Uttar Pradesh Has A New Alarming State Language – Hatred
by Zayan Asif
On December 29, 2019, The Wire published a heart-wrenching report on the death of Faiz Khan, a 24-year-old bystander who was shot in the throat on 20 December during anti-CAA protests in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh. Faiz, who worked as a taxi driver, was hit as he rushed to save an old man who had collapsed in a tear gas attack by the police. But the bullet did not kill him immediately. Witnesses rushed him to a nearby hospital, where the staff refused to treat him, claiming that they had received instructions not to treat bullet victims. A breathing Faiz lay on a stretcher in the hospital corridor, unattended and alone without his family, until life left him.
When his family, including his twin brother Faraz, arrived later, they could not even get a doctor to confirm that Faiz was dead. In fact, the Rapid Action Force arrived on the scene to physically stop them from getting to a doctor. At one point, there was so much commotion that Faiz’s dead body fell from the stretcher on top of his brother, caught in a tussle between his family and the police. The police did not hesitate to stab at both brothers, the dead and the living one, with their sticks. In the end, Faraz let go when he saw that his brother’s body was being mutilated. They had to fight more to be allowed to accompany the body in the ambulance as it was taken for postmortem. His father was not even allowed to contact the family as he sat in the gloomy mortuary, alone with his son’s corpse.
In one day, Faiz and his family had to undergo the kind of trauma and humiliation that one would not wish on even their worst enemies. In many ways, the experience of this family is symptomatic of the brutal way in which Uttar Pradesh police has retaliated to protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens. Here, the attempt is to not just stop the protests on the streets, but to terrorize, torture and humiliate an entire community in the hope of eliminating all dissent.
Most of the victims were daily wage laborers or hawkers. Some of them were mere onlookers, like Faiz. Suleiman, 21, was a UPSC aspirant. (Picture courtesy The Quint Article) He was gunned down while returning home from the mosque. On the same day as Faiz’s death, another young man named Mohammed Sheroz, also a driver, succumbed to bullet injuries in Sambhal after being denied treatment at several hospitals. An eleven-year-old child was crushed to death in the Prime Minister’s constituency of Varanasi, as police lathi-charge on a peaceful protest created a stampede.
After the initial days of internet shutdown, when news just trickled out from Uttar Pradesh, a flood of horror stories is now pouring out of the state. In Lucknow, Meerut, Bijnor, Muzaffarnagar, Kanpur and Firozabad, streets turned into battlefields as protestors and onlookers fell to bullets. In Bijnor, a policeman was also injured, forcing the police to accept that bullets had been fired, although they claim it was in “self-defense”. According to a Huffpost India report, five Muslim boys aged 13 to 17 were arrested here and subjected to physical and mental torture, including assault, sleep deprivation and being forced to watch older detainees being assaulted.
They were also forced to strip. In fact, public humiliation seems to be another tactic that the Uttar Pradesh Police is employing shamelessly to intimidate people.
Maulana Asad Raza Hussaini, an elderly Shia cleric who is respected in the community circles and was honored for his scholarly pursuits by the Vice President of India last year, is an example. The imam was picked up from his madrasa on the afternoon of 20 December, after police charged into the premises, chasing after fleeing protestors. He was brutally beaten up in front of his students and other witnesses, before being taken to a barrack in Civil Lanes. There, he was forced to strip in the winter cold and kept in detention for at least 24 hours. The humiliated imam, who was later released, cried in his sleep and refused to show his face to visitors after he returned home.
In Bhadohi, eight sons of an elderly couple were picked up as they slept in their parents’ house, without being allowed to put on proper clothes in the freezing winter. In Aligarh, a student of Aligarh Muslim University lost his hand to a stun grenade. In Muzaffarnagar, a 22-year-old bride was beaten up and her jewellery stolen. Residents here claim that the situation is worse than in 2013, when riots broke out between Hindus and Muslims and at least 60 people were killed. In Kanpur, the relatives of 30-year-old Mohammed Raees, who was shot by a bullet, were so afraid of being charged with rioting that they did not take him to a hospital. Raees died after bleeding through the night.
