Police searches at slums in Hyderabad spark fear among slum dwellers

Members of fact-finding team talk to women at Narsiah huts, Hyderabad. | Picture by arrangement

The recent searches carried out by police in several slums in Hyderabad has drawn the ire of the slum-dwellers, who are predominantly Muslim, Dalits and tribals.

Nikhat Fatima | TwoCircles.net

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HYDERABAD – The recent cordon and searches in several slums in Hyderabad, including stopping two-wheelers, checking cell phones of locals, taking their photos and fingerprints has sparked fear among the slum dwellers. 

The cordon and searches have been going on for nearly two months in Hyderabad in the slums of Yakutpura, Zeba Bagh, Mangalghar, Singareni colony, Chaderghat, Afzalnagar, Teegalkunta, Asad Baba Nagar and Bahadurpura, which is populated by Muslims, Dalits and tribals. 

The recent searches by police were carried out on October 28 in the late evening at around 7.30 pm, when nearly 70 police personnel surrounded the Narsiah Huts, Chandriah huts and Hanumanthu huts that are located on the banks of the River Moosi, in Afzal Nagar. 

The police personnel were supposedly from the 3 police stations nearby Afzal Nagar, namely Amberpet, Malakpet and Saidabad.

On October 28, scores of police personnel spread across the huts and allegedly barged in the huts and carried out searches. “They even ran their hands in the rice container, looked in the cooking vessels, looked through the clothes rack, and then asked us do you have water bottles?” said Chennamma, a middle-aged woman living with her husband who was not at home then. 

As per locals, most of the men were out and hadn’t returned from work when the searches were carried out.  

Chennamma, a local woman said that at first, she didn’t know what water bottle the policewomen were referring to. “I realized they meant liquor,” she told TwoCircles.net. 

Another woman Suguna said, “The policeman asked me if I had a phone. I said I don’t have one. So they asked me if I have an Aadhar card, then they took down our Aadhar numbers. I was scared at this sudden intrusion into our homes. But when they did not find anything after several minutes of searching, I gathered some courage and asked them.”

The police told her they had heard that people living in these huts are selling illicit liquor, gutkha and ganja. “So they have come to search for that,” she said. 

However, a fact-finding team that visited the place on November 7 maintained that the police gave different reasons in three different clusters. “In one cluster of huts, they said they are looking for stolen bikes and in another, they said they are looking for people who sold illicit liquor and in another locality, they said they were looking for drugs,” the team said.

During the searches, the police seized 82 vehicles and 3 autos, “citing lack of proper documents for these vehicles.”  

The fact-finding team, which included activists Surya and Jyothi from Chaitanya Mahila Samakhya, Sujatha Surepally from Dalit Women Collective, writer and activist Sajaya, the author, Civil rights activist Kaneez Fathima, RTI activist SQ Masood, and Bilal from Human Rights Forum, visited all the three clusters, including Teegalkunta that falls under the purview of Falaknuma police station. The cordon and searches at Teegalkunta took place on October 21, a week before searches were carried out in Afzal Nagar. 

As per locals of the area, the police checked the Aadhar cards of every person in the house, documents of all the vehicles if they owned one. “They also seized the vehicles if people could not produce original documents,” the locals said. 

“In both these incidents, the common factor is that these are all slum dwellers who make their living by working as domestic help, auto drivers, mechanics in garages, street vendors, etc. The one thing that is different is that in Teegalkunta the slums are largely populated by Muslims while the huts at Afzal Nagar are populated mainly by Dalits and the Lambadi tribes,” a member of the fact-finding team told TwoCircles.net, adding, “The police have dared to barge in like this simply because these are people from the marginalized sections and from the low rung of the social strata. Would they do this in gated communities?”

Most of the residents said they were taken aback when the police suddenly barged in. “Just the sight of a policeman scares us and now they were suddenly on us, in our houses, we felt intimidated. Why were these policewomen searching my house like this? I could not even muster the courage to ask them,” Laxmi (name changed), a woman from the area said.  

As per locals, the searches were carried out for two hours. 

Following the searches, locals said, the police asked everyone to gather at the nearby petrol pump. “By then the men had also returned home,” the locals said.  

The police told the gathered crowd to inform them if they found anyone possessing ganja, gutkha or anything suspicious. “Though they made it sound normal, the residents were all uneasy because during the lockdown 2 years back they were woken up from their sleep in the dead of the night by the policemen who searched the houses again for local country-made liquor,” locals said. 

The locals of the area said that they are afraid the police might come again without warning or any information to “harass them.”

One of the members of the fact-finding team opined that these actions by the police and other government departments are done to “intimidate these residents into evacuating the place which is on the banks of the erstwhile river Moosi, so it can be beautified to attract tourists.” 

Locals who reside in the Muslim populated slums are auto drivers, own petty businesses and do odd jobs. 

Locals from the slum said the police checked the small grocery shop and “even checked toothpaste tubes to see if it contained any drug.” 

A few complained that the police used harsh language while addressing them during the search. “They asked for the trade license of a tailor who owns a small tailoring shop,” a local said. 

At the Muslim populated slum, the police seized auto-rickshaws that had no proper documents, locals said. 

Police version
The police released video clips during the searches claiming to have got instructions from the Telangana government to wipe out drugs, ganja, Guthka or any other contraband material. 

The ACP of Falaknuma police station gave a statement to the press that the searches were conducted after they received requests for cordon search from the residents, as they feared some strangers were lurking in their area. 

During the searches in these places, all that the police found was gutkha in pan shops and ganja from one auto. They also seized vehicles and imposed challans amounting to rupees one lakh. 

Legal validity of cordon and searches
A member of the fact-finding team had obtained information from the Hyderabad city police under the RTI Act regarding the cordon searches wherein the police replied that they have the powers to conduct these searches under section 94 of the Criminal Procedure Code. However, the fact-finding team member said, “the said section does not talk about cordon searches but search for stolen property and forged documents.” 

“There is no legal provision and backing for the police to conduct blanket searches. This is completely illegal and unnecessary and violates basic human rights, right to privacy and personal liberty,” the fact-finding team said in its report. 

Concerned citizens expressed have also shock that this is happening in one of the most livable cities of India. 

Demands of the fact-finding team
The fact-finding team has demanded that the police should immediately stop these illegal practices of conducting cordon and searches in the state.

They have demanded that no police officer in plain clothes should be part of any searches.

“Police should stop seizing any property including vehicles without written orders with appropriate reasons being disclosed for seizing the property,” they said. 

The team has also cautioned police to immediately stop checking the mobile phones of people.

“Police should stop collecting fingerprints of people while conducting these searches and should stop taking photographs of people while conducting vehicle checking etc,” they said. 

The fact-finding team further urged the police to “stop asking or taking Aadhaar card numbers for any purpose. “There are many people complaining that police are asking for their Aadhaar cards when people approach PS to lodge complaints as well as during cordon and searches,” they said.