Arrested for sedition in UP's Azamgarh district, maulana says he tried to defuse CAA, NRC protest, not instigate it
Events are related to the sit-in protest called by a group of women in UP's Azamgarh district to protest against CAA and NRC. The FIR contradicts Rashadi’s version. Dubbing the protesters 'rioters', the FIR said that in spite of warning them about the Section 144, which prohibits gathering of more than 3 people, they did not withdraw the protest.
On 4 February earlier this year at around 5 in the evening, Tahir Madni was trying to defuse a protest on behalf of the police. Twenty-four hours later, he was accused of inciting the same protest and was arrested on charges of sedition.
Women in the small town of Bilariyaganj in Uttar Pradesh’s Azamgarh district were staging a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC), which critics of the current BJP government have slammed as discriminatory against Indian Muslims. It was a sit-in inspired by Shaheen Bagh in Delhi.
At the time, Madni, the general secretary of Rashtriya Ulema Council, had been attending a meeting in Azamgarh town – 15 kilometers from Bilariyaganj. "The protest started in the morning," he said, "I got a call from the police as well as the District Magistrate (DM) in the afternoon. They requested me to convince the protesters to withdraw the agitation."
Sixty-two-year-old Madni, who teaches about 5,000 kids at a madrasa in Bilariyaganj, is one of the respected residents from the town. After he reached the protest site on the evening of 4 February, he tried to pacify the protesters but the women refused to leave. "They said it is a peaceful protest that does not block any road neither does it cause any inconvenience," Madni recollected, "They wanted to exercise their democratic right to protest."
But the administration wasn’t convinced. More officials arrived at the site as the evening unfolded. "At 11.45 pm, even the DM came to the spot. I appealed to the protesters again, but they did not budge," said Madni.
Soon after, Madni was detained by the police along with two other youngsters, who had been helping the 62-year-old negotiate with the protesting women. "They took us to another block and accused me of being the organiser of the protest,” said Madni. “The police said that is the feedback they have received. I flatly denied it since I had nothing to do with the protest.”
According to Madni, the district magistrate asked him to take a last shot at convincing the protesters. At 3 am, Madni, who has survived an open-heart surgery, returned to the site again to speak to the protesters. "I told the women I have been detained, and that I am a heart patient. I further said that the situation is sensitive, and requested them to go home. The women understood. They said it is just two hours for the morning namaaz. 'We would offer our prayers and go home', they told me," Madni added.
After getting back to the police and the administration, Madni told them it was just a matter of two hours. However, the protest ended up being quelled with force before sunrise.
The police and the protesters have completely different versions of how the night unfolded.
Police version of the event
The next afternoon, on 5 February, Bilariyaganj police station filed a First Information Report (FIR) in connection with the violence at the site of the protest and named 35 Muslims. The first name was Madni’s.
According to the FIR, 35 of those mentioned, including Madni, led the protest, and “put up women and kids at the forefront of their conspiracy”. “The protestors carried sticks, rods, bricks and stones,” the FIR, which was filed by a cop, claimed. “They chanted anti-government and anti-national slogans. They said unspeakable things against Hindu religion, and abused the Prime Minister and Chief Minister, while sloganeering against CAA and NRC.”
The “anti-national” slogans cited in the FIR are the azaadi chants popularised by JNU’s Kanhaiya Kumar. Talha Rashadi, the lawyer representing the accused, said these slogans were being chanted all over the country. “How does it become seditious in Uttar Pradesh?” he asked and said that the protesters were peaceful.
The FIR contradicts Rashadi’s version. Dubbing the protesters 'rioters', the FIR said that in spite of warning them about the Section 144, which prohibits gathering of more than 3 people, they did not withdraw the protest.
"They started blocking the road, which even caused inconvenience to ambulances, jeopardising lives of patients. They created an atmosphere of terror and chaos, which could have led to a communal riot. The protestors attacked police with stones and rods, and the police had to fire tear gas in retaliation," the FIR claimed.
The FIR names Madni as the one leading the protests and goading the protesters. However, there are videos and photos of him appealing to the protesters while standing alongside the police and administration. "They first sought my help," said Madni, "And later framed me."
When contacted for a comment, the station officer at the Bilariyaganj police station said that Raunapar police is handling the investigations.
The station officer at Raunapar Police Station, Naval Kishor Singh, said, “I have just arrived here on a transfer. But why would police call Madni to stop the protest? Nobody helped the police that day.”
The police arrested Madni on 5 February, with 18 others, and slapped them with 19 charges under the IPC. Among them were sedition, rioting and attempt to murder. The claims are repeated in the chargesheet filed in the first week of May.
'Charges are fabricated'
A woman, who was part of the protest at Bilariyagan, said the charges are fabricated. “Why would a bunch of women attack an armed police force that had encircled the park where we were protesting?” she asked, requesting anonymity. “The police attacked us with tear gas and lathis, which led to chaos. When the men in the vicinity arrived out of concern for the women, the police beat them up as well."
The woman said the police harassed them through the day, and then attacked at night. “Police are supposed to protect us or threaten us? They threatened to beat us up. When some of the men in the area offered water and food to us, the police ensured we didn’t get that either," she further added.
According to her, Madni had nothing to do with what they had organised. “It was completely led by women,” she said. “It is unfair to assume that men were the brain behind it. And Madni sahib had been asking us to withdraw the protest.”
Rashadi said that a loophole in the police investigation is that they arrested 19 men while cracking down on a peaceful protest led by women, which exposes the fallacy of the FIR filed by the police. “They have picked up random people and arrested them,” he said. “Two of them were minors. They spent months in adult prison.”
Station officer Naval Kishor Singh, however, denied the allegation and said, “I don’t know about any minor being arrested.”
Meanwhile, the elder brother of one of the minors told Firstpost that the police picked him up while he was on his way to work early morning. “They even took the cash he had on him,” he said. “When I approached the police with his mark sheet, they threatened to jail me as well. We have been extremely worried for him. Our mother wouldn’t stop crying. We come from a poor family. He works at a hotel and I am a driver.”
The brother said the atmosphere at home was gloomy because of this during Eid. “We had sent him a pair of new clothes and sewaiyyan for Eid while he was in prison. We asked him about it after he got bail, but he said he didn’t get anything," the elder brother said.
The minor received bail in the first week of June. In other words, he spent four months in an adult prison. The Allahabad High Court, citing Madni’s bail on 15 May, said the minor has been “languishing in jail” since 5 February. He deserves bail on “ground of parity”. Of the 19, 15 received bail by 21 June. On 24 June, the remaining four were released too.
However, they are unsure of their future after this. "I have been a law-abiding citizen," said Madni. "I have lived in Bilariyaganj all my life, and I have always had amiable relations with police and administration."
In fact, Madni had planned an anti-CAA protest on 23 December, 2019. He had written to the administration asking permission for the same. “But they said the atmosphere is sensitive, so I postponed it to 4 January," Madni said. "When that date approached, they asked me to postpone it again and I complied. I had no intention of going ahead with the protest without proper permission. I did not instigate anyone. It is against my beliefs. I hope truth prevails."
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Taking cognisance of the incident, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath asked Gautam Buddh Nagar police commissioner Alok Singh to reach the spot.