Among those arrested are more prominent names such as activist and Congress worker Sadaf Jafar, former Inspector General SR Darapuri, human rights lawyer Mohammed Shoaib and Magasaysay award-winning social and educational activist Sandeep Pandey. Both Sadaf and Darapuri allege that they were ill-treated in custody, and both came out with reports of atrocities being committed against other detainees.
Despite countless such incidents coming to light through media reports, police have consistently denied any incidents of illegal use of force. In some cases, relatives of victims have alleged that police personnel have intimidated them into not filing FIRs and forced them into burying the bodies outside their area of residence. Faiz’s family did not file an FIR because they did not want the police to “catch another innocent and put him in jail on our account”.
Anti-CAA protests have been raging in different parts of the country for more than a month. From mega rallies attended by lakhs of people and protest gatherings to historical sit-in protests such as the one at Shaheeh Bagh and creative displays like street plays, musical performances and street art, the protests have taken on versatile forms. In many states, particularly the ones where BJP is not in power, protests took place without any untoward incidents, while many saw police action. However, few states have retaliated with the kind of vengeance that Uttar Pradesh under Ajay Mohan Bisht has displayed.
Here, there is an all-out war as all democratic and humanitarian values have been thrown out the window under the pretext of “curbing violence”. People are being gunned down on the streets in scenes resembling a mafia-run city. Muslims fear for their life and their possessions even when inside their homes. Scores of Muslims have received notices from the government for fines running to lakhs of rupees for “destroying public property”. This is clearly illegal, since the Supreme Court has made it clear that only high courts have the power to recover this amount.
As earning members of the family are taken away, the women are left behind with their children. Many women who do not have the money to buy food or medicines for their children are now staring at fines worth several lakh rupees. According to family members, many of those taken away were at home at the time that they were accused of vandalism and pelting stones. Desperate pleas by families had no effect as men were taken away, including elderly and disabled members. In Lucknow, women too were beaten up inside their homes and their houses ransacked. Even toys were not spared. Many people have already been forced to leave town.
It is not ordinary for the chief minister of a state to declare “revenge” on the people protesting on the streets. But the statement is hardly out of character for Ajay Mohan Bisht, the controversial monk who has rarely bothered to curb his vitriolic emotions in public. The fact that such a man is in power in Uttar Pradesh is terrifying. But what is perhaps more petrifying is the bloodlust with which the police force has come out to get Muslims. While it is true that police personnel in a state is forced to do its chief’s bidding, the way Uttar Pradesh Police has acted makes it clear that communalism has seeped deep into its ranks.
In Muzaffarnagar, policemen barging into the house of a 72-year-old Muslim man reportedly told him that his place was in “Pakistan or Kabristan”. There are multiple accounts of police personnel chanting “Jai Sri Ram”, including at Aligarh Muslim University, and intimidating people to do the same. When a child died in the stampede at Varanasi, the response of the Magistrate was that such things “keep happening”.
Sadaf Jafar, who was released on January 7, alleges that she was called a “Pakistani” by policemen because of her name. Mohammad Faisal, a Rajasthan-based lawyer who had offered free legal aid to the arrested, said he was picked up and given electric shocks, with police alleging that he was a member of Popular Front of India. Another activist, Robin Verma, was asked while in police custody why he was friends with Muslims if he was a Hindu.
With public killings, arbitrary detentions, including of minors, unnecessary imposition of Section 144, destruction of houses and properties, threat of sexual violence and internet shutdowns, another Kashmir is being born in the heartland of India. The state machinery has abandoned all pretenses in turning against Muslims and is actively trying to create an atmosphere of fear. But the people of Uttar Pradesh, like citizens all over the country, are refusing to buckle under. And like in the rest of the country, women have taken up the mantle of opposition. At Ghanta Ghar in Lucknow, women have begun a sit-in protest inspired from Shaheen Bagh, persevering despite the threats and tactics of the state machinery. They hold their ground as police switch off lights, shut down toilets and even take away their food and blankets. As one protestor points out,
“We are fighting for our rights, for our children. For the very existence and future of our children”