Mangaluru: “They did what they wanted to, they took away my husband’s life. Now all I hope for is to see my husband’s name cleared from the police FIR,” Sayeda says in Byari, a language spoken in the coastal town Manguluru. Her elder daughter Shifani translates for her.
A year ago on this day, Sayeeda lost her husband, 49-year-old Abdul Jaleel, in police firing while he was on his way to offer Asr namaaz in a nearby mosque. He was shot in his eye and fell dead instantly.
Jaleel, a worker at the fish market, was one of the two victims of police firing on December 19, 2019. The family has since maintained that he had nothing to do with the protest organised in the town that day and that the police have merely named him in the FIR only to cover their crime up. The police, however, have claimed they had resorted to firing only to disperse the “unruly crowd” that had allegedly turned violent. The protesters had gathered across Mangaluru town against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
In the direct aftermath of the violence, the state government had cut off internet in Dakshina Kannada district, for five days till December 23. The district was put under curfew. Locals had alleged that this situation was created to only cover up police atrocities.
Far from being allowed to grieve him in peace, Jaleel’s family has spent the last year hoping and attempting to have his name erased from the long list of accused furnished by police. They have also tried to get duly compensated.
“Soon after the incident, the chief minister (B.S. Yediyurappa) had announced compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the family. But the police insisted that my husband was one of the rioters. Within days, the CM withdrew the compensation,” says Sayeeda. Since then, the family has been running from pillar to post, visiting the collector’s office one day, the police station the other and even the Magisterial Inquiry Committee, hoping for justice.
Sayeeda, along with her two children – 15-year-old Shifani and 11-year-old Sabil – have moved out of their old house in the Bandar area. But normalcy is a far cry. “Several relatives and community members helped us restart our lives. We are still dependent on their help,” Shifani says to The Wire.
A kilometre away, Nausheen’s family too has been struggling with the idea of moving on. Nausheen, a 22-year-old welder, was killed in similarly. He and his childhood friend Mohamed Hanif were returning from the workshop they had been employed at for the past seven years, when a bullet hit Nausheen’s chest. His friend had then compared the incident with the bursting of “fireworks”.
“Police had burst a tear gas shell right outside our workplace and I could see nothing through that thick smoke. In a matter of few seconds, Nausheen had fallen on the ground. A bullet had passed through his abdomen,” Hanif had said to The Wire soon after the incident.
But now, Nausheen’s elder brother, 30-year-old Naufal, says he is losing hope that his name will ever be cleared. “The police have taken it personally. They will go to any extent to save their own skin. There is no way they will accept that they messed it up,” says the Kudroli decorator.
Have things changed in Mangaluru since the incident? Naufal does not think so. “I still continue to be the chief decorator at the Kudroli temple. The working relationship still continues to be the same, people are ready to co-exist. It is the police who tried to poison things here,” he feels.
By the time violence had broken out in Dakshina Kannada last year, other parts of the country, more particularly New Delhi, saw similar pictures too. On December 19, protests were organised at different parts of the town. Permissions were issued too. But on the night before, Mangaluru police suddenly decided to withdraw permission. Even before the news of the withdrawal of permission could reach the participants of the protest, they had started pouring out onto the streets. By afternoon, over 150-200 people had gathered at the city centre and began sloganeering. In no time, police began to lathicharge and fire indiscriminately.
‘Not killed enough’
In one chilling video, police inspector Shantaram Kundar of Mangaluru police can be heard telling his subordinates in Kannada, “You have wasted so many rounds of bullets and have still not killed enough.”
Following public outrage, Kundar was transferred out of Kadri (Mangalore East) police station but no action was initiated against him. The then city police commissioner P.S. Harsha was criticised for the mismanagement and loss of lives. However, he too was spared any action or departmental inquiry.
In all, 24 FIRs were registered against several named and unnamed Muslim youth across the city. The FIRs, accessed by The Wire were drafted with a blatant assumption of the religion of the accused persons with little to back these lines. Statements like a “gang of Muslim men” attacked a shop, or “50-60 Muslim youth” stole property from a jewellery shop are examples of instances mentioned in the FIRs.
