Meerut: A pitched battle between anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act , or CAA, protesters and the police in Meerut was beginning to shift from the main roads to the narrow by-lanes of the Bhumiya Ka Pul neighbourhood at around 4pm on Friday, December 20, when Zaheer Mohammad, a labourer who works at a cattle fodder unit, walked out of his home to purchase beedis from a shop.
The police and protesters were positioned at opposite ends of the lane at that moment, and the shopkeeper, Gulshan, a 40-year-old woman, decided to down the shutters when Zaheer asked her to pause and give him a bundle of beedis and a match. “He handed me Rs 10 and then squatted on a platform next to my shop to smoke,” said Gulshan.
Moments later, a bullet hit Zaheer, 45, in his head and he collapsed on the floor. “Had Zaheer not been there, the bullet may have hit me,” said Gulshan. She doesn’t know who fired the fatal shot, but she is certain that it came from the police’s direction.
“Zaheer was a simpleton. He didn’t even seem curious of bothered about the protests,” said Gulshan.
Zaheer was among at least five civilians killed during protests that Friday in Meerut - the district with the highest casualty count. Each of them fell to bullets that the police insist were fired by the protesters themselves.
Five days later, on Wednesday, the biggest grouse of the families of each of these men was that the police allegedly forced them to bury the dead urgently, secretly, away from their neighbourhoods, and in the absence of some of their nearest ones.
FIRs AGAINST THE DEAD, POLICE ADMIT TO FIRING
In addition, each of the dead have been named as accused in the FIRs registered after their deaths. “These men were present at the scenes of violence and remain under suspicion. In the FIRs, they have been named as accused and their roles will be probed scientifically,” said AN Singh, superintendent of police (Meerut City).
The SP said that there was “heavy firing” by the protesters in Meerut in which nine police and paramilitary personnel were hit and 69 empty cartridges were found during clean up.
He also admitted that the police fired at the protesters, making it the third instance after Bijnor and Kanpur where police are now admitting to opening fire. “We fired seven rounds,” said the SP, adding that no deaths occurred at those spots. In the immediate aftermath of the statewide protests, police insisted that they did not fire at protestors. The violence has claimed 18 lives, of which at least 14 are from bullet injuries.
The police have registered 14 FIRs and arrested 37 suspects so far for the violence.
‘FORCED’ TO BURY QUICKLY, AWAY FROM HOME
Zaheer’s father, Munsi Ahmed, said, “Only four members of our family were around when Zaheer’s body was buried around 6.30am on Saturday, within two hours of us receiving his body. When we sought more time, the police told me that I would be held legally responsible for any disturbance. The police only dug the grave and hundreds of them stayed around till we were done with the burial. I couldn’t even bring his body home,” said Ahmed.
A few lanes away, 28-year-old Mohsin was shot dead around the same time when he left his home to get fodder for his two buffaloes. “He had returned from namaaz. He gave two toffees to his four-year-old daughter and left home. Minutes later, we heard gunshots and someone came home to inform that my son was killed by a bullet in his chest,” said Mohsin’s mother, Nafeesa.
Mohsin’s two younger brothers work as scrap dealers in Karnataka, and they heard of his death on Friday evening. “We had no money for flight tickets, so our friends pooled money for our travel. By the time we reached Meerut on Saturday noon, my brother was already buried. I loved my brother. He was older, but never beat me, never scolded me. I couldn’t see him one last time and I feel guilty about it,” said his brother, Mohammad Rameez, 19.
The story of Asif, a 32-year-old orphan who worked as a labourer at a tyre shop is similar. “He was headed to a nearby mosque to offer prayers amidst the violent protests when he was shot in his back. The police compelled us to bury him just after morning namaaz on Saturday,” said his mother-in-law, Shameem.
Asif has left behind a pregnant wife and three children.
About four kilometers away, in the Ahmed Nagar neighbourhood of Meerut city, two other men were shot dead about a kilometre from their homes. One was Mohammad Asif, a 20-year-old e-rickshaw driver and the other was Aleem Ansari, a 24-year-old man who baked tandoori rotis at a dhaba on the Hapur Road where many violent protests unfolded on Friday.
