Kanpur CAA Stir: 3 Men Just in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time
Video Editor: Varun Sharma
‘Kaam par se uski lash wapas aayi hai (his dead body is what returned from where he worked)’, 74-year-old Mohammed Shareef broke down as he recalled how his son Raees’ shirt was blood-soaked the day his body was returned to him.
Raees was shot near the stomach in the marketplace near his house in Kanpur’s Babupurwa, which had turned into a war zone as UP police unleashed violence against the anti-CAA protesters.
Shareef claims that the bullet that killed Raees was fired by the police.
Outside his one-room settlement, with a kuccha roof made up of closely stacked khaprail (tiles), Shareef lifts both his hands and makes a gun with his fingers, indicating shots fired at his son, the sole breadwinner in the family.
27 December marked a week since the Babupurwa locality in Kanpur witnessed violence during the anti-CAA protests. It was also the day of Friday prayers.
Kanpur was among more than a dozen districts in Uttar Pradesh where internet had been shut down for the second time.
On 20 December, as the UP police tried to clamp down on a huge gathering of protesters in Babupurwa, locals who have been living in this part of the city for decades claim they have never seen such a brutal face of the men in khaki.
Thirty-year-old Raees used to make a living by selling pappad and ice cream. As December marked the onset of wedding season, Raees had got work washing utensils at marriage functions near the masjid.
Washing of utensils would fetch him an additional Rs 250-300 per day. Raees was quite close to the protest site where he had been called in to help with the cleaning of plates that day. The thekedar who hired Raees said that he had turned up for work that day, but on hearing the commotion outside, decided to leave to go home, and started running – that’s when he was hit by a bullet.
23-year-old Aftab Alam had also stepped out that day to collect labour charges where he had recently finished plaster of paris-related repair work.
Around 1 pm, Aftab spoke to his mother, Najma Begum, informing her of the tension in the area and people running helter-skelter. Najma told her son to stay put until the violence had subsided.
It was the last time she spoke to Aftab. When it was 3:30 pm, Najma called on Aftab’s mobile to check whether he was safe. Aftab had been shot twice in his chest and once in his left hand. He didn’t survive the bullet injuries, becoming the second victim of firing in Babupurwa.
A BA second year student, Aftab would often go for small repair work which would require him to patch up walls with plaster of paris. This got him about Rs 450 per assignment and helped his family cope with daily expenses.
Just 15-20 days before the incident, Aftab had filled out a form for a government post, hoping to improve his family’s financial condition with a permanent job.
As neighbours and relatives thronged Najma’s one-room house to offer their condolences, it was the collective silence that hung heavily in the air. A close relative of Aftab admits that they won’t follow up on the case as they are scared for the other children. “We belong to the labourer class, do you think we have the strength to put up a fight?” he asks. Aftab’s younger brother, Saif, is in class 9. His eyes well up with tears as he holds up a photo of Aftab on his mobile.
Twenty-five-year-old Saif, a labourer who used to work at a belt-making factory in Kanpur, had gone to give a lunchbox to his elder brother at the shop, according to the family.
He too was caught between the protesters and police personnel. Saif was the third person to die of bullet injuries.
In all the three cases, though the victims – Raees, Aftab and Saif – were rushed to the nearest government-run Hallet Hospital, they didn’t receive any papers stating that these men had been brought in with bullet injuries. There is no clarity regarding post-mortem reports either.
Saif’s father, Mohammed Taqi, who works as a house painter, is confronted with pressing concerns due to her son’s death.
While UP Chief Minister Adityanath has announced that the state will seek compensation for damage to public property from the protesters, there is no word yet on victims who died due to alleged police firing.
The Kanpur police has denied allegations of firing at protesters even though some videos have appeared on social media suggesting otherwise.
Recalling how her son Saif was the family’s darling and how he could cheer anyone up anyone with his usual way of teasing, his mother Qamar Jahan says, “You can conduct an inquiry in the entire neighbourhood to know what kind of a person my son was.”
Fond of buying new clothes from the mall, Saif’s last purchase was a T-shirt some two to three months ago. Clothes, education certificates and photos in their happier days, these are the only memories these three families have been left with as they struggle to come to terms with the sudden loss.
None of them had gone out to participate in anti-CAA protests, yet each one of them paid with their lives just for being near the epicentre of violence.
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