Having lost their loved ones, the deceased families’ hope for justice is fading and their battle has now turned to earning two square meals a day.
Tarique Anwar | TwoCircles.net
Firozabad/Meerut/Bijnor (Uttar Pradesh)/New Delhi — “It has already been over two years, but not even an FIR has been registered so far. So, justice appears to be a distant dream for us.”
Salahuddin Ansari, 43, has lost hope that killers of his younger brother Aleem Ansari, 24, would be punished.
A resident of Ahmadnagar in Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh, Aleem was shot dead allegedly by the police on December 20, 2019 as the protest against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 turned bloody.
Passed by the Parliament on December 11, 2019, the CAA overtly introduced religion as the basis for Indian citizenship, allowing Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians) from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh to get the citizenship if they entered India before the end of December 31, 2014.
The law was globally criticised as discriminatory and unconstitutional as it does not grant such eligibility to Muslims from the three Muslim-majority countries.
Aleem, the sole breadwinner of his family, succumbed to bullet injuries in his head during the police crackdown at Hapur Road.
“It was Friday. He dialed and informed me that a few people in civilian clothes were barging into shops and forcing them to shut. He asked me to go home as the situation was tense. But he didn’t return. Later, we came to know that he died of gunshots. We were given no time by the police to perform his last rites properly. The police asked for quick, midnight burials,” Salahuddin told TwoCircles.net.
Salahuddin, who is partially disabled, has approached the police station, district magistrate’s office, the magisterial enquiry committee and the Human Rights Commission to get an FIR registered. All in vain.
On the day Aleem was killed, various towns and cities of Uttar Pradesh saw protests against the CAA, National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR).
With five deaths, Meerut recorded the second-highest toll (officially five and unofficially six) after Firozabad — where seven died. They included a scrap dealer, a worker at a roadside eatery, an e-rickshaw driver and a tyre repairman.
But in its compliance report to the Allahabad High Court, the government acknowledged 22 deaths —injured included 83 people, 455 police personnel; 833 people were arrested.
Having lost their loved ones, the hope for justice for families of the deceased is fading. Survival has become their priority.
TwoCircles.net spoke to several such families in Firozabad, Meerut, Bijnor, Lucknow and Kanpur. In addition to the government’s apathy, what hurts them most is the death of public memory over the loss of their loved ones.
Life no longer is the same for the family of 22-year-old Nabi Jaan, who allegedly fell prey to police bullets. He was a worker at a bangle manufacturing unit in Firozabad’s Urvashi Road and the youngest of six siblings. While his father Ayyub still hopes for justice, it has remained elusive so far.
“My son was shot in the chest while returning home from his workshop. It’s been over two years. We are still waiting for justice. We don’t even have enough money to make ends meet, how can one expect us to continue fighting the case for so long?” said Ayyub, adding that the FIR makes no mention of “bullet injury” as he allegedly wrote what the police wanted him to write.
Salman, a civil services aspirant in Bijnor, was killed when he was returning from Friday prayers.
“Na mera bachha laut kar kabhi aayega, aur na hi hamen kabhi insaf milega, ye maine taslim kar liya hai (Neither my son will ever never return, nor will I get justice. And I have accepted the truth),” said the deceased father, asking what will happen now when nothing happened in the past two years.
Rashid, 25, was the eldest among four sons and two daughters of 55-year-old Noor Mohammed alias Kallu. A resident of Ferozabad’s Kashmiri Gate under Ramgarh police station, Rashid was partially handicapped and earned Rs 150-200 per day serving water at bangle workshops. He had gone to collect his wages when he was hit by a bullet during the police crackdown on the anti-CAA protesters.
“He had nothing to do with the protests,” said Kallu, accusing the police of forcing them to bury his body around 4 in the morning.
Denying that he was hit by a bullet, a police officer told TwoCircles.net that Rashid suffered head injury because of stone pelting. And therefore, a case under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) section of 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) was registered.
Kallu, however, said, “His brain had spilled out. This cannot happen due to stone-pelting.”
His medical record suggested a serious skull injury without any bullet marks.
A resident of Nagla Kothi under Ramgarh police station in Firozabad, Muqeem died at Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi on the night of December 23, 2020. The eldest of eight children of Mubeen, he did zari work on bangles for a living.
Mubeen said that his son was returning from work when shot in the stomach, and was first taken to SN Hospital, where he was referred to Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital.
“We were told that all the important documents related to his death were handed over to the police. We were given only a panchnama,” he added.
Two years later, what’s the status of cases?
It has been over two years, and not a single FIR has been registered yet against the policemen who were involved in killing five in Meerut, said Advocate Riyasat Ali, a senior criminal lawyer in the district who is representing families of the five dead men pro bono.
“We moved an application under Section 156(36) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.PC) the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) in Meerut, pleading the court to order registration of an FIR for each of the five killings. The proceedings are going on,” he said.
Section 156(3) of the Cr.PC) empowers magistrates to order a probe.
But Salahuddun said justice delayed is justice denied.
He said six people died in the police firing, but police records reflect five deaths. “The police killed six people. Five postmortems took place here and no autopsy was carried out on the one who succumbed to his injuries while undergoing treatment in Delhi,” he said and alleged, “Eyewitnesses have clearly said police directly fired on protesters.”
The lawyer said the families of the five deceased lodged complaints in Brahmpuri, Lisadi Gate and Nauchandi police stations in Meerut within a week of the incident, naming the cops who fired at the victims.
“When a complaint is lodged, it becomes mandatory for the police to file an FIR. But in this case, the police are flouting due process of law,” he added.
A team of the National Human Rights Commission visited Meerut in October 2021 for an inquiry into the December 2019 killings. “NHRC investigation is underway,” said Ali.
“Following our cases and the petitions in the high court, the police finally conceded in affidavits to Allahabad HC that police bullets caused the deaths, but the police didn’t receive any such complaint on the day of the incident,” said Ali. “Goli police ki taraf se hi chali thi (The bullets were fired only by the police).”
The lawyer representing the deceased in Firozabad alleged the police did not record the sequence of events described by them and “concocted a story to protect the men in uniform.”
“Referring to their post-mortem reports, which mentioned that they died of bullet wounds, we argued in court that how can the police file FIRs under Section 304 instead of Section 302 (murder) of the IPC. Sensing trouble, the investigators, without wasting time, filed a closure report and concluded that the seven were shot dead by co-protesters,” alleged Advocate Saghir Khan, who is representing few of the deceased in Firozabad.
Subsequently, Khan filed a protest petition in the court of the chief judicial magistrate, who ordered a reinvestigation into one of the cases. “Let’s see what happens now,” Khan said, adding that the police registered a separate FIR and arrested 14 people after the court pressured them to act due to their “botched-up” investigations.
At least four petitions were filed in the Allahabad High Court in January 2020, appealing it to order a judicial probe into the violent crackdown.
Two hearings were held in the case before the lockdowns in 2020, but no hearing has been held since then. A public interest litigation (PIL) demanding an investigation into police and the deaths in UP is also pending in the high court.
Tarique Anwar is a Delhi-based journalist. He tweets at @TariqueReports