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Ranchi: Since June 10, when the protests against Bharatiya Janata Party leaders’ comments against Prophet Mohammad in the streets of Ranchi, Muslim residents of the violence-affected areas have been living in fear of what they call ‘police activity’.
On June 10, after the Jumma Namaz, the protestors had gathered near Iqra Masjid and marched toward Albert Ekka Chowk. However, near the local Hanuman Mandir, the protest allegedly turned violent and police opened fire, killing two and injuring more than 25 people.
Curfew was imposed and internet was snapped immediately across the jurisdictions of 12 police stations of the city. Early in the morning of June 12, internet connections were restored and curfew was revoked. The situation of the city is still tense.
The recent directions from Jharkhand governor Ramesh Bais to the police to public display pictures of the protestors – which police have followed – have added to their panic.
As per reports by regional media, Jharkhand Police have already arrested 29 people from several Muslim localities – Hindpidi, Karbala Chowk and Bari Talab – and picked up an additional 35 people for interrogation.
Among those arrested, five are still undergoing treatment at the Rajendra Institute of Medical Science (RIMS) for heavy injuries sustained during the clashes with police.
There are 155 people being kept within four police stations (Daily Market, Kotwali, Doranda, Hindpidi) under prohibitory orders under Section 107 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). Police have also filed 25 first information reports (FIRs) against 22 identified and 10,000 unidentified people, according to news agency PTI.
Muslims of the city are now afraid of being apprehended under these FIRs that have ‘unnamed’ accused persons. S. Ali, a social activist and president of the All Muslim Youth Association (AMYA) told The Wire, “People are extremely afraid now. As there are 10,000 unidentified persons, anybody can be arrested at any time. In this way, the administration is trying to silence the people”.
Javed, a resident of Pathal Kudwa, told The Wire, “By 11 pm, we start counting the police boots approaching our doors. As the street lights are switched off, the fear of being picked up starts haunting us”.
Police activity of this sort has been reported from Ranchi in the past as well.
On the first Eid after Jharkhand was made a state in 2000, when an eight-year-old Muslim girl was run over by a military vehicle and consecutive demands for accountability turned violent, police firing had killed at least two protestors. After that incident too, the police had arrested several innocent people at night from their localities.
Zubair, who had been picked up then and later released within three months due to a lack of evidence, told The Wire, “The police always prefer to do their activities at night. This has become a pattern for them,” he said.
A delegation of opposition politicians and leaders of religious organisations requested the police to not enter Muslim localities in the middle of the night.
The delegation, consisting of Anjuman Islamia president Ibrar Ahmed and secretary Haji Mukhtar; Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Ashok Verma; CPI (Marxist) leader Prakash Biplabi; CPI (Marxist-Leninist) leader Bhubenaswar Kewat; and Prof Harvinder Vir Singh, met the deputy inspector general (DIG) and senior superintendent of police (SSP) on June 13. However, even after the police’s assurance that it would not be repeated, the activities at night continued.
While speaking to The Wire, CPI (M-L) leader Nadeem Khan said, “Police must arrest the offenders but they should not enter the localities at midnight as it is spreading enormous fear among civilians and may lead to further problems. The high-level committee may visit the localities to find out how the common people living in fear”.
On June 11, the day after the violence, chief minister Hemant Soren formed a two-member high level committee comprising IAS officer Amitabh Kaushal and additional director general (ADG) of police, Sanjay Latkar. DIG Anish Gupta is also said to have formed a Special Investigating Team (SIT) to investigate the matter.
While investigations are on, further allegations are cropping up of the high-handedness of the administration. Questions have also been raised as to whether the police followed standard operating procedures (SoP).
“The police could have used water cannon, tear gas shells or even rubber bullets. Why did they resort to direct firing? Why is there so much hatred?” Ali told The Wire. Referring to the videos being circulated in the media over the last few days, he alleged that there were a few media persons as well who provoked the police to open fire on the protestors.
Although there are allegations floating around about presence of a WhatsApp group called ‘Wasseypur gang’ that called for and planned the protest, nobody The Wire spoke to had any idea of the presence of such a group.
Rather, an FIR filed by the family of Mudassir, a minor who was reportedly killed in the violence, alleged that Bhairo Singh, Shashi Sharda, Karan and Sonu Singh opened fire and pelted stones at the protestors when the peaceful march reached Hanuman Mandir.
The FIR also names several police officials who allegedly intentionally opened fire at the protestors.
While sharing the copy of the FIR with The Wire, Mudassir’s uncle, Shahid Ayubi, said, “On June 12, we went to the Daily Market police station to lodge an FIR, but most officers refused to talk.”
“After making us wait for around four hours, they ultimately listened to us and gave us the receipt of the application,” he continued. “However, till now they haven’t yet registered the FIR.”
He also accused the police of filing an FIR against the deceased Mudassir and his family in a bid to silence them.
“It has been a week since we lost our child but the police haven’t lodged the FIR. They haven’t registered the FIR of Sahil’s family as well. We will wait till Saturday and then go to the chief judicial magistrate court. They have to file an FIR,” he added. Sahil was another victim of police firing near Daily Market.
Speaking to The Wire, Mudassir’s father, Parvez Alam, said that Mudassir had joined the protest near the Hanuman Mandir and that there was initially no violence until stones were pelted from the Mandir side.
‘Threatened for meeting Jamiat official’
On the condition of anonymity, a local leader of the Muslim community told The Wire, “I just want to know from the police: why did the protest turn violent? How were the calls for protests spread without any organisational legitimacy through social media? What did the administrations do to contain any untoward incident?”
“In my Jumma Takhrir, I clearly asked the people not to gather for any protest as there was evidently no call,” he added.
Condemning the stone pelting at the temples, the Muslim leader claimed that the situation is continuously getting more tense and the police are acting in a high-handed manner.
For instance, when he, along with a few friends, went to greet Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind general secretary, Maulana Hakimuddin Qasmi, who had arrived from Delhi on June 12 to meet the DC, DIG and ADG and then sat for few hours in an Imrat -e-Shariya office in the locality, the police intervened and threatened him with arrest.
“If mere meeting and greeting someone becomes subject to police intervention, one can only imagine the intensity of the tensions we are living with,” he added.
Another major concern of the local Muslim community is the putting up of posters by the police which carry the names and addresses of those involved in the protests.
Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) general secretary and spokesperson, Supriyo Bhattacharya, said that such actions might affect the communal harmony of the state. He suggested that the police should take photos from the media and proceed with their investigations.
Immediately after putting up the posters, the police took them down, saying that there were some mistakes in the poster.
CPI (M-L) leader Nadeem Khan pointed out that though the police had immediately followed the governor’s demand for putting up the posters. Yet, they didn’t answer the governor’s queries on why water cannon, tear gas or even rubber bullets could not have been used at the first place.
Demanding a judicial inquiry, Khan said, “An impartial inquiry is required to understand what made the protest violent. Who were the people behind it? Was there any conspiracy? Accused must be given fair chance to defend themselves. Otherwise, it would be a biased, one-sided report.”
The names of a few respondents have been changed to protect their identities.
Abhik Bhattacharya is a doctoral research fellow, School of Liberal Studies, Ambedkar University, Delhi.