At least 25 people have died across India in the aftermath of nation-wide protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act that was passed on December 12. Eighteen of those people come Uttar Pradesh. The state has seen the highest death toll and the most intense police crackdown on protests. Fourteen of the 18 victims died of bullet injuries.
The most recent death was a 30-year-old buffalo seller from Uttar Pradesh’s Firozabad district, who succumbed to a bullet injury on Thursday.
The Citizenship Amendment Act seeks to provide citizenship to people from six persecuted minority communities in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan – but excludes Muslims from its scope. Many fear that the law, in combination with plans for a National Register for Citizens, will be used to target and disenfranchise Muslims, since Home Minister Amit Shah has repeatedly announced plans to implement a nation-wide NRC to identify “illegal migrants” in the country.
As protests against citizenship law and NRC erupted across the country, the police in some Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states began imposing Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code in specific parts of cities, towns or districts, to prohibit people from gathering in groups. The Uttar Pradesh police, however, imposed Section 144 in the whole state on December 19, making it effectively illegal for people to even protest peacefully.
Despite the ban on public gatherings, people in several districts in the state organised protests that were met with unprecedented police violence. Although the police claim that it was the protesters who initiated violence, numerous reports and videos indicate that in many places, the police not only attacked peaceful crowds with lathis, tear-gas and bullets, but also broke into people’s homes, vandalised private property and looted their money.
To understand the extent of chaos in Uttar Pradesh, Scroll.in has mapped out the 15 districts from which violence and police brutality has been reported.
Much has been reported about the brutal police violence towards student protesters from Aligarh Muslim University on December 15, and the ways in which arrested students were abused in police custody.
On Tuesday, a team of 13 independent investigators released a fact-finding report about the AMU violence, revealing “unbridled human rights violations” on students. The report claimed that the police had used stun grenades to attack students, even though stun grenades are usually used only in war-like situations. A student lost his hand to one of the grenades. The report also claims that police personnel shouted “Jai Shri Ram” while attacking students.
On December 19, at least three people were hit by bullets during protests against the CAA in Hussainabad in the heart of Lucknow city. Two of those people were teenage boys who were not a part of the protest but were caught up in the chaos of the violence occurring at the protest. The boys are now recuperating in hospital. The third, 32-year-old Mohammed Wakeel, lost his life after being shot while he was allegedly out to buy groceries.
After the violence, Muslim residents of Hussainabad alleged that the police raided and vandalised their homes while beating several people up. Videos and photos on shared social media revealed the extent of the damage done to people’s homes, shops and vehicles.
The police in Lucknow arrested at least three dozen people in connection with the violence on December 19, including activist and actress Sadaf Jafar, who ended up recording her own arrest on video while doing a livestream video from the site of the protest. She is still in police custody. Meanwhile, theatre actor and director Deepak Kabir was brutally beaten up by policemen on the same day when he tried to find out the whereabouts of some of his missing friends after the protest the previous day. He too has been arrested. Besides Jafar and Kabir, the police also arrested Mohammed Shoaib, a 76-year-old human rights lawyer, and Magasaysay award winner Sandeep Pandey.
At a protest in Meerut’s Lisadi Gate area on December 20, the police claimed that protesters began stone-pelting while residents claimed that the police opened fire at peaceful protesters. Five people died in the process. Later reports suggested that a sixth person, 24-year-old Aleem, also died in the firing. Among the many injured was a 17-year-old boy who was shot in the spine with a bullet.
The police also smashed windows of shops and vehicles in the Muslim-dominated area.
Days after the violence, posters of “wanted” men who participated in the protest emerged on walls of buildings in Meerut.
Residents of Bijnor district’s Nehtaur town told Scroll.in that on December 20, a gathering of Muslim worshippers was disrupted by a group of baton-wielding men who attacked residents along with the local police. Two men died of bullet injuries in the violence.
One of the victims was 20-year-old Mohammed Suleman, whose family alleges that he was picked up by the police on his way to the Friday afternoon prayers. His body was later found in another neighbourhood, with wounds indicating that a bullet had shot through his stomach and exited from his back. His family claims that he was shot at close range, and allege that the police took away his body and did not let the family near it during the postmortem. Although the police initially denied firing any bullets, the Bijnor police has now admitted that Suleman was killed by a bullet fired “in self-defence” by a constable, Mohit Kumar, who they claim was also hit by a bullet. Kumar is now critical in the hospital.
Video footage from Nehtaur accessed by Scroll.in showed policemen dragging an elderly man to a van, firing from rifles and shouting “Kill one or two of them.”