SP Singh couldn’t elaborate the circumstances of the deaths of four men, but said that there are inputs to suggest that Mohammad Asif was present at the spot and was part of a conspiracy. “Whether he was there independently or with others is being probed,” said the officer.
Mohammad Asif’s father, Idul Hasan, said he initially learnt of his son’s death from photos of the dead men being circulated on mobile phones and got a confirmation from the GTB Enclave police station, from where he received a phone call. “Until 2015, we lived in Delhi’s Dilshad Garden. When the police took my son’s body, they found an Aadhaar card that had our Delhi address where my in-laws now live. The Delhi Police reached there and then called me,” said Hasan.
Mohammad Asif was shot in the chest.
Hasan said that the Delhi address was being used as a pretext by the police to call him a “mastermind” of the violence and . “My son only wanted to make money. He wanted to purchase an auto-rickshaw and a plot of land to build a house for us. No one in our family had ever been to a police station earlier, leave alone be involved in a crime,” said Hasan.
The autopsies on the bodies of Mohammad Asif and Ansari were conducted late Saturday afternoon. The bodies were then handed over to their families at 4pm and the burial completed by 7pm. “Hardly anyone from our family was around when he was buried. The police snatched from me even the chance to grieve and bury him properly,” said Hasan.
AUTOPSY IN FAMILY’S ABSENCE
As for Ansari, his autopsy was conducted in the absence of his family, police said.
“His dhaba shut down due to the protests and he left for home. His body was found with a bullet wound to his head on the roadside along the route he took to return home,” said his brother, Mohammad Salauddin.
His family, too, got to know of his death by seeing the images of the dead men on a mobile phone. “All night we couldn’t leave our neighbourhood because of the tense situation and the heavy police presence. In the morning, I reached a hospital and checked a body in the mortuary to find it wasn’t my brother’s,” said Salauddin. That body was Mohammad Asif’s.
The family finally got Ansari’s body at 5pm. The autopsy had already been conducted. The SP said that since an identity card was found on Ansari’s body, the police didn’t feel the need to wait for his family before carrying out the post-mortem examination.
Ansari’s body was handed over to his family on two conditions, said his other brother, Mohammad Mubarak. “We had to give an assurance that we wouldn’t take his body home and also not bury it in our immediate neighbourhood.”
The SP said he wasn’t aware of any police pressure on the families of the dead when it came to the burials. “Had we wanted, we could have buried the dead by ourselves. But we handed over the bodies to the families at the mortuary itself. The burials happened as per their choice and wish. Policemen stayed around, but just to maintain peace,” said the officer.
Describing the sequence of events that took place on Friday, the SP said that it all seemed well until 2.30pm, though the shutting down of shops in the neighbourhoods did arouse suspicion. “After the namaaz at a mosque, some returned to their homes while others began wearing black bands and shouting ‘bhadkau and uttezak’ (provocative) slogans,” he said without mentioning the nature of the slogans.
“There were prohibitory orders in place, but thousands of people began marching towards the main Hapur Road. When we tried to stop them, then misbehaved and began pelting stones. They were running in all directions and pelting stones and firing. They were able to get as far as seven kilometers from where the protests began. People were firing even from terraces of their homes. One of them was a 60-year-old man,” said the SP.
The story from across the state is the same. Afternoon, post-prayer protest marches that turned violent.
“We took anti-riot measures and used tear gas, but the mob set a police post on fire and burnt several vehicles. Sometimes, we were dealing with mobs in two-three directions. They were firing shots and we fired a few rounds in the air,” he said.
He said that at least 60 policemen were hurt in the violence. “We know of injuries to four members of the public.”
“If the mob was shooting at the police, why weren’t any policemen killed? Why would the protesters shoot their own people?” asked Salim Siddiqui, a local social worker.
Source: Hindustan Times