Ghazala Ahmad | Clarion India
ALIGARH — Several instances of police bias and high-handedness have come to light as many Muslim youths have been put behind the bars here after a spat between two groups turned violent and took a communal turn last week (January 16).
Police have registered two FIRs against about 25 Muslims under several sections of the Indian Penal Code including 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with a deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly), 392 (robbery), 307 (attempt to murder), 336 (endangering the life or personal safety of others) and 506 (criminal intimidation), etc.
Two of them were arrested a day after the violence in Sarai Sultani area of this historic city of Uttar Pradesh.
Families of those arrested told Clarion India that while they were preparing for their usual dinner on January 17 at around 8 p.m. they heard some noise. They rushed outside only to see a “violent mob” in large numbers barging towards their area raising provocative and Islamophobic slogans.
The situation in Sarai Sultani remained tense on Saturday 21st January, with a huge police deployment on the streets. The locality was rocked by violence perpetuated by right-wing groups who raised Islamophobic slogans following a scuffle between two groups of different communities on Monday, 16th January.
Mehraj (40), owner of the Ex Taj Point, and his brother were arrested on 17th January.
Mehraj was arrested on a complaint lodged by one Ankit Varshney, a member of the Hindu fringe group.
Mehraj’s family told Clarion India that he was working in his shop on the day of the violence wherein two groups confronted each other. “He (Mehraj) has nothing to do with the fight but was arrested by the police,” they said.
“We don’t even know what happened at the hotel. We later heard that two groups were fighting and my husband only tried to separate the fighting groups,” Mehraj’s wife Parveen told Clarion India.
“Before we could even react to the group fight, we saw a mob ‘barging in our area, pelting stones and raising Islamophobic slogans’. We became dead scared and locked ourselves in our homes,” she said.
Explaining her ordeal further she said the police “picked me up late at night of the violence and forced me to call my husband and other male members of the family to the police station. They let me go only when my husband and his brother came to the police station,” she said.
“Since then they are under arrest, how will I look after the family and my kids alone?” asked Parveen.
Sarai Sultani residents say clashes on January 16 evening started after two groups, who were reportedly in an inebriated condition, arrived at the shop separately for dinner. An argument broke out between them and it turned violent. The shop owner was assaulted in the ensuing free-for-all.
Residents claim that the matter took a communal turn when dozens of men belonging to the right-wing Bajrang Dal descended on the area and started pelting stones and raising inflammatory slogans.
“Soon the number of attackers multiplied with hundreds of people joining them in stone pelting and raising objectionable slogans,” a resident said on the condition of anonymity.
“It continued for two hours and no one took cognizance. It was only when the police force arrived the crowd dispersed,” he said.
An ironsmith in the area, who is also an eyewitness to the incident, told Clarion India: “My shop is 150 meters away from the trouble spot. How come hundreds of attackers descended on the area within no time? Why stones were pelted here?”
“The mob was raising Hindu slogans and no policemen were at hand to control the situation for over two hours,” he said.
‘Police inaction and delayed, biased investigation’
Residents accused police of picking up Muslim youth two days after the clashes and that too in the dead of the night.
“Instead of nabbing the rioters, the police are targeting Muslim youth and men. The police should conduct a fair investigation and severely punish those responsible,” a resident said.
Farha, whose brother was in police custody, said: “My brother was at home when the incident took place, but the police are doing a ‘one-sided’ inquiry.”
When asked what she meant by ‘one-sided,’ she said, “Police are only arresting Muslims and not taking any action against non-Muslims.”
“If it was a clash, there must be miscreants on the other side too. The police should arrest them as well,” she said.
Another resident, requesting anonymity, said: “Policemen come at midnight, pick up Muslim boys and put them in jail. The youth here are living in fear.”
“Many families have sent their boys outside the district fearing unfair probe and arrests,” he added.
Muslims in the area also alleged that the police were not registering their complaints and only acting on FIRs filed by the right-wing group. “Arrests are being made based on their complaints,” they claimed.
Two separate cases have been registered by the Aligarh Police – one by Ankit Varshney and the other by Dilip Varshney.
Hindus in the area allege that clashes began after they were beaten up by Muslims and pelted with stones.
In the police complaint, Ankit and Dilip claimed that they were beaten up by people at the Ex Taj Point spat. And both denied their involvement in the violence that took place after the incident.
“On 16th January, we saw some people fighting in the Sarai Sultani area and when we intervened we were attacked by the Muslims,” Dilip’s complaint said.
Clarion India tried to get Aligarh Police on record but couldn’t get their quotes on call. Repeated phone calls to senior officials and investigating officers were unanswered.
Public incurred the losses
A roasted chicken shop owner, in the same area, incurred huge losses due to the violence. The mob entered his shop and threw all the stuff outside. Workers at his shop were beaten and the customers were hit by stones pelted by the mob.
“My shop was full of customers, both Muslims and non-Muslims when the incident unfolded. They were hit by stones and got injured, my shop was destroyed,” he said.
“I will have to set up my shop from scratch again. What was my mistake? Both the CCTV cameras installed at my shop were vandalized by the mob,” said the Muslim chicken shop owner, who refused to be named.
“I have filed a police complaint but no action has been taken so far,” he said.
Quest for peace
Amid tensions, Mohammadi Begum was rooting for peace and tranquillity between both communities.
“I was born and brought up here. We have lived peacefully here for more than a hundred years. Both communities have been living here happily for years. I don’t know why things are becoming so bad now,” she said.
“Who wants violence? Both the communities want to live peacefully and we want this matter to be resolved peacefully,” she said.
Uneasy calm prevails in the area
The police have created a buffer zone in front of the shop where the scuffle took place. The issue snowballed into a communal flare-up after the two groups came in front of each other and were joined by several others soon after.
A police official present at the buffer zone said, “We don’t know anything about the matter that unfolded earlier. We have been deployed here only to keep the situation under control”. The officer declined to be named.
Station House Officer was not found at the spot and in the police station. Calls made to him by Clarion India went unanswered.
Ex Taj Point shop remained closed for the 6th consecutive day, while some nearby shops have started doing business.