The revenge of the ‘yogi’ in Adityanath’s ‘Ram Rajya’: high level judicial inquiry needed to examine excesses
Yogi’s police are accused of not just using disproportionate force but also of resorting to violence and torture besides implicating the innocent and framing the protesters
Two policemen held his arms and held him against a wall and a third one hit him on his back with his lathi. They shoved his face to the ground with their shoe and pulled his hair, saying that they would pull it out. They had been pulling the beards of the others,” is what a 13-year-old boy recalls of how the police treated him and the other boys held in a western UP district.
The boys, a hundred of them, became easy targets because they had on a whim decided to march to the Gandhi statue at the heart of the district town and offer a symbolic protest against the amended citizenship Act and the threat of NRC.
When the media accosted the Superintendent of Police, he claimed ignorance. There was no information that they had been taken to Police Lines and detained, he said. There was no information of any torture either. What was the proof? Were their videos of the detention or torture, the SP asked.
Police had saved the day, he claimed, brought a tricky situation under control. The diabolical police action was too much of a coincidence as it was repeated in district after district, particularly those districts where a sizeable section of the population happen to be Muslims.
Indeed, news agency PTI had quoted chief minister Yogi Adityanath as saying that the government would extract ‘revenge’. Police officials confided in private conversations that the instructions to them were clear. Break their bones and heads, drive the fear of God into them and set them up as examples so that others never dare to raise their voice.
The government, protested people, was expected to punish the guilty under the law and not take 'revenge'. But though the choice of word was unfortunate, neither the chief minister nor the state police were apologetic. In fact they went on the offensive.
Helped by the politicised Civil Defence Force, ostensibly comprising 'public spirited citizens', the police carried out the operation with their usual finesse. And that was not all. The government was swift in identifying people, apparently on the basis of CCTV footage of violence following protests, and serving them with notices demanding compensation for the public property vandalised or destroyed.
What if the CCTV footage showed policemen or people other than the accused setting vehicles on fire ? The civil society asked the question but knew that they would never be given unbridled access to the CCTV footage.
Legal experts have weighed in and pointed out that while the Uttar Pradesh government appeared to have relied on Supreme Court guidelines issued in 2010 and a subsequent order by the Allahabad High Court, the guidelines was being wilfully misinterpreted. Liability can be fixed only after the accused go through a trial and are found to be guilty, they pointed out. Moreover, unless the state is able to prove a nexus between the accused and the damage caused, there could be no demand for compensation.
They also pointed out that the Supreme Court’s guidelines were meant for public property damaged during an agitation called by a political party or a people’s representative. They did not apply to protests by the civil society. While a legal challenge and more protests are expected in the future, Uttar Pradesh government has won the first round and has successfully intimidated not just the minority community but also the media and the middle class. Criticise the Government at your own peril, is the message. Come out to the street and face the music is what activists are being told in the state.
Protesters are being teased and tormented by policemen who are daring them to face stones and batons peacefully, turn the other cheek and not respond with stones and violence.
An independent inquiry looks unlikely at this point. And only time will tell if the state government and UP Police will get away with brazen violation of not just the police manual but also civilised and legal norms.
Lucknow had seen nothing like it in the last several decades. Random people beaten on the street. Prominent and well-known and familiar figures, including retired IPS officers, lawyers and elderly activists, sent to jail on charges of rioting and attempt to murder. Children and their parents placed under jackboots, all on the ground of upholding law and order.
The day after the chief minister spoke of taking revenge (badla) for the violence, as many as 67 shops were sealed in Muzaffarnagar. Police raided houses of Muslims, arrested social activists and even arrested innocent people claiming that they pelted stones at the police in which over 200 policemen were injured.
Those who were arrested were booked under different sections of IPC for rioting, unlawful assembly, attempt to murder, wrongful confinement, criminal intimidation, criminal assault on public servant etc. They were also booked for alleged criminal conspiracy and under Public Property Damage Act. Besides Sadaf Jafar, who was pleading with policemen to arrest hooligans who were pelting stones, Lucknow police arrested Farooq Rahmani, a known Muslim face in Rampur and office-bearer of Ittehad Naujawan Committee and charged him for rioting and attempt to murder when he was trying to pacify Muslim youth in Gher Mohalla in the old city. Police blandly claimed they had proof that both Sadaf Jafar and Rahmani were behind riots in which one person was killed.
Ishtiaq Ahmad Khan, 28, was arrested and charged with rioting when he was returning home after purchasing medicine for his ailing mother. He showed the doctor’s prescription and the medicines he had purchased to police as proof that he had merely got stuck in the rioting. But his pleas fell on deaf ears.
The arbitrary police action was so random and the brutality so widespread that fear stalked areas inhabited by the minority community in Uttar Pradesh. People, especially Muslims, are not safe even in their homes and the police could break into any house and arrest anyone, with or without reason, they feared.
A senior criminal lawyer in Lucknow, IB Singh, claimed people had approached him seeking legal help and complaining that they were wrongly targeted during the protest.
Thousands of Muslim women took to streets in Kanpur to ask the police to stop raids and release those detained. The protest was held in the Yatimkhana-Talaq Mahal road. As the women led the protest, the men joined them. They were demanding that police should release the detained men who were from their families and were not part of any protest.
“We are living in perpetual fear because police would conduct raids and would take away our family members,” said Shakila Bano. Her husband and brother-in law were detained by the police. Her husband is a cleric in a Madarsa and police claim he incited the crowd to come on streets.
The women said that police entered their houses during raids using ladders. Their privacy was violated and there was no consideration for women as policemen raided houses and entered the jananakhana (women’s wing of the house), they complained.
The men were taken away even when they were not involved in the protests. “These are innocent people; they should be released immediately and the raids must stop,” they said.
In Kanpur, residents in minority areas have started a night vigil to stop sudden police raids. Chants like jaagte raho reverberates throughout the night as thousands spent the cold nights on the road.
Police also released pictures of those who it says were
involved in stone pelting, vandalism and arson across UP. They have put these pictures on social media asking people to identify them. This clearly coordinated action was seen in several districts, including Gorakhpur, Meerut, Lucknow, Kanpur and Ghaziabad.
A senior police officer Pravin Kumar said that pictures of only those people were posted, whose names figured in the FIR or were absconding or whom the police could not identify. “We are soliciting support from the people to help police in identifying them,” he claimed.
Social activists fear that a large number of innocent people have been falsely implicated by the police. Long-term damage was being done, they say, to social harmony and cohesion besides traumatising not just individuals but also the community. Madhu Garg of All India Democratic Women Association (AIDWA) concurred with this assessment and said, “I am told that police had arrested some of those who had nothing to do with the protests or violence.”