The Students Fact Finding Mission visited 15 cities where the police have cracked down violently on protesters against the citizenship law.
Believing the mainstream media wasn’t showing the true picture of the crackdown on people protesting against the new citizenship law, students from over a hundred Indian universities took it upon themselves to find the reality, focusing on Uttar Pradesh.
The Students Fact Finding Mission visited 15 cities in the state that have suffered police brutality, including Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Lucknow. They released their report in Delhi on Wednesday. Here’s what they claim to have found:
In every city, people from the most deprived sections of the society – daily wage labourers, ragpickers, people who have difficulty making ends meet – were targeted by the police.
Often, these people were not even participants or supporters of the protests. They were just present at the wrong place at the wrong time and became easy targets for the police.
Most of them were identified as Muslim from their clothing and attacked by the police.
The police detained dozens of protesters without provocation, lathicharged and fired on peaceful gatherings, delayed or denied postmortem reports to relatives of the dead, filed unnamed FIRs, and tried to extort money from people in exchange for removing their names.
At some places, the police barged into homes without warrants and vandalised property. “Due to this many families have temporarily fled, and, in many cases, male members of the family haven’t been returning home and have been staying somewhere else after work,” the report states.
Contrary to the state’s claims, some minors were indeed killed by the police.
At many places, hospitals denied treatment to those injured in the protests.
The findings call into question the role of the mainstream media, which peddled the police’s claims without skepticism. They made no attempts to go on the ground and find the truth. Instead, the media vilified the people injured or killed in the protests.
Here are a few sections from the report:
The protesters gathered on Hapur Road, holding placards with anti-CAA slogans. The police told the peaceful gathering to sit on one side of the road. The protesters complied but were nevertheless lathicharged and teargassed. “In response to the excessive force used by the police, some people pelted stones at them. The police treaded in the streets to distort CCTVs and targeted bullet shots were fired at the people within their sight,” the report says.
Kashmiri dry fruit sellers were targeted and that BJP leader Maninder Singh can be seen distributing batons in a video.
Five people were killed in the police’s crackdown in Meerut. Mausheen was one of them. Rashid Nagar, where he lived, has narrow lanes and is at quite a distance from Hapur Nagar, where a protest, attended predominantly by young Muslim boys, was being held.
Mausheen’s brother recounted what happened on the evening of December 20. “That day, there were very few people in the lanes of Rashid Nagar,” he told the students. “People were engaged in their daily chores when the police rushed here, lathicharged, and started open firing. It is during this that Mausheen died.”
The firing also killed Zaheer, another resident of Rashid Nagar. The report quotes the families as claiming that the police aimed at and shot people above their waists, meaning that their intent was to kill. The Fact Finding Mission found bullet marks on the walls in Rashid Nagar.
Most residents of Rashid Nagar are daily wage labourers or cattle breeders. “This is a section of the society which cannot raise its voice. They don’t have legal support. The families of those killed do not have any source of income now as those who are now deceased were the sole breadwinners of the family. The most astonishing thing is till now, no local government authority has paid them a visit,” says Trithi Das, a student of the Delhi School of Social Work, who was with the Fact Finding Mission in Meerut, Muzaffarnagar and Aligarh.
Another person who was killed, allegedly by a police bullet, was Asif. He studied in Delhi, so a Delhi ID was found on his body. Das says the police and the media used this to “frame Asif” as someone who had come from Delhi to cause riots in Meerut. Asif was the first one from his family to acquire higher education.
None of the victims’ families has received any compensation so far.
People were peacefully protesting near Medina Chowk. The police came as did the BJP minister Sanjeev Balyan along with “his people”. It was these people, witnesses alleged, who incited violence. Nearly 80 people were detained, 40 of whom have since been released. Named FIRs were filed against around 240 people and unnamed FIRs against hundreds of people. “The injured people are very scared to come forward. When they go to seek treatment, they are caught by the police who identify them from their bullet injuries,” says Ananya Bhardwaj, a student of the Delhi School of Social Work who was part of the mission.
Noor Mohd died by a bullet on Arya Samaj Road. He’s survived by a pregnant wife and a year-old daughter. His wife says on the day of the violence, Noor had gone out to buy medicine for their daughter.
Noor didn’t get treatment in Muzaffarnagar after he was shot, so he was taken to Meerut. He died on the way.
His family were not given his body for three days. They were called to the Daurala police station and made to bury the body in Daurala itself. The postmortem report was only recently given to the family, almost a month after Noor’s death. It doesn’t mention the nature of the bullet that killed him, or who the weapon belonged to.
Ruqaiya was nursing 16 stitches when the student group met her. In the dead of night on December 20, the police knocked on their door. Before they could open it, the police broke open the door and barged in. They vandalised the house and, Ruqaiya alleged, and stole Rs 5 lakh and jewellery that her parents had saved for her wedding.
