"Anas' father, Arshad, took money and changed his statement." - Anas' mother in law, Shabhnam Gulzar.
"If anyone says I have taken money, I will hold them by their neck." Anas' father, Arshad.
These are the statements you hear when you step into Nehtaur town, the epicentre of the December 2019 violence between anti-CAA protesters and UP Police, in Western Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnor district. The Quint found out how at the core of such accusations and counter accusations, the probe into the death of 25-year-old Anas has fallen flat one year after his death from bullet injuries on 20 December.
In our series of ground reports on one year of CAA, called CAA: Lest We Forget, we relentlessly follow up on the lives of the 23 people who died in clashes with UP Police in the violence that erupted across the BJP-ruled state. In this story we bring to you what happened in the aftermath of Anas' death.
While last year the entire town of Nehtaur had mourned Anas’ death together, this year they have resigned to the fact that the probe into his death has fallen flat.
More than anything, Anas' father has lost face after being accused of compromising to get the policemen off the hook in the judicial inquiry that was conducted by the Dhampur sub-divisional magistrate. Amongst those who hold a grudge against him is his own daughter-in-law, Anas' 18-year-old wife Aarzoo.
Cornered and burdened by these accusations, Arshad confided in this reporter how he was forced to give false statements that would exonerate the police under duress. He alleges he was repeatedly told to think of his bachav (safety) and had no choice but to give in.
The Quint awaited the response of the authorities before publishing the story. Not only did the Bijnor District Magistrate Ramakant Pandey flatly deny all allegations, but also asked why Anas’ family has not explored other avenues for justice by filing affidavits or writing to the National Human Rights Commissions. “Our investigations have confirmed that the weapon that killed Anas was a private one and not owned by the police,” Pandey claimed. The complete response of the DM is also a part of the story.
Arshad has been battling the death of his son on one end, and the accusations of those who think he sold his son’s death for personal gains. Anas’ wife Aarzoo, who is being asked to get married again as she is still young, says she wants to re-start the probe into her husband’s death but has no idea how. Their lawyer from the beginning Ahmed Zakawat Imtiyazi, who has seen Arshad’s gumption to fight for justice evaporate, tells us how the problem is not that Arshad changed his statement but that the system did not make Arshad feel safe enough to continue to keep fighting on.
Arshad's Father: ‘I Tried to Protest, They Said It Was For My Safety'
40-year-old Arshad, who works as a tailor, recalled how he run to pick his son's limping body, after hearing loud calls of a 'man in a black coat being shot down'. As soon as he reached the spot, he fell on his son, protecting him from alleged further firing:
He said the same thing again and again. "There were 3-4 policemen. One policeman had held another from the back and was repeatedly saying, "Chal, hogaya kaam. (Come, the work is done) The shooting continued, it could have hit me too."
From the same night that his son died, Arshad was under immense pressure. "Even the way we were constantly being abused, told we were rioters, not being allowed to bury our son in Nehtaur, we were already shocked by seeing government apathy," Arshad said. Anas was cremated, after a lot of begging, 20 kilometers from Nehtaur in his ancestral village called Mithaan village. "That very night the police told me that they will get me help, asked me to look into my testimony properly and said other things. I told them that I am not asking for any money, I am only speaking the truth, that the police were the people who had shot my son."
In the aftermath of the deaths, magisterial inquiries were conducted in several districts to probe the manner of the violence and the ensuing deaths. As part of the probe, Anas' father was asked to me a part of the inquiry, "On 16 January, I was taken to give my testimony. They said that my son was a stone-pelter and was caught indulging in violence in videos. I told them my son was not a stone-pelter. In front of me, my son went out to get milk. He was sot the moment he passed the street." Not only was Arshad's statement taken in writing, but also recorded in as a video, "My testimony was being recorded on video in the SDM's office. They had written that since there was smoke, Arshad Hussain, as in I, could not identify the persons firing the bullets. I told them this was wrong. I told them that there was no smoke and from my eyes I saw the policemen firing bullets. It is true that I did not see my son being shot by the police in front of my eyes, but when I reached the spot I saw that the police was continuously firing."
