Mumbai: The Uttar Pradesh police have systematically begun identifying and targeting the male relatives and friends of the women protestors of Deoband in Saharanpur district. To stop the women from continuing their ongoing protest – styled around the famous Shaheen Bagh protest in Delhi – the UP police have begun mass booking men from the village. This, the protestors say, is only done to wield pressure on the women and force them to end their 46-day protest.
The women here, like in several other parts of the country, have gathered against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the impending implementation of the National Register of Citizens and National Population Register.
The charges, however, are as bizarre as the police tactics. In one of the three FIRs that The Wire has accessed, the men have been accused of attempting to “spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life”. They have been booked under Sections 269, 270, 278 and 290 of the Indian Penal Code.
In another FIR, the person is accused of “mobilising young kids” and persuading them to participate in the protest. The person here is booked under sections of the Juvenile Justice Act. Another case of unlawful assembly has also been registered, in which nearly 40 persons have been named.
The first FIR was registered within days after the protests began. The others were registered in the next few days, says Deoband-based senior journalist Musharaff Usmani, who too has been named in one of the FIRs. Usmani works with the national media outlet Hindustan. “We were not told about these FIRs until a notice was issued from the court. We have been told several other cases have been registered but the police aren’t revealing any information,” Usmani says.
The protest began as four women from Deoband came together and started to mobilise others through a door-to-door campaign. Among them is Amna Roshi, who has been appointed as the director of the ‘Murtahida Khawatin Committee’ (MKC), which loosely translates to ‘Women’s Unity Committee’. Usmani is Roshi’s brother. “They looked at all the names, identified their relatives, looked at the professions they are engaged in and went after them one by one,” Usmani says.
Like Usmani, there are at least four other journalists from the town who have been booked under one of the three FIRs. “Most of us were here doing our job. But the police have named us in the FIR for unlawful assembly. The protest is led and organised by the women. Men, although in complete solidarity, have stayed away from the protest site. But the police still decided to go after the men,” said another journalist named in the FIR. He also added that he has been facing problems at his workplace and has been asked not tp report on the ongoing protest.
Residents claim it is not the police alone but also other administrative departments that have been used to “teach them a lesson”. The education department, for instance, has begun inspecting documents of and raising “frivolous complaints” against schools run by one of the protesters. “Since the women of this family have been at the forefront of the protest, the education department has started sending notices and asking explanations over random things. We also had to cough up a huge sum,” one of the trustees of a private school says.
The Regional Transport Office (RTO) has also been activated, and over 100 hundred e-rickshaw drivers have been fined for ferrying protesters from across town to the Idgah ground. One of the rickshaw owners told The Wire that he has been slapped with three challans over the past one month. “While the fine might not be a lot, the RTO officials have also been demanding bribe to get them off our backs,” he said.
Similar experiences were shared by several people belonging to the Qureshi community involved in the meat business. “For several days we were not allowed to sell gosht, and both the police and food department have been raiding our shops over and over again. These attacks have made us all very vulnerable,” said an elderly man who runs a meat shop in the locality. The man, afraid of police backlash, requested not be identified. “The police have told us that they will get us booked for selling beef if we don’t persuade the women to take their protest back,” he claimed.
The Wire had reported on the protest soon after it had begun. Several women, mostly belonging to the Muslim community and several other Bahujan women, have been participating in the protest. The protest has since grown manifold and the women had to defy the world-renowned Islamic seminary, Darul Uloom, and continue with the protest.
Iram Usmani, one of the main organisers of the protest and also the secretary of the MKC, said that the condition of the protesters and their families is precarious. “We have ensured our protest remains peaceful. But the state has been finding newer ways to bother us every day. They could have engaged with us and found ways to assure its citizens. Instead, they are hellbent on criminalising us,” says Iram. She further adds that such police action has only made the women more resolute, and more and more women from Deoband and nearby towns have joined the protest.
In several places across the state, protests have simmered against the Centre’s decision to pass the CAA. The BJP-led state government under the leadership of chief minister Adityanath has resorted to violent means to quell the protests, killing over 23 persons and injuring several others in police firing in December 2019.
Along with violent attacks, the government also erected huge hoardings of those who have participated in the December 2019 protest in Lucknow against the CAA. This move seems to be taken to publicly name and shame the participants and possibly jeopardise their lives at the hands of miscreants. Even after the Allahabad high court’s order to remove the hoardings, the government has stood by its position and appealed the decision in the Supreme Court.