New Delhi: “For the last one week, Uttar Pradesh is under a reign of terror,” a group of political activists, who were part of a fact-finding team that just returned from the state, said while listing out several incidents of police crackdown on protesters against Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens.
Addressing the media, the fact-finding team who recently visited Uttar Pradesh, including Swaraj Abhiyan leader Yogendra Yadav, Communist Party of India (ML)’s Kavita Krishnan, civil society group United Against Hate’s Nadeem Khan, and human rights activist Harsh Mander said that the state’s security situation is so volatile that a communal riot can break out at any point.
They accused the police of fomenting such a situation while pointing out successive instances of how police have targeted Muslims and peaceful protesters across India’s most populous state.
“The Uttar Pradesh government is employing unlawful and lethal tactics to harass and intimidate the citizens that are protesting against CAA and NRC,” Yadav said, adding that the police are “brazenly targeting” Muslims and civil society activists.
“The goal is not just to suppress all dissent against CAA or NRC in Uttar Pradesh, but to send a signal to anyone who may dare to raise a voice against anything,” a press note released by them said.
Over the last week, several instances in which the UP police have allegedly booked Muslims and dissenters in false cases have come to light. Moreover, reports of severe custodial torture have been reported. According to various reports, between 18 and 24 people have been killed in police firing.
An eight-year-old boy was killed as the police lathi-charged the protesting crowd in Varanasi.
“Those who have been killed are being framed in false cases. One of them, for example, was an e-rickshaw driver. His identity papers show he has lived in Delhi but has been staying in Meerut for some years. Now, the police has named him as the ‘mastermind of the riots’ and that he was the one who got many outsiders to participate in the riots. Everybody who knew this young man said this was a complete lie,” said Krishnan, who visited Meerut.
The families have not been given the post-mortem reports of those who were killed, she said.
“People in Muslim colonies are staying up all night to guard their houses. They are terrified of a police raid or a communal attack,” she added.
She said she met a man, Habib, who son Ali was killed in police firing in Meerut. “I was so ashamed to even face him. He kept saying that his children grew up in the laps of his Hindu neighbours, and that they don’t see any hate in the eyes of the Hindus. Then why has this government turned against them.
“A prejudiced government, which is filled with poison against Muslims, can’t decide through the National Popular Register who is a doubtful citizen and who is not. The government is trying to distract attention from such large-scale violence on its own people by showing one video clip of a stone pelter, or one arm-bearing protester, or a miscreant. We must ask whether such exceptions can justify the brutal police crackdown on people,” she said.
The existing asylum laws enable all refugees to apply for Indian citizenship, highlighted Krishnan. “There was absolutely no necessity of a discriminatory law like CAA at the moment. You can’t think of a reason except that the government’s intention was to foment communal unrest,” said Krishnan.
Nadeem Khan said that while the highest number of attacks took place on Muslims, a large number of rights activists have also been arrested in Varanasi and Lucknow. “Throughout the state of Uttar Pradesh, you will find that police has sponsored hoardings seeking information on prominent activists. These activists are well-known, yet the police are calling people to share their information in return for rewards. There appears to be a competition between top police officials as to who would register the most number of FIRs,” he said.
“More than 1 lakh FIRs with anonymous accused have already been registered in UP over the last one week. More than 22,500 FIRs have been filed only in Kanpur; 5,500 in Muzaffarnagar; 5,000 in Meerut, 2,200 in Bahraich. This has allowed the police to detain anyone.”
The whole Muslim community is in anxiety, he said.
“The terror is so much that people have fled their homes. In so many places, police first booked people and then depending on their financial condition sought bribes to release them,” Khan added.
More importantly, he asked, why is it that such incidents are being reported from only BJP-ruled states like UP, Assam, Karnataka or Delhi, where the Union government oversees the police.
“Big protest rallies have happened across India, in Nagpur, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Jaipur. Not even one violent incident was reported. It is clear that the BJP governments have a role to play in creating a ruckus during peaceful protest rallies,” he said.
Yadav said that such is the reign of terror that they were advised not to hold this press conference in Lucknow.
“We got reports that all private hospitals in Meerut and Muzaffarnagar were strictly instructed by the police not to admit people with bullet injuries. They were admitted only in government hospitals, where families of the victims were not allowed to meet them at all,” he said.
He said Muslims were being treated as foreigners in UP. Those arrested were not even allowed legal help. “Some advocates who reached out to victims were also arrested. Such is the state,” Yadav said.
The team demanded immediate release of innocent detainees and Supreme Court-monitored probe on the police action. It also said that agencies like the National Human Rights Commission and National Minorities Commission should take suo motu cognisance of the excesses committed by the state government and order an inquiry.
It said that if there were miscreants in the protest rallies, the police should duly gather all the evidence and proceed legally against them instead of creating an environment of fear and terror across the state.
“The state government should recognise that every citizen has the right to dissent in a democracy and register her protest. That should not be the pretext for police crackdown, as has happened in Uttar Pradesh,” Yadav said.