The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was passed in the Parliament on the 11th of December, 2019 - an event that caused an angry uproar in the nation, triggering country-wide protests, some of which are still ongoing.
Starting with Assam, every Indian state burst in rebellion but protestors in Uttar Pradesh, governed by Yogi Adityanath, were subjected to such repression that their tales of 'police atrocities' moved the Indian National Congress to summon the National Human Rights Commission.
In Uttar Pradesh, the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) with its Allahabad unit has been fighting for the victims of police brutality in Uttar Pradesh since December when anti-CAA protests were at their peak.
Five petitions have been filed by the team of HRLN lawyers and human rights experts - three of which are for bringing justice to the commoners who were attacked during the UP police's crackdown on protests and two are exclusively for the students of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).
The petitions filed in the Allahabad High Court over the incidents of violence in AMU came after the Supreme Court on December 17, last year, redirected the hearing of 3 writ petitions on the brutality and misuse of power by the armed forces on the students in Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, to the respective Chief Justices of relevant High Courts.
"When the Attorney General, who was appearing on the behalf of the state, claimed that our collected photographic evidence of police brutality is fake, the judge came down heavily on him. He (Judge) also asked for the presentation of the Medicolegal Cases (MLCs) of the armed forces who were said to have been attacked by mobs of protestors", Fazal Abdali, an advocate working with the Human Rights Law Network said, adding that the Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court has been responsive and well-informed while hearing the particulars of the various cases.
The most striking question asked by the Chief Justice to the Attorney General was over the asymmetry in the deaths and number of people injured. While over 23 people have died due to bullet shots, there have been no casualties on the side of the armed forces, the Judge had observed.
Since there are several official statements from the Union government and the UP state government accusing the anti-CAA protestors of inciting violence and firing at the police, the heavy disproportion in the casualties or injuries between the two clashing sides makes the official accusations, dubious. "Not a single policeman has sustained a grievous injury or is wounded by bullets - which would have been the case had the protestors fired at them," Abdali said.
Gory Details Of AMU Crackdown
Two out of the five writ petitions focus on the alleged atrocities on the students of Aligarh Muslim University at the hands of the armed forces. The 62 and 112 pages-long petitions divulge details on the incidents of violence that took place between the 15th and 16th of December 2019.
The Rapid Action Force (RAF) along with the UP state's police have been accused of provoking students with communal slurs and perpetrating a heavy lathi-charge.
One of the registered petitions lists out the details of 23 people who were reported missing following the on-campus violence.
"All the missing boys have returned. During the police's crackdown on the AMU campus, students were randomly picked up and detained for days. We have learnt from the returnees that they were detained in distant stations and released only after sureties were taken from them," Abdali informed.
The petition says that 100 students were injured during the on-campus violence, three of whom were in critical condition. The petitioner, who is the former president of the AMU Student Union, also added in his paperwork that two male students had to have their arms amputated due to the 'deceptive' shelling and use of grenades on the protesting students by the armed forces.
A statement by the Chief Medical Officer of Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College Hospital, Dr Nisar Ahmed, has been included where he affirms that 60 students were admitted to the facility with cases of trauma and eye injuries caused by tear gas shelling.
The petitions also assert that student-owned two-wheelers parked along the sideways were vandalised and damaged by the RAF and police machinery, and a small state-owned tractor towed away many of the vehicles.
Around 15 students who had hidden, from the chaos, in Guest Houses 1 and 2 were ambushed and brutally lathi-charged. Along with this, another guesthouse and a couple of mosques were raided.
The most staggering claim on the armed forces' ambushing exercise was of the burning of Room 46 of Morrisson Court (a hostel). The petition stated that the unsuspecting gate guard of the hostel was thrashed by the police who entered Room 46 of the hostel and cut the window fence open. They have been accused of indiscriminately firing tear gas shells, at point-blank range - which is believed to have caused the fire. The three students in the room, who were not involved in the protest were beaten up and one of the room-dwellers, Syed Rizvi, was taken away.