This is when, Arshad claims he kept being told to think of his bachav (safety). “They said that I should say that I could not see clearly. They said otherwise there would be problems in your home, your son will be called a rioter, and an extremist and other such things.” He added:
So eventually in front of the camera, which Arshad claims was recorded and re-recorded three to four times, he was allegedly made to say that “because of dhundh/mist/smoke, I was not able to recognize who shot the bullets."
Present in the room, he says was SDM Dhampur Dhirendra Singh.
It was after this statement that the rumours and slander against Arshad began. "People are rumour mongering about me, about my statement, accusing me of taking money. I've been humiliated all over Nehtaur. The talk is that I took money from the police, struck a compromise with them and the police got a clean chit. I am telling you honestly, I did not get any money whatsoever. If someone tells me that I was given money, then I will hold onto his neck tightly," he says.
Aarzoo Says, 'Anas' Father is Greedy’
Anas' marriage to Aarzoo was a love marriage. His family was not ok with it as 'I am from a lower caste,' 18-year-old Aarzoo explained. Even before marriage both sides did not look eye to eye, while Anas tried to maintain peace. In the aftermath, with money coming in from several politicians the bitterness has increased several fold.
"He has not come to meet his son's child, Adeeb, even once," Aarzoo says./
"There is no case, no FIR, no investigation. Everyone in Nehtaur, their neighbours have come and told us that he changed his statement in front of the SDM, took money and then compromised," Aarzoo says adding:
She often thinks of restarting the investigation into the death of her husband, but says she can't do it alone, "If someone stood by me, I would do everything I can to re-start the case. I loved him, it was a love marriage, seeing my son everyday is a painful reminder of him. Still put posts on WhatsApp confessing my love to him." Her mother, Shabham Gulzar, has been asking her to get married again. "She was very young when she got married. I had told her then to wait another two years but neither of them wanted to."
Zakawat Says, ‘System is at Fault’
The lawyer who was helping the family, 60-year-old Bijnor-based advocate Ahmed Zakawat Imtiyazi said that Arshad was fighting pressure every single day.
"See there is no denying that the police kept harassing Arshad and calling him to the police station. He was under duress and repeatedly being told that his name would surface in other cases, so yeah it is not surprising that he gave his statement under pressure. He has kids and a family to take care of. However, over time he too did not want to do anything about it. He himself was more concerned about being cornered into cases, which is his right."
When asked if any action was taken after his statement with the SDM, Imtiyazi said, "Live in UP and you will see what this state is capable of." He said that he was willing to do a lot more but his hands were tied, "I am a professional, an advocate, however when the client itself is clearly not eager to pursue the case, file affidavits against the UP Police, or write letters etc, then what can anyone do? The problem is that the UP Police and the entire system has not earned the trust from Arshad, that he continues to feel unsafe after the death of his son, so how can anyone blame him for changing his statement? There is jungle raj in UP right now."
DM Responds to Allegations
The SDM said that the inquiry report into Anas' death was completed six months ago, "I can not reveal the details to you, but the report was submitted to the district magistrate of Bijnor six months ago."
We spoke to Bijnor DM Ramakant Pandey who not only gave us information about the inquiry into Anas' death but also addressed all our questions on the allegations.
"Magisterial inquiry is conducted to inquire about the cause of death and the whole situation which led to the deaths of persons. In Nehtaur, two deaths were reported. In the one report the findings stated that the situation was a riot situation. As per the magisterial inquiry, and other inquiries that were done by other experts, it was concluded that Anas was killed in cross-firing between protesters. After the inspection of the injuries, there was a forensic study which were found that the bullet injuries were found to be a private bore injuries."
On the severe allegations of being forced to change his statements, Pandey said:
"These are his claims, I can not comment on that. People do try to make stories and do what they need to, but the point remains that it was a tough riot situation. The point of a magisterial inquiry is to say what was on your mind, you also have the right to write an affidavit or a written statement stating that he was forced to give a false statement. He had every right to approach various bodies, including the National Human Rights Commission. Was any of this done?"