According to police records, Firozabad district in Uttar Pradesh is among the regions which accounted for the highest number of deaths during the recent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC). Of the 24 deaths in the state, seven were reported from this part of UP, documents compiled by the police show.
Firozabad, which lies to the east of Agra, also witnessed some of the most violent clashes between the police and protesters. In all, the Uttar Pradesh police has arrested over 1,200 people and detained at least 5,500 people in connection with the violence. The last available figures for Firozabad put the number of detentions in the district at 250, and arrests at 13.
Among these is Ahmed Nabi, a 52-year-old Firozabad cancer patient who finally received chemotherapy in the first week of March. It was due on 28 December. Ahmed, who is suffering from stage-2 oral cancer, was arrested on 20 December when he was on the way to his crockery shop, said his younger brother Vakeel Nabi. “On 23 December, the special court ordered the Firozabad District Administration to admit him to the hospital,” he said. “But the police did not act. The courts were closed from 25 December to 1 January. They violated a court order to ensure he missed his chemotherapy that was due on 28 December,” he alleged. The police has denied this charge. When asked to comment, Firozabad Superintendent of Police Sachindra Patel said, “We have complied with the court order.”
The Firozabad jailor Lal Pratap Singh had told a newspaper that the police did not provide them the required police escort. Vakeel said, “When he told the police about his medical condition, the police said, 'We will treat your cancer here'. I met my brother at the police station on the night of 21 December. He was barely conscious.”
Vakeel further alleged that the police forced him to sign on a blank paper and made him hold a desi pistol to get his fingerprints on it. Patel, refuting the allegation, said Ahmed was arrested from the spot, and was part of the protest that turned violent.
When the courts reopened in the New Year, Ahmed was admitted to a hospital in Agra to undergo treatment for fractures in his body. “We moved the Allahabad High Court for bail, which came through at the end of January,” said Vakeel. “At the time, he had been recovering from his fractures and we had to go to Jaipur for the chemo. We finally got it done when he was able to move in March.”
Enactment of the CAA has set off protests across the country, with much of the violence concentrated in north India, specifically states like UP. The police has come in for criticism over excessive use of force. Mohammad Azad Khan, who runs a small timber mill in Firozabad, alleged he was one of those who was at the receiving end of such action. “I have CCTV cameras at the gate, so I could see everything that was happening on the road,” he said. “A few women had come to buy wood from me when the situation started getting tense in the afternoon. I ensured the Hindu women went back safely to their area, and the Muslim women went back safely to theirs. Then I locked my mill from inside and sat in my office.”
Azad soon saw on the screen in his office monitoring the CCTV cameras that the police was trying to break open his mill's main gate. “The police waved at the crowd that was watching with glee,” he said. “Initially, I thought they are trying to pacify them. The next moment, I saw all of them on the road, clearly suggesting the police asked them to join.”
According to him, some of the men wore saffron bandanas and "chanted Jai Shree Ram". He said they brought a motorcycle into his timber mill and set it afire. “I cried, folded my hands, and I begged them to let me go,” he said. “The police called me katuwa. And the mob got ready to burn me alive. But I have sold wood all my life and I know how to navigate through a pile of wood. So I managed to climb on top of a pile and jumped out of the mill.”
Azad's nephew Farhad was less fortunate. He had been hiding in a toilet, and the police arrested him shortly. “We call him Deepu because he was born during Diwali,” said Azad. “What was his fault?”
Even after over three months of the incident, Azad is still scared. “I no longer feel safe,” he said. “The mob that tried to set me on fire is not just a mob. I know who they are. I know what their names are. They used to be acquaintances, and they live right across my mill.”
When Azad came back to the mill after a few days, he could barely recognise it. “Everything was vandalised,” he said. “The cash drawer had about Rs. 1.8 lakhs when I escaped. By the time I returned, it was gone.” After having his mill looted, Azad is now one of those that have to pay up for the damages. “As if the plunder was not enough,” he said. “I have to pay from my pocket for damages caused by somebody else under the police watch.”
In Firozabad, the police are set to recover Rs. 45 lakh from the “rioters”. “We do not know exactly how many people we would be recovering from because we are still in the process of identification,” said Patel. “But the ones that torched the police station, vehicles, media cars would be paying for it.” Four videos from Firozabad had gone viral on social media, where the police are seen shooting at the protestors and are aided by civilians throwing stones from their side.
There are also allegations of custodial torture. Hafiz Kasim, 22, who lives in Firozabad, said he was subjected to such treatment. “They undressed me and beat me up on my private parts,” he said. “It was freezing cold, but the police did not relent. Eventually I lost my consciousness.” He said he received deep cuts on his head from three sides. When he requested the police to apply a bandage, Kasim says he was told, “Shut up or we will encounter you.”
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