Mangaluru: “It is tiring,” says 10-year-old Sabil.
“People keep asking me what I saw that evening. What did I see? Nothing…just my father drop dead in front of my eyes,” he adds. Anger and sadness rush in at once.
“Aankhon ke saamne khatam kar diya unko (‘Finished him right in front of my eyes’).”
Sabil’s father Abdul Jaleel was one of the two victims of police atrocity in Mangaluru, in the Dakshina Kannada district, on December 19. Jaleel, according to his younger son Sabil had just stepped out of their house to offer Asr namaz, at around 4 pm, when he was hit by a stray bullet fired by the police, on his left eye.
The bullet had passed through and Jaleel had died instantly. The police have maintained they had resorted to firing only to disperse the “unruly crowd” that had allegedly turned violent. The protesters had gathered against the recently passed and extremely discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). But, Sabil says, they were neither unruly, nor violent.
Jaleel, a 49- year-old worker at the fish market nearby was a resident of the Bandar area in Mangaluru city. On that fateful evening, he had decided to get home earlier than usual. “My father returned early and helped my mom with her daily chores, then picked us up from school. He had walked only a few steps away from the house when this happened,” Shifani, his 14-year-old daughter shares with The Wire.
The family was dependent on Jaleel’s meagre income. His wife, Sayeeda, a 32-year-old homemaker has since been shocked and worried.
Since the incident, the family has moved into Jaleel’s brother’s house. “Itna zulm kiya hain police ne, koi guarantee nahi ki police inhe bakshegi (‘Police have acted so cruelly. There is no guarantee that they won’t repeat it again’),” says Sakina, Jaleel’s sister-in- law. The family cannot be left alone, she adds.
Sakina, a lecturer at Badriya College in Kodailbail, Mangaluru, tells The Wire that Jaleel was never particularly interested in political news. “His life only revolved around his family and his work. I am sure he hadn’t even heard of CAA. He has never participated in any protest and I am certain, he had no role here too,” Sakina adds.
While the family was keen to share their story, they did not want their photos to be published.
Jaleel’s death was sudden. The shock of losing the only earner and a doting father to two young children has engulfed the family. But with that, they are dealing with another shocker. The Mangaluru police, after killing two persons and injuring several more in the violence, have also booked them in cases of rioting and attempt to murder, among others.
Although the locals and several eyewitnesses that The Wire spoke to have claimed that only 150-200 people had participated in, what they describe as an impromptu protest, the police have claimed that thousands had poured on to the streets. The police’s claims do not match the several video clips that have been released in the past week.
Eight separate FIRs have been filed across different police stations of Mangaluru city. In all, 78 people have been named and another 1,145 “unknown persons” are mentioned in the FIRs.
Minutes after Jaleel was hit by a bullet, another person, Nausheen Kudroli, a 22-year-old welder, too, was killed in a similar fashion. He and his childhood friend Mohamed Hanif were returning from the workshop they were employed at for the past seven years, when a bullet hit his chest. “It was like fireworks everywhere. 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 says.
Nausheen was still alive when his friend had picked him up and rushed him to the nearby Highland hospital, 3.5 kilometres away. By the time they reached, Jaleel’s body was already there. Jaleel and Nausheen were both declared dead on arrival.
Since this incident, there is a palpable fear among the Muslim community in Mangaluru. Along with the visuals of police storming into the hospital, several disturbing videos of the forces entering into Ibrahim Khaleel Masjid and its office on the Bunder Road have also emerged.
In one video shot by a person who was holed up inside the Masjid, police can be seen pointing at the mosque and firing. It is unclear from the video if it was a bullet or a tear gas shell that was fired into the mosque.
After firing at the mosque, around ten policemen had stormed the South Kanara Salafi Movement’s office just above the mosque. One person, Ashfaq Baijal, was detained and later let off. The office bearers claim that Baijal was in the office and had not participated in the protest.
In one of the videos, Baijal is seen showing his injuries after the police left, to two other workers who were hiding inside a room.
The state government had decided to cut off internet in Dakshina Kannada district and from December 19 to December 23, and the district was put under curfew. Locals alleged that this situation was created to only cover up police atrocities.
