Special Reports

Azamgarh reels under police high-handedness

By Haider Abbas

In what can be called as a proverbial indigenous narrative, Arvind Murti, a resident of Mau near Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, who is the editor of “Sachi Muchi” monthly published from Lucknow and an activist associated with Right to Information campaign, has brought forth a report on one of the many recent incidents in and around Azamgarh. Such incidents have now become almost an-order-of-the-day.

Arvind Murti reports that Maunathbhanjan, which after becoming a new district is now popularly called Mau and which is a densely-populated district with all vitality and liveliness. The majority of its residents profess Islamic faith which, automatically, qualifies it these days to become “sensitive” in both administrative and communal parlance, “whereas, being sensitive literally denotes living with a throb of life,” he says. And the same was defined on 29 July 2009 when its residents stood up against what can be easily called as rising against the police. Murti, explains that on that morning people woke up equally to the rings of a temple and the clarion-call from the mosque and had accordingly got involved in their daily chores.

The time was around 11:30 am, the busiest hour of the day, when suddenly a truck of 14 tires, probably the heaviest, got into a “no-entry” zone leading to one of Azamgarh’s busy entry points. The ruckus was into making, as the entry is allowed only in exchange for some bribe, but the particular driver did not oblige, resulting into a police constable ‘clinging’ to the driver demanding Rs 20. The driver pushed the constable to the ground and sped away. He overran an autorickshaw and a Maruti car parked opposite Haleema Hospital near Azamgarh Tiraha and carried through Azamgarh for Mirzahadipura chowk, another crowded locality. The truck went berserk on what is as the lifeline of Azamgarh, injuring pedestrians, rickshaw-pullers, autorickshaws, motor cycles, roadside fruit vendors... In this the obvious had to happen: Nanhaku Ram Vaid, Sandeep Patil, Masih-uz-Zaman and Ayesha Khatoon were killed and 30 people were injured. Sensitive people of this city got into assisting each other but soon the ultimate was to unfold, points Murti.    

He refers to Amar Ujala, a Hindi daily, which reported next day that the real trouble started when the same truck went ‘pushing and throwing’ students who had gathered, from all adjoining areas at the main post office seeking forms for a police recruitment exam. The students got agitated and pelted stones at the police station (Kotwali) and were soon to be joined by common people too. This later spread to the whole city.

The agitators ransacked police property and burnt police booths. The mob broke open the always-closed gate of the main post office, and this made the police to fire in retaliation killing a few in the process. “It should be known that only the main post office was targeted and all other banks and post offices remained untouched,” Arvind Murti reported.

“The police in its own typical style started to communalise the situation and the Superintendent of Police (SP) even went to claim that he had stopped the riot. Whereas, in reality, both Hindus and Muslims were together agitating against the police carelessness and did not touch any private property or any shop. In fact, the whole so-called torching of property by agitated people is suspicious, Murti adds. To elaborate his point further, he said that no private vehicle was torched and both the communities were together venting their anger. In fact, the incident made both Hindus and Muslims become more confident of each other. Something which has been shaken in the recent past, he said.

The same had also happened earlier, as on 26 May 2005, when a businessman and three others were murdered and people burnt the Bheeti Police station in retaliation. Murti says that police did not care for any law and order. It did not engage in tear-gassing or firing rubber bullets or using water canons but the police version claims that 25 rubber bullets, 30 tear gas shells, 15 rounds of fire from rifle and one round from a revolver were fired. But, people got gun shots on their bodies and there were traces of shots on mosque walls and shop-shutters. The site of the firing helps us to understand the context. It is the railway-crossing from the eastern Balia district side used for crossing into Azamgarh. Around 25 meters from it is the kotwali. It takes 50 meters more from there to reach the main post office. Hat-thi Madari Chowki is 150 meters from the post office and Dakshin (southern) Tola Thana is around two kms from there. Mirzahadipura lies on the western side.

“Obviously, the police fire, which covered a distance from Hat-thi Madari chowki to Dakshin (southern) Tola thana, was in stark violation of any principle resulting into the  death of four persons. All were shot in their chests, stomachs and in their upper-backs. “This is in itself a crime in the eyes of law,” Murty pointed.

“When those who swear by law violate it themselves, they are liable for a double punishment. Those who have been involved should be probed and a criminal case of murder should be initiated against them. This would strengthen the democratic spirit and the rule of law,” he says adding that the people killed by police have always been found as innocent, poor and downtrodden labourers and the same legacy continues in Azamgarh too.

Muhammed Afzal, 24, was a rickshaw-puller. He was the sole bread-earner of his family. He received a bullet and was declared dead. Anwar Jamal, 30, ran a powerloom. He was on his way home when he was hit by a bullet and died. Shamshad, a daily labourer, was returning home and got killed by the police bullet and Muhammed Zahid, 17, succumbed to a police bullet while returning from his tuition classes. Twenty others were injured in the police firing and probably now lead an incapacitated life with a broken limb or two. The UP government announced a compensation of Rs 2.5 lakhs but only one lakh was given as a preliminary amount. The injured were to be compensated as per the medical reports.

“When such incidents happen, the lines of Rajesh Joshi are remembered: Iss samay sabse bara apraadh hai nihat-the hona / Jo apradhi nahi honge maare jayeinge (This is a time when the biggest crime is not to be armed / Those who won’t be criminals will get killed).”  

As understood, since 29 July 2009, the entire establishment is involved in a cover-up of the whole incident. The SP and the Additional District Magistrate (ADM) have been symbolically transferred for having ordered the firing. “Moreover, the Assistant Director General of Police (ADG) of UP Brij Lal thundered that those having been involved in the ‘disturbance’ should be booked under Gangster Act and National Security Act. This has made injured (apart from those who got registered) going to private doctors for their treatment fearing further police action. But, still 32 people have been named with around 1000 unknown, in a case registered by the police. This has made people extremely resentful, said Murti.

The police-terror has forced all the people’s organisations, like People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Peoples Union for Human Rights etc come together to highlight what can be termed as yet another example of our trigger-happy police whose heroic deeds are seen again and again across the country ever since it was established by the British in 1861 as a force to crush and subdue Indians.

“I have a set of queries. Why did the Mirzahadipura Police station allow such a heavy truck to enter a no entry zone, which in fact should have been disallowed even during the entry time? Even if when it entered, why other police booths and senior officers were not informed about it? What was the police doing when the truck overran so much over a stretch of three kms and even crossed the Police kotwali to save which the police had to resort to firing?” asks Murty.

A highlight of the whole episode was the unanimity of agitation by both Hindus and Muslims venting their anger against the police lawlessness, but in the end, it resulted only in Muslim deaths and 19 out of the 20 injured in police firing were also Muslims. This is in itself a glaring proof of how communally-infested the police system is,” laments Arvind Murti.

Mutri is a 39-year-old activist involved in human rights since 1989 and belongs to the category of Extremely Backward Caste. His report was published on 28 August 2009 in a joint programme by PUCL and PUHR in Lucknow.

There has not been any probe ordered by the UP government yet. The Ulama Council of Azamgarh has approached the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) for the same and the case is pending.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 October 2009 on page no. 13

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