The violence that you forgot to condemn

By Ahmad Khan

I condemn the Bangalore violence. Almost every law-abiding citizen of the country did. But when I say violence, I just do not mean the civil unrest that leads to damage to public property and left several police officers injured. I also mean Bangalore police indiscriminately shooting at the crowd to disperse it, which left 3 dead. According to Section 129 of India’s criminal procedure code (CPC), the police is supposed to first “command” the assembly to disseminate from a site. It is when the crowd is undetermined to disperse, the police can use force but only “to disperse”. If the crowd is uncontrollable even with force, the police can arrest the gatherers so “that they may be punished according to law.” When the Bangalore police shot live ammunition, it underscored how the police did not seem to have an intention to disperse the crowd. Instead, the intention was to punish, which was for the court to decide. I condemn the police brutality which continued for several days after the episode.

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On 12 August, the police arrested 24-year-old Syed Nadeem in the Bangalore violence, who was later sent to Parappana Agrahara jail in judicial custody. On the night of 14 August, Syed tested positive for COVID-19 after he complained of chest pain in the jail. Based on a report by Maktoob Media, Bengaluru police commissioner Kamal Pant informed PTI that when Nadeem first came to hospital from the jail, there was an impression that he was being hit by a hard object in his abdomen. Nadeem breathed his last on the night of 14 August. The locals also alleged that police jostled in their homes in odd hours and arbitrarily picked over 60 men. It is unsettling to know that 2 of the arrested men were in home isolation after testing positive for COVID-19. “We do not know why they barged into our house. They pushed aside my older son, entered our home and broke the bathroom doors. I had to explain that my son is just a child. In our entire building, they arrested all those who are 18-years of age and above,” a female resident of Shampur Main Road from where several men were picked told The New Indian Express.

There have been a total of 290 arrests—and many of them are alleged to be arbitrary—and 42 FIRs filed, and the accused will be booked under UAPA and Goonda act. The punishment does not end here. The Bangalore government will follow the Uttar Pradesh model and confiscate the property of the accused to compensate for the damaged public property. Therefore, I condemn this institutional violence.

On social media, several leaders of the ruling party made instigating tweets where they demonized the entire Muslim community. Many started to demand nationwide implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) so that India may be free of “rioters”. Beside unnumbered hate messages, I also happened to receive several messages where people—out of the blue—asked my opinion on Bangalore violence. Many of them expected me to apologize for it. I also condemn this psychological violence that I and many of the Indian Muslims faced.

As Milan Kundera wrote, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”, my condemnation is the struggle against the fading memory of people who lost their lives in Bangalore violence. During the countrywide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 30 people died, and scores were injured. The police were also accused of being partisan with those who were supporting CAA. However, there was again more condemnation of the protests where there was a clash between police and protestors than the fact that 30 people, including an 8-year-old boy in Uttar Pradesh, died in police firing and stampede. It is paramount to include that almost all the deceased were Muslims.

During the police brutality in Jamia Millia Islamia on the night of 14 December last year where Delhi police barged into the library and ruthlessly hit students with batons and tear gas, Mohammad Minhajuddin, an LLM student of Jamia Millia Islamia, lost his one eye after being hit by a baton. However, there was more condemnation for the buses that were burnt by miscreants than for his lost vision. During times like these, people forget that no matter what, the public property still does not value more than human lives do. Public property can be recovered. Human lives cannot be. They forget that the responsibility of the police is to maintain law and order; not to punish people. Punishment is decided in court. They also forget the well-documented anti-Muslim prejudices in police forces. “There is an entire riot mechanism that is based on punishing the Muslims and safeguarding the perpetrators and it is orchestrated by none other than the Indian police,” political scientist Paul Brass wrote in his book titled, Riots and Pogroms.

Despite the potential repercussions, Bangalore police were given complete impunity to disperse the crowd involved in Bangalore violence. “What kind of people attack the police? The media? The local police have been given a free hand to deal with the situation,” Karnataka minister R Ashoka told Aljazeera. Underscoring the consequence of the freehand given to Police, Sharjeel Usmani, a freelance journalist, wrote in his article titled Charting history of Indian Muslims and the police: From British era to AMU violence, a story of injustice, “The free hand and unchecked power given to the police officers, put minorities, especially Muslims, and people of a lower “social status” in a very vulnerable position. The situation is so grim that of the total complaints received by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), over 60 per cent are related to police abuse of power and human rights violations.”

There is an unsettling phenomenon behind the nation’s priority of overlooking human lives over public property. The reason most of the people did not condemn the lives lost in the Bangalore violence was that the number of “causalities” was in a single digit. It was not 40 or 400. Emboldened by the 70 years of cumulative injustice, people have grown so accustomed to seeing Muslims dying like this, now and then, that they have immuned themselves against lesser deaths. There seems to a pathogen of apathy for Muslim lives which is mutating at a senseless rate and quite soon, we all will be affected.

Ahmad Khan is a freelance writer and IT consultant from New Delhi.