On 21 December 2019, the town of Aurangabad in Bihar observed a protest at Ramesh Chowk against the amended citizenship law. The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and its allies had called for a bandh to rally against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). But towards the end, the peaceful protest turned violent. Following the unrest, the Bihar police began raiding localities, which were predominantly Muslim, around the protest site to identify these "miscreants". They have arrested 46 people so far.
However, the police investigation is laden with loopholes. For starters, the main accused behind the unrest has been arrested twice from two different places according to the First Information Report (FIR) filed by the Aurangabad police.
The first page of the FIR claims when the bandh ended at around 12.15 pm, a mob of 200, led by local councilor Sikandar Hayat, emerged at the scene. "The mob started beating up shopkeepers near a book store, asking them to shut shop," the FIR notes. "When police tried to intervene, the mob chanted slogans against them and started throwing bricks and stones. A brick landed on a policeman's head, and he got seriously injured. Hayat was egging the protesters on."
The FIR further added that the police tried its best to convince the mob not to indulge in stone pelting, but the mob continued with the attacks, at which point the police used force and arrested five troublemakers. One of them was Hayat. Interestingly, a few pages later the same FIR notes that Hayat was arrested again while jumping off a roof along with a few others who were indulging in stone pelting.
But the loopholes don't end with the police FIR. The details of further investigation, which are noted in a police diary submitted in a district court of Aurangabad, make things murkier. Firstpost has accessed the diary and reviewed it.
The shopkeepers, who were allegedly beaten up by Hayat and his mob, do not feature as witnesses in the police diary. In other words, there are no independent witnesses of an episode that the police has claimed to have triggered the entire conflict.
According to an eyewitness, a fight broke out between those trying to enforce the bandh and two men, allegedly close to the BJP, who were trying to defy it. The fight escalated and led to the disorder.
Aurangabad SDPO Anup Kumar refused to comment on the specifics of the investigation, but said, "No matter what police do, they (the protesters) will call it an atrocity. It is easy to accuse the police. But the accusations are far from true. If you have made a mistake, you will be caught."
Former minister and RJD member Suresh Paswan said that incidents of stone pelting happened on the main road after their rally ended. "There are CCTV cameras to find out who was pelting stones. They should be punished, irrespective of whether they are Hindus or Muslims. Police should investigate it, they have the machinery to do so. But the police action that followed was not an investigation."
Residents said what the police did in the aftermath of the protests was religious profiling. They only targeted Muslim localities, terrorised citizens, and even manhandled women in absence of women constables. The police were caught on camera vandalising public and private properties as well.
Haseena Bano, a resident of Islam Toli, said the police broke into their home and started destroying everything that they saw. "They even opened our fridge and washing machine to see if anyone was hiding," she said. "People are not even safe in their own homes anymore. We have been told to file a case against the police, but we are poor people. How do we stand up to them?"
The police arrested four people from her home. It could have been five. "They were taking him as well," she said, pointing towards her father-in-law, an 80 plus, frail man who did not seem to be in his senses. He lumbered around the house asking the same question almost every three minutes. "Does he look like a man who will be able to throw stones at police and then get back home to hide from them?" she asked.
Massive protests across India have been going on against the Narendra Modi-led Centre's plan to amend the citizenship law and enforce a National Register for Citizens which has been criticised for being discriminatory against Muslims. Protesters across the country were met with brutal police force, especially in BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Delhi (the police in the capital reports to the Union home ministry). The Delhi Police recently was heavily criticised for its conduct in the aftermath of protests at Jamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University.
In Nitish Kumar's Bihar, the police was no less ruthless. They have arrested 46 people so far. 13 of them are minors. One is as young as 12. But the police passed them off as adults. They spent a month in adult prison of Aurangabad with hardened criminals before being transferred to a juvenile home in Gaya — about 80 kilometers away.
Of the 46, the police in the diary have conceded they have not found any evidence against five they have arrested. One of them is Shahbaz Nawab, a local trader at a jewelry store. The initial FIR claimed that he was arrested from a terrace along with five other "culprits".
But the police diary, which contradicts the police FIR, says that rioters had began pelting stones in his lane when Shahbaz was trying to get home. To avoid the police, he ran towards the rioters, where he fell and injured himself. The diary, in fact, quoted an eyewitness and said that Shahbaz took a few blows from the stone pelting.
However, there is also a video of Shahbaz being brutally beaten up by the police who have cornered him against a shuttered shop. The video shows Shahbaz miserably failing at warding off several men in uniform beating him with lathis.
Shahbaz's elder brother, Sajid, had submitted that video to the police soon after the arrest but he did not receive any reassurance. Shahbaz has a wife and an eight-month-old son. "We have not experienced something like this before," he said, sitting in the shop. "It makes you feel helpless. Shahbaz, in his frustrated state of mind, even said he feels like committing suicide. I told him to have patience."
When a key family member is suddenly unavailable for family business, Sajid said, the entire operation takes a hit. "We had divided our responsibilities. Shahbaz would deal with our suppliers. I have been doubling up now, but he was an expert. The economy is hurting in the first place. On top of that, the business is struggling further due to his absence." Sajid said the police is only covering its tracks.
Another alleged 'rioter', Shams Waris, initially mentioned in the FIR, was proved to be in court paying his bail bond in another case. The police diary said that because Waris was named in a previous rioting case, his name appeared in this one as well.
Apart from Shahbaz and Shams, the police have also found no evidence against three women they arrested on 21 December. Haseena Khatoon, Ishrat Khatoon and Ishran Khatoon were arrested from one home in Qureshi mohalla, along with 11 others. They had all gathered for an engagement ceremony, Ishrat's husband Mohammad Qiyamuddin said.
Qiyamuddin said that the police disrupted the ceremony and barged in through the back door. "They upended the table where all the food had been prepared. They smashed the TV, and ruined the sofa. They started beating us and abused us continuously. They arrested women in the absence of women constables."
Qiyamuddin said about 20-odd guests had come for the ceremony, and the mood was buoyant that morning. "Everyone was looking forward to it. We were expected to decide the date of the wedding. But the police disruption cut short the engagement ceremony. And we still don't know the wedding date."
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Updated Date: Feb 13, 2020 19:58:27 IST