Mohammed Anas | Caravan Daily
SAMBHAL, West UP – The Muslim localities in Sambhal, a West UP district 160km away from capital New Delhi, are in the grip of fear. A majority of the youths have gone underground. Elderly ones guard their womenfolk and children against any possible police raid at night.
As soon as the darkness descends, the Muslim areas turn desolate. This police phobia started since last Friday, December 20, when the city erupted in protests against the CAA-NRC and witnessed a brutal police crackdown against the Muslim protesters. Besides, the police imposed fines on 26 Muslims to make up for the losses to public property during the protest mayhem.
December 19 protest
The Samajwadi Party gave the call for a protest rally in the municipal ground on December 19. Party MP Dr Shafiqur Rehman Barq had already raised tempers of the public by organising a rally on his own a day before. “It was to educate the public about the unconstitutional Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens, so that people can register their protest against the Modi government’s steps,” he told the Caravandaily.
To prevent the public from gathering, the city administration sprayed water on the municipal ground. Undaunted by this, the public thronged the site in large numbers. They came from all Muslim localities. Prominent political figures from the city, including Dr Barq, addressed the crowd. It dispersed peacefully. But, when a group of them was passing by Chaudhary Sarai area, a policeman hit a youth allegedly without any provocation.
“He was instigated by local BJP leader Rajesh Singhal, who was present there with his supporters,” a local who was part of this returning group told this correspondent. The scuffle snowballed into a battle of stone-pelting between the police and the protesters. Several from both sides were injured. Two roadways buses were torched and the police booked more than 100 protesters for rioting and arson.
December 20 was Friday. On this day, many Indian cities saw protests. Many turned into violent clashes. In Sambhal, as the Friday prayers ended, people started marching in groups towards the municipal ground chanting slogans against CAA-NCR. They soon swelled into a humongous crowd. The nervous city administration sensed that the situation may go out of control. They called MP Barq to exercise his influence and convince the people to return home. However, the protesters remained adamant and started moving towards the sub district magistrate’s residence on Chandausi Road. Suddenly, a Hindu crowd appeared from Shankar College side and started firing at the crowd. They, according to locals, were called in by the police, who too started baton-charging the crowd. Locals have video evidence of the Hindu crowd firing at protesters. In this firing, local Mohammed Shahroz, a truck driver, was hurt. He later died in hospital.
The dispersed crowd gathered again and moved towards the SDM’s residence. The police intercepted them at Chandausi Road roundabout and started firing tear gas and live bullets on them. The protesters responded by pelting stones, but they soon retreated. The police chased them and one of the policemen fired at one Bilal Pasha, a labourer by profession, from point blank range. He died on the spot. The police also detained 55 protesters and bystanders. They include as young as an 11-year-old. All these detainees are in jail with as serious charges as Section 307 of IPC (attempt to murder).
When this correspondent asked city superintendent of police Yamuna Prasad why the police shot at the protesters without any order, he said that the police didn’t fire any bullet. When reminded that one of the FIRs mentioned death in police firing, he said an investigation will be conducted into the incident.
Cases against protesters, locals
After the protests ended, the police didn’t even bother to send the bodies for post-mortem. The parents along with the locals staged another protest with the bodies to demand post-mortem and filing of the case against the police. It was after a rigorous protest that the police agreed for an autopsy. Meanwhile, the police detained 55 people, including many who were not even part of the protesting crowd.
In addition, the police booked around 5,500 unnamed people under 14 charges including rioting, arson and theft, etc.
Later on Wednesday, the police released pictures of around 150 locals (protesters) whom the police say were part of the rioting mob. It led to panic in all the Muslim localities of the city. Most of these identified protesters are youths and they have gone underground. Despite many Muslim lawyers offering their free services to such youths, no one has come forward to contest the police claim.
Fearing police raids to nab these youths anytime soon, elders from Muslim localities keep a vigil at night.
Some of these youths told Caravandaily that they have been either booked by mistake or at the behest of police informers who want to settle personal scores with them.
As if acting on a mission of vendetta against the protesters, the police has also served notices on 26 individuals to pay hefty fines to make up for the losses to public property during the December 19-20 protests.
Victims of firing
Shahroz Usmani, a 22-year-old truck driver, was on his way home to prepare for his trip to Kashipur when he got caught in the protesters-police clash near the Government Lady Hospital in the vicinity of Shankar College. Locals and shopkeepers say he was shot by Naresh, a right-hand man of local BJP chieftain Rajesh Singhal. Locals have videos to support their claim. His father Mohammed Yameen is a labourer, with little political support to file a case against the BJP worker or the police for his son’s death. He says the police made him sign a copy of the FIR which says that Shahroz was killed by unknown persons. Shahroz’s neighbours remember him as a jovial and religious individual, who was also active on Facebook. His last Facebook status reads: “I love my country and my religion equally. I will leave neither.”
Bilal Pasha, a 31-year-old labourer, too was on the roadways bus stand, busy with his daily outdoor work. As the protests turned violent and everyone was running for cover, Pasha saw a child being caught in the melee. He went ahead to rescue the child but a cop, according to locals, pulled his revolver and shot Pasha in his face, point blank. He died on the spot. He was father of three daughters, aged 4 years, 2.5 years and 10 months.
The FIR in his case clearly says he was killed by a policeman but the police has made no headway in the investigation. SP Yamuna Prasad told this correspondent that an investigation was being conducted.