“Protests have been happening across the country. The protests here too would have been carried out peacefully had the police not been so brutal,” shared Azad Kandiga, a journalist from Varthabharathi who has been following every development closely.
The Mangaluru police have claimed that several policemen, including from the state reserve force were severely injured in the stone pelting. But when The Wire visited Wenlock Hospital, (the government-run district hospital) on December 23, no policemen were being treated there.
The district medical officer and the superintendent of the hospital Dr H.R. Rajeshwari Devi confirmed that in total 66 policemen had visited the hospital. Of them 64 were sent back after first aid and two others — one with contusions and another with laceration — were kept back for 24 hours for observation.
“Since there wasn’t any serious injury, they too were discharged soon after,” Dr. Rajeshwari Devi told The Wire. As per the hospital records, the two policemen with injuries have been identified as Gangaiyya Naik and Satish.
Soon after the violence, Karnataka state chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa had announced compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the kin of both Jaleel and Nausheen. However, on December 25, the CM backtracked and said that compensation would not be given if the investigation into the violence proved the victims’ involvement.
As dead bodies and injured persons were carried to Highland hospital, protesters began to gather there. Relatives of those injured and the dead had also hurried to the hospital.
The situation was no more that of an emergency case, it was now a medico-legal case, a hospital authority told The Wire. He had called the police to come and complete the legal process, just as protocol demanded. “But instead, the police, dressed in their riot gear barged into the hospital,” he says.
Several mobile recordings indicate, that the emotionally-charged crowd were agitated to see the police at the hospital. They immediately began protesting. “There was a point when the crowd had begun sloganeering and also pelting stones at the police who had come equipped with their rifles and batons. Two people had died after all,” says an eyewitness, who is a member of hospital staff. “There were around 10-12 policemen. They shot a tear gas shell right at the entry of the hospital and within seconds the police had entered the hospital,” the witness adds.
Chilling CCTV footage of the police entering the hospital and kicking at the door of the ICU door have since gone viral. “It was a disturbing sight,” a member of auxiliary hospital staff adds.
“The police not just entered illegally into a hospital space, they also used terribly problematic, communal language while dealing with the patients,” a heart patient’s family who was stuck inside the hospital shared with The Wire. The police, she claims, attacked the hospital fully knowing that besides the violence victims there were several others who belonged to the Muslim community.
“They called us names and repeatedly said they would pump bullets into all of us. It was a terrifying moment,” a patient, belonging to the Muslim community, says.
At least two patients that this reporter met were affected badly by the tear gar shell burst at the gate and the lobby of the hospital. “A 72-year-old heart patient named Abdul Rehman had to be moved to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) after his condition worsened because of the tear gas,” confirmed a doctor on ICU duty.
When this reporter visited the ICU, this patient was struggling to breathe and both doctors and nurses were closely monitoring his condition and trying to stabilise him.
Highland Hospital, run by persons belonging to the Muslim community is perceived as an hospital catering primarily to the community. While patients across religion avail themselves of this hospital’s services, Muslims are more inclined to go there. “This was also a reason that police thought they could brazenly attack us,” a hospital staff feels.
Following the ongoing protests across India and the subsequent police clampdown, several lawyers and rights activists have been at the forefront providing legal support to protesters. But a similar response has not been received from the medical fraternity.
The visuals of police attacking the Highland Hospital, bursting tear gas shells in the hospital lobby should have caused a nation- wide outrage, the hospital management says. But that did not happen.
“Not one phone call (from the medical association) was made. No one seemed perturbed,” a source close to the hospital management shared.
Following criticism on the social media, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) headquarters issued a statement condemning police action inside hospitals, calling it “a new low in the civic life of the nation”. A local doctors’ group called the Association of Medical Consultants (AMC), however, was soon to criticise the headquarters for issuing the statement and instead praised the police action and blamed the victims.
In this highly divided atmosphere, the doctors that The Wire spoke to at the Highland Hospital expressed deep anguish and fear in treating patients.
Other injured persons
Besides the two dead, Highland Hospital has been treating three more people with bullet injuries and six others who were beaten up with police batons.
Among them is Mohamed Imran, battling for his life. The bullet that hit him on his abdomen has ruptured his intestine, pancreas and his liver. The doctors treating him say his rib cage has multiple fractures and his left hand too has been broken. Imran was conscious when this reporter went to see him at the ICU but was unable to speak.