Soon after the December 19 violence, police rounded up 22 young Muslim men, some even in their teens. “They were kept in jail for close to nine months, and denied bail in the lower court. Only after the Supreme Court intervened were they released,” says Shabeer Ahamed of the Karwan-e-Mohabbat, a people’s campaign for solidarity to survivors of hate crimes. Ahamed has been closely following the cases and advocating for compensation for victims’ families and the injured, and the quashing of FIRs filed against several youth.
‘Let me be’
Along with the two deaths, a score of Muslim men, mostly daily wage workers who were either participants or mere bystanders were fired at too.
One such person was 41-year-old Abus Sali. His right arm was shot at, damaging it severely, and a huge hunk of his flesh was seemingly lost in the firing. A porter who earns daily wages, Sali has returned to a line of work he is most unsuited to execute now. “It is practically impossible for me to carry huge loads. But I am left with very little choice,” Sali tells The Wire.
A sole earner in a family of four, Sali’s wife and two children stay in the city outskirts. He has been named as an accused in two cases, he says.
“Since I was badly injured and was in the hospital for close to a month, the police had spared me. But I have to secure my pre-arrest bail. I have no money for that,” Sali says. The Rs one lakh that was raised for him by good samaritans was barely enough for the physiotherapy that became essential for him for months afterwards, he says.
“I only hope the police drops the case and lets me and my family be,” he says.
The police atrocity was widely videographed and policemen were seen misbehaving and violently attacking Muslims across the city. In one such viral video, a man was seen desperately clutching his three-year-old daughter and resisting the police.
A clear case of police atrocity was soon turned into a case of “rioting” and the man, K. M. Ibrahim, a 32-year-old scrap dealer, was named in one of the FIRs. The Wire was the first to have reported about his ordeal in 2019. When this reporter went to meet the family last week, Ibrahim was away for work but his wife and two daughters were home. Kubra, his wife, told The Wire that the police have continued to harass Ibrahim and that the family lives under constant threat of arrest and violence.
The FIRs, Ahamed says, reeks of the communal mindset of the police against the Muslim community. “None of those FIRs will stand in the court of law. The circumstances, the evidences gathered are all flimsy but they are potent enough to destroy lives,” former city mayor K. Ashraf says.
Ashraf was one among seriously injured persons in the attack. A bullet had grazed past his skull and he had to be in the hospital for several weeks.
Along with the rioting cases, the police had also booked “unknown persons” for inciting violence and writing inflammatory messages on social media. Recently, when a young man returned from Abu Dhabi to his hometown, Mangaluru, the police detained him at the airport. The man was interrogated and his passport was impounded by the police in connection with a sedition case. “He is not even the suspect but a relative of one suspect. The police let him off after detaining him for over a day but have agreed to give his passport back only if he turns in the relative. These are ridiculous torture tactics,” Ahamed feels.
Similar cases of young professionals and civil services aspirants are in abundance. Several men who were targeted and fired at prefer staying away from the media and making any public appearance fearing a more severe crackdown.
Some, who want to fight for justice, do not feel encouraged enough. “As it is, jobs are fewer and Muslims are not preferred at most work places. To confront the state would mean sabotaging every employment opportunity in the future,” says a young IT professional who is also a riot victim. The bullet shot at him on December 19 is still lodged inside and he will need several complicated surgeries to get rid of it.
The attack, victims and activists feel, was pre-planned. It was done to keep the community “under control”, they say. The state government, soon after the incident, had appointed Udupi deputy commissioner G. Jagadeesh to head a magisterial inquiry into the police firing incident. It took close to a year for the report to be compiled and submitted to the state home department.
The report, that runs to around 50 pages, along with over 2,500 supporting documents, is yet to be made public. The Wire tried contacting Jagadeesh several times but could not manage to get through. Former state Minorities Commission president Haji Mohammed Masood has appealed to the state government to make the report public. “That is the only way we would know the truth and the state’s seriousness in delivering justice to the victims of the riot,” Masood told The Wire.