They arrested Ruqaiya’s uncle and Mohammad Ahmed, her little brother of 14. They took them to a faraway street and brutally beat them up. They took Ahmed to the police station where he met many other minors in custody. He told the Fact Finding Mission that he heard a police officer telling another not to beat the minors to death. He replied that it would be good if some of them died.
Near Mahavir Chowk, the police barged into Sadab Hostel, run by an aged cleric who had received the Jamhooriyat Award from India’s vice president last year. They beat up the cleric and the students residing in the hostel, bundled them into buses and vans, and drove them to the local police station. There, they made them chant “Jai Shri Ram”. Both the cleric’s hands were fractured.
“We are living in a time where we are talking so much about mental health. But what about these kids and their post traumatic suffering? A lot of people who had come to read namaz with maulana sahib that day were still detained when we went to see them. We feel this was a targeted attack,” says Ananya.
The students of Aligarh Muslim University were peacefully protesting when the police entered the campus. They used stun grenades and teargas.
Mohd Talikh was left with just one finger on his hand. He was not participating in the protest, merely standing near the Staff Club when the protesters came running away from the police. His hand brushed against a stun grenade and it exploded.
“He’s such a bright student. He has cleared NET twice, JRF once, he has also cleared GAIT in Chemistry, and he was enrolled in PhD three months ago. He was so weak and helpless,” says Ananya. “We have CCTV footage of police dragging students out of their hostel rooms and one police officer was visibly carrying a gun.”
Seven people were killed in Firozabad. Many people in the town are make bangles or work in bangle factories. Most of the injured belong to this community but they refused to come forward for fear of the police.
The local people told the Fact Finding Mission that some people were shot dead and then quickly buried. Their families are scared and, therefore, are not coming forward.
Ahmed Navi, a cancer patient, had gone out to buy medicines for himself. He was taken away by the police and brutally beaten up. He has a fractured leg. He had his chemotherapy session on December 28, yet the police took him into custody two days later. His family alleged that they did not allow him to get treatment while he was in custody.
His family had no option but to move court. The police didn’t pay heed to the first two court orders. It was only with the third order that Navi’s treatment started, but that too in police custody.
Police broke the CCTV cameras in Azad’s shop, and took away one lakh eighty thousand rupees, he alleged. There were other men with the police who burnt a motorcycle parked inside the shop.
“Azad said he heard the goons and the police shout, ‘Throw this Azad in the same fire’. Azad ran for his life but his nephew was surrounded by the group. They took away a cheque for Rs 2.5 lakh from his pocket and forcibly made him hold a pistol. Then they filed an FIR against him for keeping a pistol illegally,” says Aakash Pandey, a student of Hindi journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, who was with the Fact Finding Mission.
Jalaluddin’s daughter’s wedding was planned for the evening of December 20. But that afternoon, some people entered their home and took away all their belongings. The CCTV camera in their home was destroyed.
Rashid, a differently abled waiter in a bangle factory, was shot dead.
Harrun was a milk seller. He died from a police bullet. Kasim and Nadeem met the same fate.
Kasim taught children in a mosque. The police saw him standing outside the mosque wearing a skullcap, and they took him away. They brutally beat him up. “This just shows that our country and its institutions have completely painted themselves in a communal colour,” says Akash.
“On December 20, young people started to gather near three mosques at Sut Mandi in Nehtaur, Bijnor, after the Friday prayers. When a crowd gathered to proceed in a procession, the police tried to stop them after which a situation of confrontation arose between the police and the protesters. The protesters had tricolors in their hands, shouting slogans against the NRC and the Citizenship Amendment Act. Meanwhile, some stones were pelted on the police vehicles. An eye witness told the students that some policemen who were in civilian dresses threw the stones after which the police lathi-charged, protesters started running which led to a stampede. Subsequently, the police opened fire, in which two died and three other people were injured with a bullet,” says the report.
Mohammad Anas and Mohammad Suleman lost their lives in the police firing. They were shot at a place quite a distance from the site of the protest.
Salman was in the Nehtaur market when the police fired. He clearly remembered a police officer pointing the gun at him and shooting. He was hit in the stomach. He was taken to hospital by some people and survived.
The police also lathicharged a peaceful protest march and detained over 117 people. In Nagina, many minor kids were brutally beaten up by the police. At least 79 boys are still behind bars.
Sharikh was badly beaten up in the Nagina police station and then taken to the Bijnor police station. The police hit him with sticks so badly that one of his legs broke. He was denied treatment for over 24 hours.
Many people in the town have deleted videos of the protests from their phones for fear of the police.
The Fact Finding Mission’s report documents similarly terrifying stories from Gorakhpur, Mau, Bhadohi, Lucknow, and Saharanpur, where the police have registered 18 cases, including of criminal conspiracy, against a 12-year-old. Bhadohi is famous for its carpets. But the police crackdown has scared many young craftsmen and traders to leave, severely hurting the town’s economy.