Mumbai: A people’s tribunal, headed by retired Supreme Court judge, Justice V. Gopala Gowda, has held Mangaluru police responsible for invoking prohibitory orders in the South Kannada district even when the situation did not warrant it.
This, the tribunal has observed, was done without effective communication, leading to commotion and eventual deaths and injuries on December 19. Along with Gowda, advocate B.T. Venkatesh and senior journalist Sugata Srinivasaraju were a part of the tribunal that visited Mangaluru city on January 6 and 7.
The city police had allowed a protest against the recently passed Citizenship (Amendment) Act in the city on December 19. But a night before, the order was abruptly withdrawn leading to acute confusion. The tribunal has observed that the entire incident could have been averted by the police if they had they taken sufficient and appropriate steps, as is mandated under the procedures of the police manual and directions of the Supreme Court, in handling mob situations.
Among others interviewed, the tribunal’s 31-page report has relied on the testimonies of two journalists — both belonging to the Muslim community — who were brutally attacked while covering the incident on December 19.
Mangaluru police had beaten Ismail Zaorez and Afnan while they were on the ground filming and reporting the police excesses at various places in the city. In all, 18 persons, including the deceased persons’ children and other family members, several bullet injury victims and hospital authorities have deposed elaborately before the tribunal. The report notes that police were also invited to present their side before the tribunal, but chose not to.
Two Muslim men — Abdul Jaleel and Nausheen Kudroli — were killed in police firing, which most eyewitnesses and victims’ families claimed as indiscriminate in nature. The video recordings of the incident also point to the police’s communal bias in handling the incident. In one of the videos, also perused by the tribunal, an officer is heard chiding his subordinates for not killing enough people while police firing.
The Wire has extensively reported on the police’s role and their direct involvement in the violence. Most witnesses that have deposed before the tribunal have narrated their experiences to The Wire as well. These witnesses had also expressed fear of being targeted by police.
The tribunal has demanded that a judicial commission be set up to probe the role of the police. “From the statements, one can observe that Police failed in their duty and resorted to lathicharge without provocation of any kind. Statements of the victims and their relatives go to show that innocent persons who had nothing to do with the protest have been targeted,” the report says.
It further observes, “From the statements made to the tribunal, it is observed that the story of the Police that there was attack on Bander Police Station by a crowd of 7,000 persons appears greatly exaggerated. No sufficient precautions were taken, nor were procedures followed in passing orders that resulted in firing at the public.”
The police had claimed that a huge mob had gathered at different spots across Mangaluru and police had to resort to firing as a final option. The tribunal, however, has rubbished the claim.
Mangaluru was one of the places where anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests had gone violent. In all such cases of violent protests, the police’s role has been questioned and allegations have been made of their direct involvement in inciting the mob and in unleashing atrocities. Over 30 persons have died in Mangaluru, several parts of Uttar Pradesh, and in the North East.