The ex-AMUSU president, Salman Imtiyaz, has said that the Station House Officer (SHO) refused to file any First Information Report (FIR) if the aggrieved party was of students. He apparently asked them to write to the Proctor of the university for any problems they might have. Salman Imtiyaz also alleged that CCTV footage from the university's cameras has been expunged and tampered with by the state machinery.
Monetary compensation for students who were injured, whose vehicles were broken, and who were detained, has been asked of the State of Uttar Pradesh in the petition.
Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Kanpur, et al: Police Crackdown
The abuse of Section 144, constant shutting down of the Internet, vandalism of private property, wrongly issued notices, and the brutal clampdown on the protests are addressed in the other three petitions filed by the HRLN.
The petitioners Syed Najmussadiq, Aftab Alam, and Vishnu Shukla, have revealed through their paperwork a list of shocking incidents detailing the attacks made on civilians and passersby.
"Portable bamboo stairs were being carried around by the police to climb onto the floors of houses, during their crackdown in UP," Abdali said.
In Kanpur, on the 20th of December, 2019, over 2500 people had gathered to peacefully protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens. The gathering at Eid-Gaah Chauraha witnessed heavy police suppression which started with the officials (allegedly) making derogatory comments such as: "apne ghar wapas jaate ho, ya apni bhaasha mein samjhaye" (Are you going to head back home or should we use our language to make you understand?) and "hum tumhari nasle kharab kar denge" (We will destroy your future generations).
The protestors who are said to have tried to pacify the police personnel were lathi-charged and subsequently, on the same day two different FIRs were lodged by the police naming seven individuals along with 4000 'unknown people' in one, and 5000 'unknown people' in the other.
Following this, for the next few days in Kanpur, the police and paramilitary who were accompanied by people dressed in plainclothes barged into houses to ransack and loot the homes.
The petition includes a string of social media-based evidence and news clippings. It cites the video broadcasted on NDTV where two policemen can be seen obstructing the hands of a young boy and thrashing him into a pulp.
The deaths of innocents who were not a part of the protesting rally have found long mentions in the petitions. Their personal backgrounds and the circumstances under which they were shot dead have been elaborated on.
Four testimonies of non-protestors who were about their daily business on the 20th of December, have been submitted in the writ petition. As per the information, all four of them merely happened to be around the protest venue and were victims of the flash firing of bullets executed by the armed forces. They were all hospitalised and have sustained serious injuries due to the bullets.
The petition speaking about the atrocities in Muzaffarnagar points to the same date - December 20 - as the day when protestors were 'indiscriminately' lathi-charged while they were on their way to the District Magistrate's office to hand over a memorandum. Two FIRs naming 250 people and citing 6000 'unknown persons' have been registered by the UP police.
The petition has criticised the UP police for filing the FIRs in a haphazard manner since many of the 'accused' are registered under names such as: 'Danish ka bhai' (Danish's brother), 'Imran Qasai ka chota bhai' (Imran's younger brother), 'sitara ka ladka' (Sitara's son) and so on.
Between December 20-22, the petition claims that scores of people dressed in plain clothes along with the armed forces ransacked and looted homes in the middle of the night. Personal belongings were shattered into pieces, fixtures in the bathrooms and kitchens were broken, and religious texts were desecrated, as per the petition.
The terrifying tale of Sadaat Hostel, where some of the protestors were chased into by the police contingent including Rapid Action Force personnel, has been described in the petition. Maulana Asad Raza Hussain, who runs Sadaat Hostel, is a Shia cleric who had been awarded the Maharshi Badrayan Vyas Samman by Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu in August 2019. He was beaten blue and black and kept in illegal custody for more than 24 hours. Many of his students, some minors, were also flogged by the police personnel.
