CAA 2019: Kanpur nurses wounds of clashes
Dozens of people were silently placing the tables and chairs under a white tent in the Begumpurwa area of the Muslim-dominated old quarters of Kanpur on December 20 . In one corner, cooks were preparing food in “degchis” (copper cauldrons ) on temporary hearths.
Mohammad Ziaullah, a government employee, was supervising the arrangements for his daughter’s wedding; the bridegroom’s retinue was expected anytime. As he asked Mohammad Raees, 30, to hurry up and wash the plates and dishes, Ziaullah sounded worried; just 300 metres away, a pitched battle had started between the police and anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, protesters.
The workers ran for safety. Raees too rushed down the lane where he lived with his father.
While Raees was standing close to his doorstep, a bullet hit him. The locals dragged him inside the house where he was kept all night. He could be taken to a hospital only the next day after the clashes had ended. He died on Sunday, December 22.
“We are poor people. We do menial jobs, washing utensils at marriages. My son used to sell balloons and papad to make ends meet,” said his father Mohammad Shareef, who couldn’t understand why his son, who was not even among the protesters, was shot ; he alleged that it was a police bullet that killed his son.
Kanpur’s senior superintendent of police Anant Deo said the people who were shot had been struck by bullets of the protesters. On the claim of Raees’s father, Deo said an inquiry had been ordered by an SIT that would look into allegations of police firing and police excesses and factors that triggered the violence. In addition, a magisterial inquiry has also been ordered.
On December 26, Deo admitted the police fired four live rounds as protesters were using prohibited weapons against them.
Similar protests took place in other cities and towns of UP. A total of 21 died in the violence.
In Begumpurwa, furious policemen, after the clash, barged into lanes and by-lanes and unleashed terror on local households, residents alleged.
“I was so scared of the police that I did not even take him to hospital. Perhaps, he could have survived if he had been given timely treatment,” said Raees’s father.
Shareef’s is not an isolated case. There are many who, in hushed tones, narrate the stories of alleged police excesses in Babupurwa, the epicentre of the December 20 protests.Stories of police going on a rampage against residents have emerged from Meerut as well. In Kanpur, 13 civilians were hit by bullets and 20 policemen were injured.
The trauma of Babupurwa residents has not ended yet. Many are worried about another battle they will have to fight soon. The administration has not only displayed the pictures of the alleged protesters, but also issued notices to their families to pay compensation for the damage caused to public property. Most of the people who, according to police, were involved in the violent demonstration in Babupurwa belong to poor families.
Parvez Alam, 59, lives in a two-room house allotted to his father by the Kanpur Development Authority with five brothers and their children. He is among the 15 people of his neighbourhood identified for recovery of losses.
“I was not even part of the protests. Why was I named? How will I pay? I do not have any asset or cash,” he said.
Kanpur was rocked by violence on both December 20 and December 21.
At night on December 20, police allegedly vandalised houses and shops of Babupurwa. Residents alleged that the policemen first damaged vehicles, then randomly picked up people, even children as young as 12 years old, and tortured them in custody.
The police initially denied firing gunshots. So did the protesters. But later videos revealed that both sides had fired bullets.
Three people were killed in the police firing, the family members said, and going by local hospital records, 10 others were shot and injured in Babupurwa. SSP Anant Deo said 13 people were arrested and 17 cases registered.
According to locals, the police arrested 35 people from homes and beat them before detaining them for nearly 36 to 48 hours.
“They were not detained but they were brought to the police station for questioning. We have said that no innocent person will be arrested as the police are scanning evidence before picking up any protestor,” the SSP said.
Superintendent of police (Kanpur South) Aparna Gupta, in whose jurisdiction the protests turned violent, said the police had anticipated a demonstration after Friday prayers on December 20. Police officers had contacted the imams in Kanpur and other clerics on December 19 and were assured that no protests would take place after the prayers.
“But their assurance proved false... Thousands came out in Babupurwa, marching to merge with the main march taken out from the Halim Muslim Degree college,” Gupta said.
Witnesses confirmed that people streamed out from all directions and were headed towards Halim College to join the protest march, violating section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
“We announced that in view of prohibitory orders, they would not be allowed to march ahead. They did not pay any heed to our announcements and kept pushing the policemen to surge forward,” she said.
