Mukarab Zaidi was in a rush. The winter cold had begun to bite. The echoes of the morning protests had vacated the streets of Muzaffarnagar leaving behind only whispers. For Zaidi and others with him, panic had struck upon hearing the news of a local cleric and his students being arrested by police officers. News of their detention came with graphic descriptions. Broken bones, blood, and screams.
As Zaidi and others rushed to Civil Lines police station, none of them had imagined the demand that was to be made by a police official: “Bring new clothes.”
Puzzled but fear-stricken, the relatives of the Imam rushed home and returned with a kurta-pyjama. “It was only later that we realised that it was to replace the Maulana’s clothes,” says Zaidi. “His were soaked in blood. “
Since the first week of December 2019, as India erupted into protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, police brutality became a recurring event. On Monday, 27 January, the UP government was asked by Allahabad High Court for a report on police action during violence over Citizenship Act.
During our visit to Muzaffarnagar in the first week of January, shocking details emerged of this violence. We were there for two days, moving between Madina Colony, Civil Lines, and individual homes of the people situated around the infamous Meenakshi Chowk.
We spoke to Assad Raza Hussaini, the prominent Shia Muslim cleric, who was assaulted by police and taken into detention after the protests.
“We had nothing to do with the protests and stayed within the campus of our madarsa.”
It is alleged that police officials vandalised the residences of even those who were not involved in the demonstrations.
With his arms and legs covered in casts, Hussaini recounts:
“The first thing they (police) did was break the CCTV cameras. Then they began their assault, beating everyone and dragging them to their cars.”
The cleric was released on 21 December.
Almost all the students left for their hometowns or to their relatives’ homes once released in the coming weeks.
‘Unreal, Distressing Assault’
For some, the shock of the police assault still feels unreal. An aide of the cleric tells us:
“We couldn’t believe they would do this to us. They had assured us for days that we would be safe.”
At first, he thought that the officers were there to arrest any protester who might have entered their campus. But the events that followed proved otherwise.
He alleges that the police hit everyone, even minors. They then dragged the students outside to their vehicles and drove them to the Civil Lines police station for detention.
Medical attention was denied to the detainees, some of whom were bleeding, and in turn officers began to abuse them profusely. At one point, the officers asked the detainees to chant ‘Jai shri Ram’.
Accounts of sexual assault, that have been covered by several news organisations, were denied by the cleric. "Why should we lie about what happened?" he asked.
Fear Grips the City
A few days have passed and a sullen calm has fallen over the city. For many, a joyless new year has begun, away from family or locked behind bars. Others have abandoned their vandalised homes, hopeless because of the predicament of having to complain to those who committed the crimes themselves.
Salman’s* home, that was earlier filled with the voices of his grandchildren, is now quiet. He says his daughter-in-law and her children were so afraid after the 20th that they left for the village. Salman was away from home that night and recalls the testimonies of his daughter-in-law who rushed to the roof with her children trying to escape from the officers who had broken into the house.
“They pointed a gun at my grandchildren and daughter-in-law asking them where the men of the house are.”Salman
The children are four, five and nine years old.
Salman wonders if there will be anything done for the vandalism that has been done.
“They took our jewellery, money, even blankets, look for yourself, what do we have left?”
Everything was damaged.
Down the road from where Salman lives is the home of Farhan*, an engineer under government employment. Much like the other homes, the signs of vandalism are evident at his house. Broken, overturned chairs, and a shattered television sit in a room full of debris.
On the night of 20 December, both Farhan and his son – a student of Jamia Millia Islamia – were picked up by police officers who had barged into their home. A day before the new year, Farhan was released after his brothers met with the District Magistrate. His son remained behind bars.
“Only god knows how it feels for me. I am just glad that my wife and younger son were in the village that day.”Farhan
Farhan’s insistence that he was a government employee fell on deaf ears, with the police taking him into detention. He recalls that there were as many as 40-50 officers who mercilessly beat up the detainees. He wonders if the actions were against Muslims only.
“Nothing will happen to the police administration. They might even attack us somewhere again for speaking against them... Fathers and sons in jail with no food to eat – what purpose does it serve?”
Many of the residents in the locality were too afraid to narrate their accounts from the night, worried that the police may crackdown on them further or harm those in custody already.
(*Names changed to protect identity)
(The Quint reached out to the SSP of Muzaffarnagar, Abhishek Yadav, but our calls went unanswered.)
(All 'My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)