Men in uniform, with sticks in their hand and helmets on their heads, intently walk through a narrow lane aware of their imposing presence. Some of them forcibly enter a home, when a petrified woman, shooting the developments on her mobile camera, asks in a quivering voice, "What is going on?"
A moment later, police officers come out of the home holding a little boy by his collar. He is a minor. A policeman plants a stick on the back of his leg as he is taken away. The woman behind the camera sounds even more horrified. "They have picked up a kid," she exclaims, while others in the mohalla look on from their balconies. "What are they going to do with him?"
She runs across her home towards a balcony opening up on the other side of the road. The policemen hustle across the road with the boy behind a building where her camera cannot spot them any longer.
The video is from the town of Aurangabad in Bihar. This reporter tracked down the brother of the woman who shot the video. Requesting anonymity, he confirmed it is from Shahganj mohalla of Aurangabad town.
It was shot on 21 December, 2019, when Bihar Police arrested 46 people – including three women and two minors – after anti-Citizenship Amendment Act and anti-National Register of Citizen protests turned violent in the town of Aurangabad. RJD and its allies had called for a bandh on that day.
The FIR filed by the police mentions more than 80 names — only two of them are Hindus while the rest are Muslims. According to the FIR, a mob led by local councillor Sikandar Hayat caused riots and attacked police force with stones and bricks. However, an eyewitness said that Hayat was actually trying to pacify the protesters after matters escalated between the groups trying to enforce the bandh and those trying to defy it. Those trying to defy the bandh are close to the BJP, eyewitnesses told this reporter.
However, the police only targetted Muslims when they were nabbing "culprits" for the unrest. An earlier Firstpost report detailed how the police specifically picked Muslim areas, terrorised families, vandalised their property, even arrested minors and cited them as adults. Seven of those arrested by the Bihar police spent a week in hospital after being seriously injured during police lathicharge.
Now, there is video footage corroborating the eyewitness accounts of police running amok and vandalising property in the area.
In another video, police officials are vandalising a tempo and a car parked on a desolate street. The video shows three policemen walking by, one of them takes the car, the other takes the tempo. They beat the vehicles with their sticks until the windshield is reduced to a rubble.
Deputy Superintendent of Police (SDPO) for Aurangabad town Anup Kumar said that the police did not vandalise cars or public property. "I have not seen those videos, some people did tell me about it though. The police only entered homes to catch people indulging in stone pelting. The videos being circulated might be from somewhere else," he said.
However, former minister and RJD member Suresh Paswan met the person who owned the tempo that was vandalised by the police. The video shows the meeting between Paswan and the tempo owner standing next to the vandalised vehicle. He identifies himself as Iltav Qureshi. "The tempo was parked at Qureshi mohalla in Aurangabad town," Paswan told this reporter in a telephonic interview. "The police have also thrashed cars and bikes parked in different lanes. Some of the bikes were parked inside people’s homes." The number plate of the vehicle is visible in the video — it is BR-26K-2655 — BR stands for Bihar and 26 is the RTO code for Aurangabad.
Before destroying Qureshi's tempo, the police had raided the Qureshi mohalla, which is also captured on camera by a local resident. "The entire force is here," the local is heard saying in the video. "They are firing. They have opened the gate, and have moved in towards Bhutto bhai’s home."
Two men are filming. When the camera zooms in, a voice snaps, "Don't do it. What if someone sees us?" A minute later, a sobering voice says, "They have broken all the houses."
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," he said. "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. It was criminal," he added.
The FIR suggests all of this was done as an act of self-defence and getting hold of miscreants. It further states the police seized 23 mobile phones from 22 of those arrested who were part of a WhatsApp group called Aawaz do Humko. “It was created on 19 December (two days before the protest) in which provocative things were said against the police," the FIR said, without citing any messages. "It circulated messages of police investigation that threatened its secrecy." Anup Kumar said he will not be able to share the details of the messages "at this moment".
However, Mohammad Meraj, the lawyer representing the arrested, said that the police seized those mobile phones because they circulated the videos showing the police in poor light. "Some of them have been arrested," he said, and added, "But everybody has a mobile phone these days. They are saying it threatened police secrecy. What is this secrecy in the middle of the road?"
After the police wrecked havoc in Muslim areas, Paswan met the victims and their families. "Police accused Muslims of being loyal to Pakistan. There was a marriage about to happen in one of these homes. The police entered and capsised the dining table with food on it. The women told me how badly they were treated."
In the videos where Paswan meets the women — young and old, furious and helpless — they vent out the trauma inflicted upon them. Almost all of them complain of being manhandled in the absence of women constables.
The most powerful account comes from a 17-year old girl, Hana Parveen, blasting the police. "Is this how the police behaves? They have only done it out of anger. They couldn’t find anyone in our house so they vandalised our property. Who will pay for it?"
Nihalsing Rathod, lawyer-activist based in Nagpur, said that in principle, residents can claim compensation from police, but he also added that the likelihood of such a thing happening is almost non-existent. "The panchanama usually says unknown people destroyed the property. After a point, a common person do not pursue these cases."
In the video, Hana goes on to say how at least 50 policemen barged in without any woman constable. Women around her add saying that the police abused them as well. Hana says, "The police asked if we wanted azaadi and that they will give us azaadi." Firstpost had reported of another family being asked the exact question by the police. Hana’s account suggests it was not a one-off incident.
The victims' versions indicate that the people were intimidated and terrified of Bihar Police.
In the rest of the videos, women are seen showing their homes and the damage done by the police. "We were standing by the stairs in front of our homes," a woman, identifying herself as Rehana Khatoon, said. "The police force arrived, and told us to move. They barged in and vandalised the house." At which point, another woman interjected and said, "They threatened women with guns."
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Updated Date: Jan 03, 2020 15:03:50 IST