“He has been in deep pain. We are trying to stabilise him before other complicated surgeries are carried out on him. His intestines were exposed and it had to be stitched back. He had lost a lot of blood and was bleeding internally when he was brought in here,” a specialised doctor treating him told The Wire.
Another person, 40- year old Abus Ali, who worked as a porter on daily wages at a godown near the spot of protest was hit by a bullet on his right arm. His brother Saif Ul Rehman showed picture of his arm soon after the incident. Huge chunk of his arm has been destroyed. “My brother had returned to work only two days before the incident. He had broken his leg in some accident and was homebound for nearly two weeks. He went to work and this happened,” Rehman says.
Ali’s work is laborious and is dependent on his physical strength to pull heavily loaded hand carts. “Now with my right hand so badly affected, how am I to even return to work,” he says, breaking down into tears.
Those injured have also been named in the police FIR.
Attack on Kerala media
Even when the videos of the police indiscriminately attacking the protesters made rounds, most local media had stuck to reporting only the police version. Just a handful like Varthabharati stuck to objective reporting and critically investigated the police’s role.
The sharp divide in the media is so stark that when four media outlets from Kerala visited Mangaluru to report on the incident on December 20 and the city police had detained them for several hours, the local Kannada press instead of standing with their fraternity, claimed in their coverage that “some armed persons from Kerala had entered Mangaluru”.
It was only after the Kerala government began to pressurise its counterpart in Karnataka that the eight media persons were released. But not before they were humiliated and threatened.
Among those eight persons were representatives of Media One, Asianet, Network 18 Malayalam and 24.
“As soon as we reached at 6 am, we straight headed to Highland Hospital where injured persons were hospitalised. We then headed to Wenlock Hospital where the two dead bodies were moved for post mortem,” Shabbir Omar, reporter from Media One tells The Wire.
He further adds that soon after the Kerala press had spoken to the victims’ families and had aired their version of police atrocity and the claim that they were not participants of the protest, the Mangaluru police decided to target them.
“We were the first ones to get the victims’ families versions. Until now the local press and a few national media had only focused on the police’s story. I sent inputs to three live bulletins between 6 am and 7.30 am and after that we were moved out of the government hospital,” says Mujeeb Cheriyapuram, another reporter who was also detained.
Cheriyapuram, a senior journalist, who handles Kasargod bureau of Asianet and also covers Mangaluru (which is on the Kerala border) as a part of his work claims they were detained as soon as the city police commissioner P.S. Harsha saw them at the morgue speaking to the victims.
“We were first asked to show our identity cards, we showed them. Then they asked us for our government accreditation. Four of us had it, we showed it. Then they said they want to authenticate it and took us to Mangalore South police station and kept us detained there until 3 pm. Our phones were confiscated, we were not allowed to inform our offices or families, we were denied water or food and simply made to sit there. We did not even know if the police were going to press charges against us,” Cheriyapuram says.
At 3 pm, when the police put them in the cab and started to drive on the highway, Cheriyapuram says they were worried. “Since we had no idea what was happening, we did not know what the police was upto,” he adds. Later, all eight were left on the Kerala border.
Although they were not physically harmed, these reporters narrated incidents of being humiliated by local cops. “One of our camerapersons is Hindu. A cop asked him why is he working with Muslim reporters and if he has any responsibility. Such was their approach,” Cheriyapuram adds.
While the Kerala press were not physically harmed, a few local reporters who were on the field weren’t spared. Ismail Zaorez, a young journalist working for Varthabharati’s English web portal was beaten up severely when he was on the ground reporting on the incident. He sustained injuries on his back, shoulder and neck.
Zaorez told The Wire that he was attacked despite showing his press identity card and identifying himself as a local reporter. “They did not care. They snatched my I-card and hit me hard. It was so sudden and unprovoked that I didn’t know how to respond to this,” he added.
The Wire has tried to contact the Mangaluru police commissioner for his response on the allegations but haven’t managed to get in touch so far. The story will be updated as soon as police commissioner Harsha responds.
Meanwhile, the CP took to social media appealing to people to share videos and photos of the December 19 “riots” in the city.’