“Jab neend aane lagi toh police wale daraane lage. Bole ki, ‘Soge kya tum? Soge toh aankhon ki dille nikaal doonga main.’ (When I was about to doze off, the police personnel threatened me. They said if I slept, they’d gouge out my eyeballs.)
This is 13-year-old Aalam’s* tale, who was detained by Nagina Police in Bijnor district of west UP, in the wake of protests against CAA-NRC on the evening of 20 December. He isn’t the only minor who was detained, with him, there were 21 boys who were rounded up by the police.
In the series of ground reports being done by The Quint in west UP, this reporter visited Shahzaheer Mohalla in Nagina town of Bijnor district and interviewed three of the 21 detainees.
What Happened on 20 December?
Calls for protest were being made in Nagina for a few days, but elders were wary of violence during it. Thus, after the Friday prayers at the local jama masjid, the mosque’s imam appealed to the crowd to not protest and head home.
Most left but 100-150 young men and boys between the ages of 13 to 25 wanted to walk till Gandhi Chowk in solidarity with the protesters across the country. However, the congregation grew tense right outside the mosque – the police resorted to lathi- charge and the men threw stones.
Many ran to the roof of the SBI Bank (see below) and were detained by the police.
The police locked the men inside this building and moved them to the police mini bus after an hour.
Of them, 21 were minor boys who were released after three days. An FIR has been lodged against the other 83.
The Quint interviewed three minors who recounted their trauma while they were in police custody, their parents being so scared that they did not even reach the police station to inquire about them.
This 13-Year-Old Barely Spoke
Police personnel watch the streets of Nagina, even days after the protest as Section 144 has been imposed.
Posted at crossings, they keep vigil on the comings and goings of people. Aalam, the youngest of the three we spoke to, barely talked.
“He has not eaten, had a bath or moved since he returned. Every single time someone comes to the gate, he starts shivering with the anxiety of being picked up again. He only asks for water now,” Aalam’s elder sister and mother tell us, gesturing towards him, who has tucked himself in a heavy quilt in the middle of the room.
Aalam’s thirst hasn’t been quenched, and there’s a story behind it – his elder sister, to whom Aalam is closest in the house, reveals what her brother had confided in her when he returned, crying profusely as he did – “He told us how the police would offer them water to drink but when they’d need to relieve themselves, the personnel would hit them, hard, with their lathis on their way in and out of the bathroom. Because of this, the boys preferred parched throats over bruises.”
Aalam is visibly in shock. His family says he had gone out to look for his younger brother when he was swept with the crowd.
The case of 17-year-old Atif* is similar.
‘Bruises on Legs, Back, Waist, Knuckles & Thighs’
Showing me the bruises on his leg, Atif relates the humiliation he faced. Taken to police lines in Bijnor first, he tells me, “Saare policewale ne ek ek ko maara. Fir sabko ikhatta karke civil lines mein firse maara. Thodi der bithaya, fir maara, Pani pilaya, fir maara. Kuch khilaya, fir maara.” (The police personnel beat each one of us. They brought us together in civil lines and beat us. They sat us down, then beat us, gave us water, then beat us, and gave us food then beat us again.)
Atif has sustained bruises on his legs, back, waist, knuckles and thighs.
Underlining what Aalam had told his sister about water, Atif alleges, “Zabardasti paani pila rahain the, fir peshaab karwane le jaate aur zor zor se maarte.” (They coerced us to drink water and urinate – during which they’d thrash us.)
‘Didn’t Let Us Sleep All Night’
Murad, 17, said he was at the mosque for the Friday prayers, a few metres from where violence unfolded.
“They did not let us sleep all night. They said ‘If we are awake, how can any of you sleep?’ They kept threatening us, saying if we slept we’d be beaten up. Our eyes got increasingly strained, the cold exacerbated our pain but the dread of lathis kept us awake,” he claims.
The 21 boys, all minors, were released after three days in two batches. Initially, eight were released at around 4:00 am on 22 December morning, after being detained for almost three days. In the second batch, 12-13 boys were released, late on 22 December night.
Neither’s parents, who are all daily wage workers, went to the jail to enquire about their sons over these three days.
‘Parents Were Afraid They’d Be Detained Too’
“We were hearing how anyone who was going to the police station was also getting detained. There was an atmosphere of fear and panic. People who had gone there were told us how they were abused and threatened,” Aalam’s father claims. Kin of Atif and Murad voiced similar concerns.
“Nobody wanted to leave their home and venture out on the streets. How could I have gathered the courage to go to the police station? Imagine my helplessness – my son was in jail,” Murad’s father says.
Chapter 4, Section 10 of Juvenile Justice Act, passed in 2015, to concretise guidelines on how minors in alleged conflict with the law need to be treated states, “As soon as a child alleged to be in conflict with law is apprehended by the police, such a child shall be produced before a juvenile justice board without any loss of time but within a period of twenty-four hours of apprehending the child.”
This procedure, as the boys we spoke to disclose, was not followed.
The Act adds, “A child alleged to be in conflict with law shall not be placed in a police lockup or lodged in a jail” – another rule blatantly flouted by the police.
We called SP Bijnor Sanjeev Tyagi and Circle Officer Archana Singh for their comments but our calls went unanswered. We have asked, in an email, for the SP and CO to respond to the allegations. This piece will be updated as and when we receive a response.