the spot, others while being shifted from one to the other hospital.

2. Attacks on property

We visited homes which were ransacked and destroyed beyond repairs.  In Muzaffarnagar,  in house after house we visited in the two Muslim localities which were attacked by police on the night of December 20, – there was a pattern in destruction - the police had attacked only the most affluent houses, in each of the 4 houses we visited, everything that could be broken was thoroughly destroyed, systematically  – the police pulled down kitchen cabinets breaking every piece of china, overturned groceries, smashed sinks and pulled open taps leading to flooding of the kitchens;  broken bathroom fittings, wash basins, they smashed television sets, fridges, coolers, washing machines, furniture, switch boards; they upturned cupboards, and cars in all houses were vandalised and in one place upturned while police chanted Jai Shri Ram. Family jewellery was looted, and cash stolen from two houses.

The completely shattered members of families who visibly bore the signs of traumata and deep distress told us that the attacking police told them that they will live in their houses now as Muslims will have to leave.  The police had interpreted the citizenship law as giving them license to force Muslims to Pakistan.

The attacks were led by local police, in some places joined by plainclothes miscreants. This is a new trend where police is not a silent spectator in attacks but turns into a marauding mob.  We saw police broken batons in two houses and a police cap left behind.

People have not filed any FIRs for their loss.

3. Custodial Violence

The level of torture in the four towns in police custody was extremely high. Police did not even spare the children - in Muzaffarnagar police arrested 40 minors from an orphanage madrasa and beat the children.  The Maulana of the Madarsa was beaten so badly that his legs and limbs were broken.

Police stripped the minors inside the police station and they received injuries on their behind.

In Sambhal, one young person, X - name changed -  was brutally beaten and tortured by the police only because they found out that he was a Jamia student. The police beat him brutally in the custody and stripped him naked and beat him with belts and batons.

In Ferozabad, police took away 14 people from different places to Rasoolpur Police Station and from there to Makkhanpur Police Station.  At first, the police beat and tortured them inside the Rasoolpur Police Station and then again in the Makkhanpur police station.  City residents told us that these police stations are well-known butcheries.  

The level of brutality was such that despite knowing the fact that one of the injured was a cancer patient (Ahmed Nabi) and a fractured leg, police beat him with extreme brutality and brought him to a hospital only after three days of his arrest. In the name of treatment, the medical department just gave him some pain killers and no plaster. The family of the victim approached the court, his chemo session was due that week, and even after the court order, the police didn’t admit him to the hospital. It was only after the third court order directing the police to admit the victim to the hospital and under pressure from the media, the police admitted him to the Agra Medical College. We say an X-ray of his leg broken in two piece, without plaster almost 11 days after the incident.

Amir, a labourer was beaten so brutally that he received serious internal injuries. The police denied him medical treatment inside the custody and gave him third-degree treatment despite the fact that he was not even part of the protest.

In Meerut, police had arrested more than 100 people and they still roam around in the night in the Muslim localities in order to intimidate the local residents threatening to arrest more people.

In Muzaffarnagar, horrors unfolded as we spoke to Jameel. Frail and visibly shaken even after nearly twenty days, he narrated the details of his captivity. While he was looking for his brother in the chaos, he landed in the hands of the police who after beating him mercilessly, used a hot iron rod to inflict burn injuries in his hands. He was then put in a car and further beaten. Kept in illegal detention in the barracks, for two days he was not given any food – and this is the story of all in police stations. He was beaten badly in the first night as they repeatedly asked him to “give them hundred names”. He witnessed several other detainees being most brutally beaten, particularly those wearing kurta pajamas and having beard.

Daanish (minor, name changed) and his father were picked up from Meenakshi chowk. The minor was released only after two days allegedly in exchange for money and he narrated as to how he witnessed 4-6 masked men (not police) being let inside the police compound. Detainees would be taken out of lock up for them to be beaten up by the masked men to their heart’s content. He said that only after the information reached the higher ups and when Priyanka Gandhi said she would visit the torture chambers, he was hurriedly released even without the usual protocol of their family members being called.

Families said that pain caused from brutal beating, made the detained very vulnerable.  We were told their finger prints were put on desi pistols in police custody, if they refused, they were tortured more.

Hate Speech by Police

During our tour we heard in several places that police encouraged, persuaded and in a few cases even compelled the Hindu mob to burn and loot Muslim shops and houses and instead of controlling violence, police invited more violence.  In Ferozabad, police chased the protesters into Hindu dominant mohalla and said to Hindu onlookers, Hum Hindu hai, tum bhi hindu ho, maro [We are Hindu, so are you, kill them]!  This is when a cancer patient who was there to fill his prescription was caught by a mob and brutally beaten and his leg broken.  They also heard saying: “ye to Miyan bhaiyon ko humare Hindu bhaiyon ne muh laga rakha hai, warna inki auqat nahi hai ki ye kuch bolen” [Our brothers have kept these Mian (Muslims), otherwise they do not have the right to say something]. Further, the police said, “hume to abhi do ghante diye hai agar do din de den to inhe bata de ki hum kaun hai” [We have been given two hours now, if we give two days, then tell them who we are].

On 20th December 2019, Meerut Superintendent of Police (SP) Akhilesh Narayan Singh was caught on camera threatening Muslims. “Kahan jaoge? Is gali ko main theek karoonga [Where will you go? I will set this lane straight].  To the group of people wearing skull caps, he also said that “Jo kaali patti aur neeli patti baandh rahe ho unko keh do Pakistan chale jaayein [These black and blue badges you people are wearing, tell them to go to Pakistan]. Further he also threatens the people by saying that “Desh main agar nahin rehne ka mann hai to chale jao bhaiya...khaoge yahan, gaoge kahin aur ka Yeh gali mujhe yaad ho gayi hai. Aur jab mujhe yaad ho jaata hai toh mein naani tak pahunch jaata hun [If you don’t want to live here, go to Pakistan...you eat here but sing praises of some other place. I am now familiar with this lane. And once I remember, I can even reach your grandmother].”

In Sambhal, the locals told that they have an audio recording of the District Magistrate of Sambhal asking some Hindu journalists why they were helping the Jihadis.

The tribunal witnessed testimonies from various human rights activists who were themselves victims of such brutality. Among these were:

  1. Sadaf Jafar (political activist)
  2. Rajiv Yadav (member of human rights group Rihai Manch)
  3. Sandeep Pandey (social activist and Magsaysay award winner)
  4. S R Darapuri (Ambedkarite activist and retired IPS officer)
  5. Deepak Kabir (theatre activist and poet)
  6. Adv. Akram Akhtar Choudhry

The jury of this People’s Tribunal expressed deep worry and dismay at the testimonies placed before it. It was convinced that the entire state machinery, led from the top, acted with gravely culpable and unfortunate prejudice and violence clearly targeting one community alone, the state’s Muslim population.  

The jury also observed that the role of the police has become a weapon in the hands of the communal agenda of the government. The Jury noted that UP stands out state authorities were active perpetrators of violence themselves and pressurised the health system to act against medical ethics and Supreme Court decisions in providing medical aid, most importantly emergency medical services. It further acknowledged the looming anxiety within the families of those affected by this violence, for whom all the agents of the State that were meant for their protection have turned against them.

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