Rampur: On the night of Friday, December 20, Faiz Khan took his 14-year-old niece Samia to the hospital for the doctor to look at her, as she had fallen ill. He was with his sister in law, and had driven them there since he was the best driver in the family. Soon, he would be leaving them to go to work in Dubai, in February in the coming year. The next morning, he left the house to finish up some of the paperwork remaining for his trip, between 10 and 12 pm.
On that morning, a large protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act was being held on the streets of Rampur. He had not gone for the protest itself, his twin brother Faraz said, adding, “If he was going to the protest, I would have been with him. I was at home at the time.”
Faiz saw a crowd standing in the street, beside the Hathi Khanna crossing. The ulemas of the main masjid in Rampur had put out a call for a protest on Saturday earlier in the week, but on Friday morning, a meeting had taken place between them and the police, and by Friday night, a message had been put out that the protest had been cancelled. While the call for the protest had spread like wildfire through the community, news of its cancellation had not.
There were thousands of people on the streets across Rampur – at the Hathi Khanna crossing itself, there were at least two thousand, Faiz’s uncle told The Wire.
Barricades were erected by the police when the crowd started – which was not being allowed to march toward its destination – grew restive. That was when the police started to fire tear gas into the crowd to get them to disperse.
Faiz was in the crowd, watching while this was happening. When the tear gas started to choke the crowd, he saw an old man fall to his knees, and collapse onto the street. He darted out, and grabbed him, trying to pull him away from the stampede that was gathering, to take him to safety.
That was when a bullet hit him bang in the middle of his throat – right between his clavicle – breaking through his oesophagus, and lodging into his neck.
Faiz fell to the ground.
Faiz was a man who was quick to help at the cost of his own time and health. In the past three months, he had donated blood twice, for neighbours who had been in surgery who could not afford to buy blood. Between him and his twin brother, he had been the first to come out – he was older by one minute. He had graduated from 12th grade and had worked ever since.
Four years ago, he had gone to Saudi Arabia to work as a salesperson for a chips company. He only earned enough to eat and live there – not enough to send back home, and in conditions that were so miserable that in four months time, he wanted to come back home.
When he told his employers that he wanted to go back, they took his passport and phone away, and confined him to his quarters – without his phone ahd without enough food to eat. After a flurry of requests from family connections, he was released when his father sent him his return ticket with enough money to come back home.
He worked with his hands after he returned. His family lives together with three families, whose main source of income is a sweet-shop in Rampur – there’s just enough to get by, without luxuries, but with enough food on the table.
His mother has a condition which causes her legs to hurt – if Faiz was around when she would ask his brother Faraz to press her legs, he would jump with alacrity to do it himself.
“When our nani died, he cried for weeks,” Faraz told The Wire. “He still kept all her things in his drawer. They are still there.”
“Public mein se kisi ne goli nahi chalayi, (Nobody from the crowd fired a bullet)” his brother said. “Public unarmed thi sabh (The public was unarmed).” Faraz, who did not witness this, said every single witness who spoke to him at the time told him the same story.
When he fell to the ground, Faiz was not yet dead. He was still breathing.
Bystanders rushed him to the district hospital. When they reached, the hospital staff loaded him onto a stretcher, and inquired about what had happened. The bystanders said that he had been shot. The hospital staff then drew back, refusing to treat him. The bystanders said that they were screaming, asking where the hospital staff was, begging for them to see to him.
“We reached there an hour after he reached the hospital,” his brother says. “We waited for another hour and a half. For two and a half hours, nobody in the hospital would touch his body, saying they had been given orders not to attend to the victims of any bullet injuries.”
By that time, Faiz was dead.
“We asked them to just come and check if he still was alive, to confirm his death,” says Faiz’s father. They would not.
It was then that the police showed up, with the Rapid Action Force. The police force stopped family members from going into the emergency room, where they were desperate to find a doctor to see to Faiz’s body. There were around 10-12 of Faiz’s family and friends who had gathered at the hospital at that time, and soon, as more police began to arrive, there were at least 60-70 policemen.
The police then began to try to take Faiz’s body away, which the family strenuously protested. “A hospital superintendent was writing a referral for another hospital, and when I asked him why, he said that they would take him to another hospital to put him on a ventilator,” said Faiz’s father. “I asked him, do you put a ventilator on a live man or a dead one?”
Faiz’s family had put his body, laying on a stretcher, against the wall, and had formed a protective barrier between him and the policemen. The policemen tried to force their way through, and grabbing the stretcher, began to yank it away. The family kept a tight hold on it, pulling it back, and refusing to let them take it away. All they wanted to do was to take the body home. At this point, the police pulled out their lathis, and began to hit them, taking a hold of the stretcher amidst the commotion and rushing it out.