Further, the petition mentions the case of Anwar Ilahi who testified that around 100-120 men entered his house and began interrogating him about the male members of his house. Anwar was picked up by his neck and loaded into a police van. He was detained for nearly 40 hours and then released. Upon his arrival back home he noticed that everything had been broken including furniture and fixtures. The 200 grams of gold along and 3.25 lakh rupees that he had saved for his children's' marriages was also robbed.
A 26-year-old rickshaw puller, Noor, who had attended the protest, was killed by a shot to his head. He was not taken to a hospital in Muzaffarnagar as he was referred to Meerut.
Noor succumbed to his injuries en route Meerut and the Meerut administration stopped the deceased's family from taking the body back to Muzaffarnagar but at the same time did not grant them the permission to bury him in Meerut. Then, the Daurala district administration agreed to let the family bury him in their district.
Sixty-seven commercial shops were sealed shut under the assumption that the shopkeepers abetted the violence in Muzaffarnagar. The administration has stated that recovery for the losses caused by 'damage to public property' during the protests, will be made by selling the sealed properties.
The shutting of the shops was done without following the procedure in place - a show-cause notice or a warning or an investigative report was never presented and the decision to seal the properties was made unilaterally.
"The United Nations Guidelines clearly state that only non-lethal weapons can be used to disperse crowds, but under no circumstances should lethal weapons be employed. But, in the case of the UP police we have only seen the use of lethal weapons and the death or injury of every person in Uttar Pradesh has been caused by bullets," Mohammed Aman Khan, a lawyer from HRLN told The Logical Indian.
The team of lawyers have been contemplating filing more petitions especially for the sake of those people who have been incorrectly served notices for paying for 'damages to public properties'.
"Out of the 5 petitions we have filed, two are for the case of AMU, one is for Kanpur, one for Muzaffarnagar, and the last one is a comprehensive petition for UP's overall situation," Khan said.
One of the most serious issues and impediments to HRLN's petitions is the police's outright refusal to file an FIR on behalf of the citizens. The last time Khan counted in December, 327 FIRs were lodged against citizens but the number was zilch from the citizens' side.
Fazal Abdali told The Logical Indian that the atmosphere in Uttar Pradesh is of high distress. "People are in deeply stressed and are under the constant fear of being arbitrarily arrested or detained. They are fearful of protesting but we are still seeing some of them braving all odds and expressing their dissent."
"We are seeing situations where the UP police are threatening people of an arrest/detention if they don't give them the demanded amounts of money. Also, many of the arrests and detentions are not being recorded in their files and commoners are being blackmailed with the possibility of receiving one of those notices if they don't pay up the extortion money," Khan informed.
The lawyers have also raised their concerns over:
1. The untimely disbursement of post-mortem reports for those killed in the police crackdown (in many cases post-mortem reports have not been sanctioned yet)
2. The barricades around AMU
3. The pressure being exerted by the state's forces and authorities over the five petitioners to withdraw from the legal fight
The Chief Justice of Allahabad (CJA), however, has been deemed a saving grace amidst the desolation. "He has taken suo moto cognizance of two cases after reading about them and after a lawyer from Mumbai wrote to him about the same. The cases voluntarily taken up by him are related to police atrocities and the shutdown of FIRs by the UP Police," Abdali said.
"He has also directed the police and relevant authorities to start filing the FIRs for the citizens and release post mortem reports. We are better off because of an active judiciary in Allahabad," Khan remarked.
"The CJA has been keeping himself up to date on every little development in this case. When the Attorney General argued that the RAF and police were called into the campus by the Vice-Chancellor of AMU, he immediately rebutted the claim quoting the VC's recorded statement where the educationist had expressed regret over the police action and remarked that the forces had "no role in the working of the university" and he had never expected them to break into the guesthouses and hostels," Abdali added.
The lawyers at the HRLN are in the hope that their cases are heard completely and justice is delivered to the homes of the anguished. "We are operating under constant apprehension as we are worried that the Chief Justice might be transferred soon. In fact, we were told that a judge from another state was asked to replace the incumbent CJA, but the other judge turned down the offer. Yet, the apprehension prevails," Khan said.