MUZAFFARNAGAR, Uttar Pradesh: The Uttar Pradesh police has dropped 16 of 17 charges because of the absence of evidence against students and other residents of the Hauza-e-Ilmia Imam Hussain madrasa, who were arrested on December 20, 2019 as part of the state government’s crackdown on protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act.
The ten students and other residents of the madrasa were initially accused of serious crimes such as attempt to murder, criminal conspiracy, assault or use of criminal force on public servants, damage to public property, among others, during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Muzaffarnagar.
The charges were listed in a First Information Report filed at the Civil Lines police station on December 21.
“Now the police officials are realising that this could go against them. So, on January 3, they released four minors from jail under section 169 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, saying that they do not have any evidence against them,” advocate Kamran Hasnain, a lawyer consulted by the madrasa, told HuffPost India.
In the case of ten other students and madrasa inmates, Hasnain said, the police have withdrawn all charges except for Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, a relatively minor charge which pertains to unlawful assembly.
““This action proves that the police’s FIR is completely false because the police officials themselves are now saying that those they jailed and beat up did not commit any serious crimes, just violated section 144.”
“This action proves that the police’s FIR is completely false because the police officials themselves are now saying that those they jailed and beat up did not commit any serious crimes, just violated section 144,” Hasnain said. “This will benefit even those the police are still charging with crimes, and may file a chargesheet against, because the police have termed their own actions as wrong.”
There are 108 people named in the FIR, and police have dropped serious charges against 10 who are directly related with the madrasa.
Senior Superintendent of Police for Muzaffarnagar Abhishek Yadav disputed Hasnain’s characterisation of the legal proceedings. He said, on investigation of charges against the accused, “it was found that there was a lack of evidence” and so the charges were dropped.
However, he did not explain why, in the absence of evidence, such grave charges were made in the FIR against the students and other residents of the madrasa.
Advocate Naseem Zaidi, another lawyer consulted by the madrasa, said the police had “confused” the madrasa students with young protestors who participated in the protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act and entered the campus building.
“We gave evidence to the police proving that the kids they had picked up were madrasa students, not violent protestors who they were looking for. That played a role in the police’s decision to drop the charges,” said Zaidi.
Hussain, the madrasa’s other advocate, believes the police dropped the serious charges and released the Madrasa students and other inmates because officials are “under pressure” that legal cases may be filed to investigate alleged physical assault in the brutal clampdown ordered by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on those protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
The police’s decision to drop charges of serious crimes against madrasa residents is therefore a significant climbdown for the force which had vehemently defended its actions at the madrasa and elsewhere in the city after accusations of police excesses surfaced in late December.
Assault in Custody
In early January, reports in The Telegraph and The Guardian suggested that Maulana Asad Raza Hussaini, who founded the madrasa, and his students were tortured and sexually assaulted by police officials at the Civil Lines police station on December 20, 2019. In interviews with HuffPost India last week, both Hussaini and the students refuted claims of sexual assault, but stated they were subjected to violent physical abuse by police officials on the night of December 20.
The allegations of abuse in this instance are part of a wider pattern of allegations directed against the Uttar Pradesh police. Last month, HuffPost India reported that the police had violently tortured children as young as 15 in an attempt to quell any dissent to the controversial new citizenship law that, critics contend, violates the secular nature of India’s constitution.
“I was there. No one, neither the students nor me, had to suffer that,” 68-year-old Husaini told HuffPost India, referring to the allegations of sexual assault. However when asked if the police physically assaulted him and the students, he responded affirmatively
His students were more forthcoming. Nineteen-year-old Shameem Abbas who studies Urdu, Persian and Quran at the madrasa was one of those granted bail by the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court after the police dropped all charges save for the one under section 188 of the IPC.
“We didn’t do anything and yet we were jailed. So there has been an injustice against us”
“We didn’t do anything and yet we were jailed. So there has been an injustice against us.” Shameem said.
He recalled that a police officer had asked them to remain inside the madrasa before the protest so nobody went out.
“Around 4:30 pm, the police officials came back and assaulted us like animals at the madrasa and subsequently at the police station. When we were at the Civil Lines police station, the police officials said that we should be thrown in a ditch. They beat me with a stick everywhere except my head. I had injuries on my legs, thighs, waist and back,” he said.
“I won’t be reassured till they drop the charge under section 188 of IPC as well,” Shameem said. “I did not leave the madrasa gate so imposing this charge is wrong. All those from the madrasa against whom this charge is still imposed were inside so accusing them this way is also wrong.”
Twenty-one-year-old Qummail Abbas, who was also released along with Shameem on Saturday evening concurred. “We were not on the streets protesting so why is section 188 still imposed against us? We were asked to remain inside the Madrasa and we obeyed. The administration has wronged us,” he said.
“The police officials asked us to shout the ‘Jai Shree Ram’ slogan and when we refused, they uttered profanities against our mothers and sisters. We were observing roza fast and asked for water but were denied even that”
Quammail’s recollection of the alleged assault by the officials on December 20 at the Civil Lines police station is more disturbing. “They beat me on legs, hands and face at the madrasa as well as the police station with wooden and plastic sticks. The police officials asked us to shout the ‘Jai Shree Ram’ slogan and when we refused, they uttered profanities against our mothers and sisters. We were observing roza fast and asked for water but were denied even that,” he said.
When this reporter asked Muzaffarnagar SSP Abhishek Yadav about why the police had physically assaulted the madrasa students, he refuted the allegations. “None of them was beaten up in police custody,” he claimed.