NEW DELHI — As protests continue across the country against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), Uttar Pradesh has emerged as the state which is not permitting even a modicum of dissent. Under Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the UP Police is detaining thousands of people, raiding Muslim homes, and using unrest as a licence to shoot people in contravention of the law.
This week, HuffPost India reported that children between the ages of 13 and 17 were picked up in a raid and tortured by the police in Bijnor. Women protestors in Lucknow said the police beat them with their batons and hurled abuses at peaceful protestors.
Twenty five people have been killed in the protests against the citizenship law, most of them in UP, as per reports. A child, who was crushed to death in a stampede that followed a lathi charge by the police, died in Varanasi. The UP Police initially claimed they were not firing live rounds at protestors, even though people with bullet wounds have died. Later, they admitted that a 20-year-old man had been killed in Bijnor after being shot by a constable in “self-defence”. A video from Kanpur also shows a policeman opening fire. The police has also sent notices to over 60 people, asking them to pay compensation for damaging property.
On Thursday, the police released photos and videos which they claim show protestors shooting at them in Meerut. More than 280 policemen, the police say, have suffered injuries, which include 57 gunshot wounds.
HuffPost India spoke with women’s rights activist Kavita Krishnan, who has returned from a fact-finding mission in Meerut, along with political activist Yogendra Yadav and Nadeem Khan, the founder of United Against Hate.
Krishnan, who is secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, and a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), says policemen in Meerut chased people into narrow lanes and shot them from the back.
“Many of them were not protestors at all,” she said. “The people who have died are largely labourers and very very poor workers.”
What did you find out in Meerut?
The police firings which have killed people have been deliberately lethal firings. One family that we met showed us how this man was killed by a shot in his back. There is a bullet coming out of his shoulder in front. Many of them were not protestors at all. The people who have died are largely labourers and very very poor workers. They are so poor that their lives are not consumed by thinking about protesting. They were trying to hurry home when they realised that some tension was building up. It’s really disturbing to see the situation of the families that have lost their sole earning member of the family. We visited four such families who have lost people.
“The police firings which have killed people have been deliberately lethal firings.”
You are saying that people killed were not protestors.
The four that we met were clearly not protestors. They were bystanders. They happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were either returning from namaz or returning for lunch.
What we understand about the protest is that there was no agitational protest that day in a big way. The namaz happened peacefully. The imam in the Jama Masjid in Meerut had spent a lot of energy trying to persuade people to be very very careful and not to be in a hurry to act emotionally or impulsively. He also made sure they left the masjid in small trickles so that the entire crowd would not be leaving together.
What happened was that somebody was selling black ribbons outside the mosque, cutting black pieces of cloth and giving them to anyone who wanted to tie them as a mark of protest. The police snatched those and threw them away. Then they got into an argument with somebody and slapped him. When he was slapped, he raised the slogan. When he raised a slogan, other people did too. There was a little bit of tension near the Jama Masjid. Even that dispersed. What the police has done in two places where there are narrower pathways, where people had come out to protest after they heard about the man being slapped, people were prevented from dispersing. Had the police not stopped them, they would have moved on.
...[W]hat is certainly true is the police could have easily dispersed this crowd. The intention was not to disperse but to kill. That is why the shooting happened in this extremely dangerous manner in which people have been shot in the back, shot in the chest, shot in the head.
Where did this happen in Meerut?
Two places. One is called Bhumiyan Ka Pull and what we found there was that police got into lanes, very narrow lanes and has fired there. We could see bullet marks in the shops inside the lane. It is clear that when people have run away and retreated into the lane, the police chased them into the lane, firing away. That is why one man has been shot in the back inside a lane. It’s a cruel and deliberate attempt to provoke on a day they knew a very large number of Muslims would be out and about.
“It is clear that when people have run away and retreated into the lane, the police chased them into the lane, firing away.”
What was the second location?
The other was in front of the civil hospital. We don’t know the exact sequence of events because we could not find an eyewitness for there. But we did meet family members of people who were shot by the police. Random bystanders. The families are close to destitute, very very poor, the poorest layer of people.