Soon, the number of protestors swelled to over 5,000 at Bagahi Eidgah, the SP said, adding the protesters turned violent and started throwing stones and, by some accounts, acid bottles and shooting policemen. They also engaged in arson. In turn, the SSP said, the police lathi-charged the protestors and fired tear gas shells and then used plastic pellets and rubber bullets.
Aftab Alam, 23, worked for a school. He was shot in the chest and he died late Friday night. His uncle Mohammad Raees said Alam was caught in a stampede and took shelter in the house of his employers. “Thinking the protests were over, Aftab decided to walk home...he bent to pick his spectacles up and a bullet hit him in the chest as he straightened up. The police shot him dead. Why would they shoot an innocent man,” his uncle asked. Raees said that after Alam’s death, the police told the family that the body should be buried elsewhere, not close to Babupurwa.
The police were not ready to accompany the bodies of Alam and Mohammad Saif, son of a daily-wage worker, to the mortuary for autopsy, many who were at Lala Lajpat Rai Hospital alleged. Family members carried the bodies to the mortuary. As the autopsy was being conducted, police gave two options — Rawatpur and Nawabgunj — to the families where the bodies could be buried, recalled Raees. Both the locations were about 10 and 15km from Bagahi Eidgah.
“I told the officer we want nothing but a proper burial of the young men at a place where their forefathers were buried. The bodies were released late Saturday night,” said Mohammad Shadab, Saif’s brother.
In the same neighbourhood, Mohammad Awez, 14, was told by his father leave the factory where he worked in Ajitgunj and return home early. Ironically, his concern led Awez into trouble.
“They (policemen) threw an ‘injection’ (tear gas shell),” said Awez who was shot in the abdomen. His face and eyes began burning, but he kept running and entered a lane where the police and the protesters were fighting a pitched battle. “I saw the policemen firing. Suddenly, I felt a sensation in the abdomen and fell on the ground. I thought I was hit by a brick, but then saw blood gushing out,” he said.
The SSP denied the police had fired at the demonstrators and claimed that people were hit by bullets that protesters fired at the police.
“The police exercised maximum restraint and fired merely plastic pellets and rubber bullets,” he said. Visuals on social media, whose authenticity the police haven’t disputed, tell a different story.
Later, the SSP admitted that the police had fired four live rounds from 9mm pistols.
The protestors had used prohibited bore weapons to target the police. “Still police fired just four rounds in the air and in self-defence. About 40 policemen and two sub-inspectors have been injured,” he said.
The SSP has removed sub-inspector Anup Singh who, the locals allege, led the police brutality. An inquiry has been ordered to probe the conduct of station house officer (SHO) of Babupurwa, Amit Tomar; he is alleged to have ordered the police firing.
On the road leading to the labour colony, people came out of their houses to show signs of police bullets at some houses. The inhabitants alleged the policemen barged into their homes and dragged the men outside, beating them. They uprooted door frames to enter the homes.
Phool Jahan was in a huddle with her children when she realised her 12-year-old son Raza was not in the house. She came out of the house and found he was at the end of the narrow lane that leads to her one-room house, watching the police abusing locals.
“Before I could react, Raza was grabbed and thrown on the ground. A policeman, on seeing me, abused me and slapped my son repeatedly,” she said.
Phool Jahan said she ran after the police and pleaded for mercy only to be pushed to the ground. She could see Raza being thrashed while being taken to the police station.
“No one ever told me where they had taken and kept my son; all I was told he was a dangai (rioter) and will go to jail. He was just a child,” she said.
She spent nearly 16 hours standing outside the police station. “He was released 31 hours after he was detained.”
The police denied accounts of their men engaging in abuse. “This is an absurd and baseless allegation about police excesses. The raids stopped just after the evening, the police wanted to catch those who indulged in violence, we never went there after that,” said Aparna Gupta.
In other parts of Kanpur, at Yatimkhana, the police and protestors clashed in the evening of December 21.
Constable Arpit Kumar went after the stone-throwing protesters with his colleagues. A short man emerged from a narrow lane and shot at the six-foot four-inch tall constable from Ghaziabad. The bullet was lodged in Kumar’s shoulder and he slumped. The man vanished as quickly he appeared.
“I could not have done anything, I just had a lathi in my hands, not a firearm,” he said.
Close by, home guard Ashish Awasthi was trapped in the Yatimkhana police post with a constable. “There were hundreds outside throwing stones and setting the vehicles parked in the vicinity on fire. They wanted to break into the police post, we were holding the iron door against the barrage of stones coming our way,” said Awasthi.