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In Sambhal: 'Voted Even While They Rained Lathis and Sticks on Us'

Voters in at least four Muslim majority villages in UP's Sambhal alleged police excesses at polling booths on 7 May.

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On the morning of Thursday, 9 May, Mohammad Anish lay on a cot in his verandah, musing on the events that unfolded in his little known village on the day of the third phase of polling for the 2024 general elections.

Injury marks were scattered on his body – a gash on his leg, bruises on his face near the eye and his cheek, and a cut on his lip.

"I was standing in a queue outside the (polling) booth at the primary school waiting for my turn to vote. They came and started beating people up. They snatched our ID cards and lathicharged to scare people away," he alleged as he adjusted the dressing on the wound on his head, slightly reluctant to speak to the media.

"Aap kya kar paayenge? Kal se bohot media se baat kar chuke hain. Kuch nahi hua. (What will you be able to do? A lot of reporters have come since yesterday. Nothing came out of it)," he said.

On 7 May, several videos went viral from Anish's village, Ovari, and at least four neighbouring Muslim majority villages (Mansoorpur, Shahbazpur Kalan, Manakpur, and Narauli) in western Uttar Pradesh's Sambhal Lok Sabha constituency. In these videos, voters alleged police excesses on the day of polling. They claimed that the police not only tried to stop them from voting but also snatched their identity cards.
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These allegations were denied by the Sambhal district administration.

In a post on social media platform X (formerly Twitter) dated 8 May, Sambhal District Magistrate said, "We conducted an inquiry in connection with this video. The primary school in Ovari has four polling booths. At the time of voting some people stood inside the booth and tried to vote multiple times. Security officials chased them away and made sure others vote as per turn."

These villages fall under the Asmauli Assembly and Sambhal Lok Sabha constituency — both Samajwadi Party strongholds.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Samajwadi Party candidate, the late Shafiqur Rahman Barq, won the seat by over 1.75 lakh votes. Speaking to The Quint, his grandson and SP candidate from the seat, Zia Ur Rehman Barq said, "For three days now, I have been demanding that the Election Commission of India should identify the district administration and police officers involved in this violence and take strict action against them. And by strict action, we don't mean a transfer or suspension, such people do not deserve to be in office."

The Quint spoke to several voters in these villages and found reports of similar assault by the police.

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'They Took Me to The Police Station...'

In Shahbazpur Kalan, a horde of relatives and neighbours had gathered at the home of Sabir, 25, who alleged that he was detained by the police at the Asmauli police station.

"They said they've seen me record videos. They (cops) hit me with sticks at least 8-10 times. I had a spade in my hand which I was working with. I left that and ran away. They chased and caught me, then took me to the Asmoli police station and beat me up. There were at least 50 officers inside the police station. I don't know if they were stationed here or were called from outside," Sabir alleged as he struggled to sit straight.

The Quint spoke to Asmauli police station in-charge, Inspector Harish Kumar, who denied these allegations. "There was no violence in the area that falls under my jurisdiction. We don't know anything about these videos and who is circulating them," Kumar said.

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'They Beat Us Up, Snatched our IDs'

Nazma Khatoon, 30, said she was facing hearing difficulty in one of her ears.

"I was leaving the polling booth after voting when they suddenly charged on us. A lady police officer first hit me on my hand and then slapped me. I kept asking her if something happened. But she kept abusing," Nazma alleged.

Both Nazma and Sabir questioned if they were attacked because of their Muslim identity. "Probably they felt that because all Muslims live here, they will vote for cycle. Is that why we were attacked," Nazma asked.

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'Voted While Facing Lathis'

Despite allegations of attempts made to suppress voting, Sambhal, at 62.81 percent, recorded the highest turnout in Uttar Pradesh for the third phase of polling.

"Many of us went to vote despite being injured. Hum pit te rahe aur vote bhi dete rahe (we kept facing lathis and kept voting)," said Raaes, a resident of Ovari as he credited the turnout to the resilience of the voters in these villages. "I was beaten up and chased away twice at the polling booth. I still went back and voted the third time," he added.

"Aap jise marze use vote de sakte hain. Isiliye ise matdaan kehte hain (You can vote for whoever you want. That is why it's called matdaan)," remarked Anish, as he left to change the dressing of his wound.

(The Quint has reached out to the Uttar Pradesh Police and Election Commission of India with a detailed questionnaire regarding the issue. This story will be updated when we hear from them.)

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