We met widows and parents, who are sobbing away, and who are not able to understand what is all this. The father of one boy was sobbing away and saying, ’hum to Hinduon ke godh mein khelte aa rahen hain.” He was saying, ‘Now also, it is not Hindus but why has the government become like this, I can’t understand.’ He was sobbing heartrendingly, saying he can’t understand.
Who were the four men whose cases you were following up on?
Aleem, Asif, Mohammed Asif and Mohsin. All are between the ages of 20 and 28. We were also shocked and saddened to learn the police rushed their cremations. In two cases, they did not allow the bodies to be brought home at all. The female members of the family did not even get to see the body. In two other cases, they did allow them to bring the bodies homes, but they rushed them so much. The mother of one of them said that her sibling who had come from outside—‘unko soorat dekhna naseeb nahin hua’. They did not even allow people to come to terms with what happened. The trauma is terrible.
They are in desperate need for help in terms of compensation. But they are booking the victims as perpetrators, as rioters. There was no riot. If it were a riot, there would have been some instances of Hindu shops having been attacked. Nothing of that sort has happened. Not a single such instance.
“They did not even allow people to come to terms with what happened. The trauma is terrible.”
The UP Police says it is not firing bullets at protestors.
This is a complete lie.
The UP police says more than 280 cops have been injured.
What are these injuries? They say this regularly that police is injured. You are claiming these protests are violent but there are no police casualties. Yet there are so many casualties on the side of the protestors. This is a very chilling planned atrocity by the police against the Muslim population of UP. I can vouch for that. It’s been done in chilling and a remorseless way. The last time I remember seeing this kind of thing was in 1992-93 in Bombay. Some of my journalist friends were reporting this kind of thing. The Srikrishna report has many instances of this kind. It is similar. A communalised police force has gone berserk and has got the green signal to do this by the ruling power.
“A communalised police force has gone berserk and has got the green signal to do this by the ruling power.”
The state is empowered to take the necessary measures to maintain law and order.
The police is provoking instances and creating situations which give it a pretext in order to fire. From what we can understand, in neither of these two places in Meerut did the police follow the procedure of making a public announcement, using tear gas, using rubber bullets, firing in the air and then firing at the feet. Only then can they fire in self defence. It is an extremely worrying situation. The terror there is difficult to describe. Entire communities are staying up all night in order to keep vigil and they are continuously afraid the police will raid and pick up people from their homes.
The images of burning vehicles and stone pelting are the ones that people are talking about. I was speaking with a friend who said it is good to have a strongman like Yogi Adityanath who can control violent protests. This is the dominant narrative.
That’s the narrative they are hoping to peddle. They are able to do it because of the darkness there. You have cut the internet. A lot of facts that have come out in Delhi have not come out in UP—videos etc. Why is that we have been able to persuade ourselves that a little bit of restiveness in some Muslim crowd means they have to be taught a lesson by Yogi? I appeal to everyone to think a little bit about if you or your children were in such a situation. You are being tricked into believing a communal narrative that the Muslim protestor is out of control. They have really managed to scare and terrorise people. This is a besieged population.
“You are being tricked into believing a communal narrative that the Muslim protestor is out of control.”
To say the UP Police is provoking violence is a very grave allegation. Do you have evidence to make that claim.
Yes. In such a situation, we have to credit the voices of affected people. We spoke to many eyewitnesses and we matched the stories. They said the imam (in Meerut) took so much pain to ensure that people did not pour out in large numbers, did not appear to look like a crowd. What can be more peaceful than wearing black ribbons? But if you are going to come and throw those away, slap people around, use lathi charge because someone raises slogans against you, then you are creating a chaotic situation where you are counting on someone to chuck stones. The police has not suffered grave injuries. If there were out-of-control rioters, they would be looting shops, attacking Hindus, that is not happening. Even the police are not being able to claim any such instance. And look at the kind of language that BJP leaders are using, the BJP MLA from Haryana said ’safaya kardenge.’
The police is functioning in a thoroughly illegal manner, without following any procedures. Muslim dissent of any kind is treated as reason for — what Yogi calls — ’revenge.’ It is not a situation in which the UP Police is struggling to control crowds. It is a dangerous crackdown on the whole community, a collective punishment.