‘They are happy to take the lives of innocents. Bullets hit feet and hands and faces. They didn’t care, whether people are living or dying.’
The cases of two men from Firozabad – one living, one dead – give you a clear sense of how the Uttar Pradesh police has treated Muslims in the state after large-scale protests broke out around the country over changes to the Citizenship Act.
The first is Rashid.
The 27-year-old was physically disabled, unable to move his right hand and with limited movement in the other. Many young people in the city work as labourers and Rashid followed the pattern: he was employed in a glass bangle factory. But because of the trouble with his hands, the most he could do was pour water for other workers.
On December 20, he was found dead because of bullet wounds.
“The doctor at the government hospital told us that the bullets were from the police,” said Noor Mohammed, Rashid’s father, at their house in the Kashmere Gate area of Firozabad, where he lives with Rashid’s six-year-old daughter. “How could they think he was a protester? He could barely move his hands.”
Residents say that the police were waiting outside the mosques on that day. Some claim that they were waiting with hundreds of other men in civilian clothes. Photos and videos that have emerged from the day attest to this – though the police deny these allegations.
This resulted in clashes not unlike those seen elsewhere in the state, leaving six dead allegedly due to police firing, residents said. The police claimed that the crowd got violent, pelting stones on them. Initially, a police officer denied that bullets were fired – echoing claims of other police officers in the state despite evidence, including videos, to the contrary.
In the middle of the melee, Rashid was shot dead.
“Someone saw his body there and they alerted us and we took it to the government hospital for a postmortem,” Mohammed said. “Until now, [10 days after the incident], we have yet to get the postmortem report.”
Around 3 am, the police handed the body over to Mohammad, saying he had to be buried within an hour. “There was lots of force present, and they only let us wash the body in the ambulance. And then, with just eight-10 people there, we had to bury him.”
Reports from around Uttar Pradesh, where officials acknowledge 19 dead though reports say the number is higher, echo Mohammad’s experience: death, allegedly because of police action, a lack of information from the authorities, and forcing families to conduct funerals in the early morning hours.
At the house of Armaan, aka Kallu, a 24-year-old, a labourer who was also killed by gunfire, his uncle says that the details of the FIR were dictated to them by the police.
The FIR based on a complaint by Armaan’s father, which his uncle asked a fellow resident to read out and explain to him says, “Around 3 pm in the afternoon, just as Armaan reached Naini Chouraha, there was a large crowd and stone pelting and firing was taking place. In the middle of this my son was hit by a bullet. Whether the bullet belonged to the police or the crowd I don’t know.”
Across Uttar Pradesh, in fact, FIRs filed by the police alleging that the protesters have been violent were filled with specific details and names, while the reports filed for those killed have featured single, vague paragraphs.
Why didn’t his father clearly say that it was the police that shot him, the fellow resident reading out the FIR asked? “His father didn’t write it, the SP [superintendent of police] basically wrote it himself, it was dictated by him,” said Armaan’s uncle. “Now the only hope is that we can speak to the court.”
The second case is that of Ahmad Nabi. And the courts haven’t been of much help to him.
Nabi, 43 was one of the many men detained by the police on December 20. He also happens to be a cancer patient, due for treatment on December 28. He was allegedly beaten so severely by the police that he suffered several fractures.
“At first they made me run around, not even telling me where he was being kept,” said Vakeel Nabi, Ahmad’s brother. “Then when I found out, I tried to tell them that he is a cancer patient, and that you need to do a medical, because his legs are broken.”
Vakeel Nabi even managed to get an order from a Special Court, directing the police to move his brother to the hospital. He has an entire file of documents about his brother, from records of the hospital where Ahmad was getting treatment for cancer to an X-ray clearly showing a fracture from December 28, when a medical examination was carried out.
Even the police acknowledged that Ahmad Nabi needs to be moved to the hospital and that the medical ward in the jail was not sufficient. Yet, as of January 1, Nabi was still lodged in jail.
“They told me that it is because of a disagreement between the jail police and the civil police [who would have to oversee him in the hospital,” said his brother. “Imagine that. Here is my brother, a cancer patient, who was brutally beaten and his legs broken, and a judge has even ordered that he be taken to the hospital, but nothing has happened.”
Residents say that this is the plight of many more in jail. Vakeel Nabi says that he himself knows of two other people with fractures in the same place that his brother is kept, yet they have not managed to get even court orders because there was no one to help them legally.
“The police came here – with hundreds of men in civilian clothes from a school next to the police station that everyone says is run by the RSS – they ruined the atmosphere, and then they picked up our kids,” said one resident of Rasoolpur who asked not to be named.
Running through all the stories is the feeling among residents that the police were out to send a message to the Muslim community, through both their actions and also their apathy. In the last few days it has emerged that Firozabad Police sent notices about a potential breach of peace to two men over the age of 90 and one who has been dead for six years, following the incident on December 20. All, of course, are Muslims.
“They turned this place into Jallianwala Bagh,” said Mohammad Saeed, brother of Mohammad Shafeeq, who was also shot dead on December 20. “They are happy to take the lives of innocents. Bullets hit feet and hands and faces. They didn’t care, whether people are living or dying.”