Faiz’s brother Faraz refused to let go. He held on to the stretcher amidst the police and his father screaming behind him to let them have it and to not get hurt. The stretcher made its way outside, struggling between the police and Faraz. They were lifting his body into the ambulance, shoving and hitting Faraz, when Faraz yanked his twin brother’s body towards him.
Faiz’s body fell, with Faraz beneath it.
Faiz’s insistence on helping people was the stuff of family legends. He was an excellent driver and loved to drive – his friends would call him when they were going to the mountains, just so he could drive them.
A regular occasion, when his love for driving met his drive to help, was when people in his neighbourhood would fall ill, and had to be taken to the hospital. People would call him, knowing he would always get his car and come swiftly.
After his death, his brother said, “Zindagi mein itne nahi log mile jitne call aa gaye the. (One doesn’t get to meet as many people as the number of calls he got)”
When Faiz’s body fell, Faraz held onto his brother tightly, and the police surrounded him.
They knew at this point that they were being recorded, he says, and they did not raise their lathis high to hit him as he lay beneath his brother’s corpse. Instead, in a tight circle, they began to hit him with their lathis, jabbing hard downward onto what parts of his body were available, with the same sharp movement used to spear a fish.
They beat his hands with their sticks, and he says he was kicked on his back with their boots, trying to make him let go of the body. He showed this reporter his hand, which was swollen, with a graze scabbed over. The Wire has personally viewed the video footage which substantiates this sequence of events. The Wire was not given this footage to publish, because of apprehensions that it would be used to locate and punish the man who shot it.
Faraz said that in their attempts to hit him, they were hitting his brother’s lifeless body, which he could not bear. He let his brother go, he said, because he did not want his body to be mutilated any further.
They put his brother’s body into the ambulance.
Faraz stared out blindly into the darkness, his voice breaking. “If a dog dies, people with hearts handle the body with some tenderness. They threw him in like a football.” He is wearing the same tan leather jacket that he was wearing in the video of the police beating him.
When Faiz was a child, one of his favourite things to do, when he saw his mother sitting down, was to run to her, put his head in her lap, and say, “Mummy, mere sir mein thoda khujli hai, aap tel lagao. (Mummy, there is itching in my head, put some oil.)” He used to do this even now, his father said, even when his head was never itching, just to get his mother to massage him. He would sit in his mother’s lap for hours as she stroked his head, and he would fall asleep.
Faiz’s mother could not speak with us. She is in no condition to speak with anyone, her husband said.
The family wanted to accompany the body, as nobody would tell them where they were taking him, and they did not know what would happen to it. Faiz’s father begged to be allowed to accompany them, and they refused, starting to drive off. Faraz ran in front of the ambulance and lay down on the road, unwilling to move until his father was allowed inside.
In the melee, Faiz’s father dropped his phone, he said. They let him in, and drove off to the Moradabad district hospital, accompanied by two police cars.
A doctor at the hospital examined Faiz’s body, at which point he was sent to the mortuary. It was again put into the ambulance, as his post mortem would be done at another hospital, about 3 km away.
At the other hospital, Faiz’s father begged someone from the police to give him a phone, so he could call his family. He said, “Mein akela, bilkul tanha tha dead body ke saath. Koi nahi tha mere saath, (I was alone, completely alone, with the dead body. There was nobody with me.)”. He said he joined his hands and begged them to just let him call his family to tell them where he was. Nobody gave him a phone.
By coincidence, another man from the same locality happened to see him, crying on one of the hospital benches. One of his relatives had also been injured in Rampur, and he recognised Faiz’s father. He did not go speak to Faiz’s father and see what was happening, fearing that the police would take away his phone as well. Instead, he called up Faiz’s family and informed them about his whereabouts.
After the post mortem had been completed, Faiz’s body was brought back, with his father, to the Rampur hospital where he had originally been taken, and after arguments with the police, the family was finally allowed to take him home to be buried.
The family is convinced that Faiz fell to a police bullet, but the police have issued a statement saying that he was injured by a bullet fired by protestors. The family says that they have no intentions of pursuing the matter further – they want no investigations and will be filing no FIRs.
“We don’t want them to catch another innocent, and put him in jail on our account.
“Ham ne toh Allah ke upar chhod diya hai, (We have left it up to God)” said Faiz’s father. “I have told the DM sahab as well, hamari bacche ki waje se aisa na ho ki koi fas jaye, galat, aur uska azaab hamare gale pe na aaye.” (Because of our son, no innocent should be trapped, and the wrath of that to come upon our necks.) “Ham apne taraf se koi FIR, koi karwai nahi karenge. God’s wrath will be upon our minds, and also with our martyred son,” he said.
“There will be more protests,” Faiz’s uncle said. “We are not afraid of dying anymore. It’s better to die here, than to die in a camp. We will protest peacefully, but we are no longer afraid to die.”