"Bijnor mein kahi gadda khodke dafna dena kahi lash. Nehtaur pe dafnana nahi hoga, zameen nahi milegi yahaan, tum dangaai log ho!” (Dig a grave anywhere in Bijnor. You will not be allowed to bury them in Nehtaur, you will not be given land, you people are rioters!)
These were the words repeatedly told to the families of Anas, 25, and Suleiman, 21, as they waited for the completion of post-mortem in Bijnor civil hospital. Anas and Suleiman died on 20 December in Nehtaur in West UP's Bijnor district due to police firing. 215 have been arrested and sent to jail, of which at least 70 were from Nehtaur – the epicentre of protests against the central government’s recently passed Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
The families of the two young men say, from the very moment they saw their children lying in a pool of blood, a series of abuse, threats and intimidation tactics were allegedly used against them until they gave the men a hasty burial under the watchful eyes of the police.
They say fear has kept them from approaching the police or doctors since the incident. A day after the violent protests, on 21 December, Bijnor’s SP Sanjeev Tyagi admitted that they opened fire in self defence, which led to the death of Suleiman while Anas died in public firing. This information reached mainstream media late due to the internet shutdown.
In response to The Quint’s report, Bijnor police on Wednesday tweeted: “The said allegation is factless, immaterial, evidenceless and based on fabricated facts.”
'Someone in a Black Coat Has Been Shot’
The first words Arshad Hussain uttered to this reporter were, “Hum dare hue hai. Hum media ke ilaave kissi ko bayaan nahi de rahain. Dar hai ki police humse kuch kahin likhwale isliye hum kissi se mil bhi nahi rahain hai. Aap humaari kahaani imaandari se likhiyega (We are scared not speaking to anyone but the media. We are scared that the police will get us to sign something so we are not even meeting people. Please tell our story honestly.)”
My son Anas and I wrapped up our Friday prayers around 1:30 pm. There were talks of a protest building up. Anas was heading out to get milk and I told him the errand would likely prove futile as all markets were shut. "He said he would fetch milk from a family friend's place. As soon as he stepped out of the alley to the main street, he was hit on his left eye," Arshad Hussain told The Quint.
"Kaale coat mein ek ladke ko goli lagi hai, kaale coat mein ek ladke ko goli lagi hai, log bolne lage galli mein. (Someone in a black coat has been shot, someone in a black coat has been shot, people began saying). Heart in my mouth, I ran there because my son was wearing a black jacket as well. It was him lying in a pool of blood."
They sped towards the closest government hospital where the staff immediately said the matter was serious and that he should be taken elsewhere in Bijnor. They took a car on rent to get him to a private hospital in Bijnor. "He was screaming in pain, and about 100 meters away from the private hospital in Bijnor, he breathed his last. He struggled through hiccups (imitates). I did not want to believe it. I held the legs of the doctor and begged him to save my son's life but they declared him dead," recalls his father.
Arshad brought his son home thereafter; Anas’ wife was informed of his death on arrival of the body. "So far they told me he was hit with a stone," Bushra Anas tells The Quint while she continues to observe iddat (period of mourning). Their seven-month-old son Adeeb is all she has now.
In this period of shock, grief and mourning, the police came and took away Anas’ body before his last rites could be perfomed. "A post-mortem needs to happen," they were told, and were allegedly verbally abused by some policemen.
It is at the Bijnor civil hospital that Anas’ family met Suleiman’s and their journeys merged, but before the families met, narrating their ordeal, Suleiman’s family says they were allegedly abused, threatened and humiliated by the UP police as well.
A UPSC Aspirant With a Strict Timetable
"People from my community told me my brother was shot. My younger brother and our father ran to the spot and found him in a pool of blood at ghaas mandi, opposite a local madrasa."
At Suleiman's home, his family insists this reporter sees his room. "He was a meritorious kid who was earnestly preparing for his UPSC civil examinations. When he was in Class 12, he gave tuition to Class 12 students. When he was in first year of college, he taught kids from the same class. This is his time table, do you think he could be a rioter?" they ask.
Suleiman’s family, including his brother Shoaib Malik, said that he had gone to offer his prayers, got caught up in the crowd of protesters, and was killed. Pointing towards his time table they said, “Look, at 1:20 pm he would leave for namaz, that is what he did like always.”
The family says while they did not have much hope, they carried a heavily injured Suleiman on a bike with two people sitting on either sides to a civil hospital in Nehtaur.
"I picked him up and took him on my bike to the civil hospital in the vicinity. We ran to the closest doctor. After waiting for two hours, we left with him and brought him home. We were bringing him on our legs with his body on our shoulders, when at the Idgah junction the police waylaid us. They were rude and began interrogating us, they asked 'where are you going with the body? what are you thinking? This body needs to be taken for post-mortem at Bijnor.’" This was allegedly followed by lathi-charge on the entire family, and the younger brother was slapped as well, the family claims.
A Hastened Burial
"Suleiman's dead body was brought first and then Anas'," Suleiman's brother says. As it drizzled on and off during the night, both families were told to dig a grave somewhere in Bijnor and bury their kids.
Just like Anas’ family, Suleiman's family was also trying to find a way to bury his body in a manner that would give them closure.
Anas' father, Arshad says, "Unhone bola body ka post-mortem ho raha hai, aap dafnane ka kabristaan mein intizaam karo Bijnor mein. Bade bade adhikaro ka naam lene lage. Fir bola ki vo humein body hi nahi denge agar hum Bijnor mein nahi dafnaaengein. Poori raat humaari kaali ho gayi, thodi baarish bhi ho rahi thi, bohut sardi bhi thi. Hum koshish karte rahain ki humein vo Anas dede. (They said that the post-mortem was being conducted and we needed to make arrangements to bury the body in Bijnor. They used names of powerful officers. Then they threatened to not give us the bodies if we did not bury them in Bijnor. The night turned darker, as it drizzled on and off. It was freezing outside. We kept begging them to hand over the body of our son, Anas.)
Malik says the entire night was a torture for the family. "Prashasan ne dehshak kar rakha tha poori raat" (The administration had created an environment of dread the entire night).
After both families discussed the predicament they were in, they agreed to not go back to Nehtaur to bury the bodies and pleaded the police to allow their sons a decent burial in their ancestral villages. After repeated calls, pleading, and roping in lawyers, they were finally able to get the police to reluctantly agree, they say.
Anas was taken to Mithaan village about 20 km away, and Suleiman to Bhagdadansar village about 30 km away.
Under the uncomfortable gaze of the policemen and in keeping with Islamic tradition, the families washed the bodies with warm water, tied the cloth (kafan) around their bodies and read namaz. "Before I could open my eyes after the namaz, they asked us to go back home."
Police Admits to Firing
Bijnor SP Sanjeev Tyagi said that the families had not approached the police yet. He did accept that two men died during the protests in Nehtaur.
"Suleiman shot a police constable and in self defence firing, he was shot back. He fell and died. Anas died due to public firing later in the night," he said to reporters, adding that the protests spiralled out of control and police did everything in their power to maintain peace in the area.
On 24 December, SP Tyagi also put out a video releasing the names and images of three other accused, who are being called the main conspirators, and named a reward of Rs 25,000 for those who would help nab them.
Security continues to be strong in Bijnor. Police patrolling at every junction continues. And the little town in Uttar Pradesh is returning to normalcy after tragic deaths of two young men.
(Clarification: The copy was updated on 25 December with the response of the Bijnor police to The Quint’s story made the the same day.)