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UP 'retaliation': Clampdown on peaceful protests to create climate of fear, polarization

Counterview Desk
India’s premier human rights network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), in a fact-finding report, ‘Resistance, Repression and Revenge’, has stated that “extraordinary emergency situation in the state of Uttar Pradesh” has come about in the wake of “wide-spread” protests against the new citizenship law.
In an attempt to “broadly map out the scale and seriousness of the situation in the state”, the report claims, “unprecedented excesses” were committed by the Uttar Pradesh police after the protests commenced, asking “concerned citizens and bodies, both governmental and non-governmental at the national and international level to intervene” to halt the “state-sponsored violence and intimidation.”

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Like in other parts of the country, the past few weeks in Uttar Pradesh has witnessed massive and largely peaceful people’s resistance to the blatantly communal and unconstitutional Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019 and announcements to bring forth an All-India National Register of Citizens (NRC) through an exercise called National Population Register (NPR).
In response to a national call for an All-India protest on December 19 against these draconian laws and decisions, lakhs of common citizens all across the state, hit the roads and protested in a peaceful and democratic way.
Evidently rattled by the public outrage, the state quickly swung into a retaliatory mode to clampdown on peaceful protests, attack common people and create a climate of fear, violence and polarization. The situation is extremely alarming with the state cracking down massively on students, activists, human rights and community organisations and civil society groups.
Needless to say, Muslim communities and regions are being specifically targeted and ruthlessly hounded, with many even fearing to file complaints or choosing to leave their homes! Section 144 has been imposed across the state and internet shutdown has been ordered in several cities.
Democratic protests against CAA-NRC are facing violent attacks by police, with videos surfacing of destruction and arson of standing cars and properties by police and some miscreants, firings leading to many deaths, custodial torture, assaults on civilians, pelting of stones from rooftops by security personnel, vitriolic hate, brutal and excessive use of force by state with alleged sanctions from the ‘top'!
Fabricated cases against human rights defenders (HRDs) are being foisted and FIRs are being filed enmasse on thousands of people, mostly Muslims. Properties are being confiscated by police and a complete state of terror and destruction prevails in the state right now.

Situation in brief

As on date (December 31), at least 20 civilians, including a minor, have ‘died’ across the state, largely due to police firing and brutality. However, the police claim all deaths are due to ‘cross-firing’!
About 327 FIRs have been filed and up to 1,113 people have been arrested under 2various substantive provisions and jailed, of which up to 280 are from Lucknow alone. While some of them are lawyers and activists, many of them are young Muslim men from the poorer localities. Almost 5,558 persons have been ‘bound down’, i.e. taken into preventive custody by the police, ‘in anticipation of violence’.
Police have registered 76 cases and arrested 108 people for sharing and posting ‘objectionable and misleading posts’ on social media in connection with the law. Action has been taken against 15,344 social media posts including 6,612 of Twitter, 8,577 of Facebook and 155 videos on YouTube. Along with regular police columns, paramilitary, rapid action force, PAC and Quick Reaction Teams are patrolling various districts. As per police claims, 288 police personnel have been injured.
Widely known activists like senior advocate Mohammad Shoaib of Rihai Manch and retired IPS SR Darapuri have been arrested under serious charges, including attempt to murder (Sec 307 IPC) and criminal conspiracy (Sec 120-B) and jailed. Both are senior citizens above 75 and suffer from heart ailment and cancer, respectively.
Human rights activist, Sadaf Jafar, associated with the Congress, has been punched, leading to intense bleeding. Robin Verma of Rihai Manch and Deepak Kabir, a theatre activist have been badly tortured and jailed. All of them have been arrested under serious charges of attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy and lodged at Luknow jail. Bail petition have been rejected by lower courts.
In Varanasi, about 70 persons including notable social and political activists, students, elderly persons and young women have been jailed and arbitrary charges foisted again them for organzing a peaceful protest on December 19.
Omar Rashid, journalist with “The Hindu” was badly humiliated and intimidated by the police and threatened due to his Kashmiri identity. The climate in the state is not conducive for most of the media to report the gory ground realities in a fearless manner and sections of the local media has also been showing Muslims in bad light.
Mass FIRs are being filed and Sec 307, 120-B etc. are being foisted on many activists and individuals, across districts. Many persons named are from the Muslim community. Hundreds to thousands of ‘unknown’ persons are being named in the FIRs. Fifteen FIRs have been filed against 21,500 persons, in Kanpur alone, as per official admission. Police is also threatening invocation of National Security Act (NSA) against at least 250 agitators.
There is a climate of terror amongst people across the state, particularly Muslims across many districts where many confirmed and unconfirmed reports of police violence including on women and elders, ransacking of homes, destruction of private property, youth and children being beaten up and detained arbitrarily are being received by the hour. With internet blockade, there has been a serious deficiency in effective communication flow.
Shops and properties of ‘rioters’, largely poor Muslims are being seized and sealed by the administration, as per orders of the CM to ‘seek revenge’ and in stated compliance of a Supreme Court Order of 2018. This is happening in a ‘campaign mode’ across districts.
Even solidarity protests at UP Bhawan, Delhi have been met with detentions. On at least three different dates, hundreds of protesters were detained at the Mandir Marg Police station. Even a single person or pair of two was detained!
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has taken cognizance of complaints sent to it in this regard and issued notice to the DGP, UP to respond within 4 weeks on all matters of police excesses.

How it all began

The first major attack in the state was on the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), wherein with the massive deployment of armed forced and police, the student resistance against CAA-NRC was sought to be crushed. On the night of 15th Dec, in order to quell a peaceful student protest, the Rapid Action Force (RAF) and police started hurling rabidly communal abuses and firing tear gas shells, rubber bullets, stun grenades, pellets and other kinds of explosive weapons into the crowd that was inside the campus gate.
The forces even broke open the main gate and indulged in heavy lathi charge and firing, despite requests by the Proctor and students to the police get out of the campus precincts. The army and police personnel entered buildings where students were hiding and attacked them ruthlessly. They even targeted students who were not part of the protests.
Consequently, up to 60 students suffered varying degrees of injury including amputation of hands, limb injuries, suffocation and unconsciousness etc. The bikes of students which were parked were vandalized in large numbers. As per an estimate, up to 22 students ‘have gone missing since then’. Wide-spread fear was induced that anyone who speaks up would be charged with NSA!
Some reports indicated that the arson and violence was being carried out by ‘hired rioters’ to sabotage the peaceful protests
While no action has been taken against the erring officials, FIRs have been filed against 21 named and 500 unnamed students. The administration declared winter vacation immediately and created a situation where students had to leave forthwith. This led to a mass (forced) exodus of students from the campus. Reports of many students, especially Kashmiri sttudents being stuck in the freezing cold in Jammu after being ‘sent off in buses’ have been received.
On December 16, thousands of citizens, students with civil society organisations across the state protested peacefully in Aligarh, Lucknow, Varanasi, Mau and other places expressing solidarity and protesting against brutal police force against fellow students in New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).

State attempt to prevent protests on December 19

On December 18, the UP Police issued notices to about 3,000 people across the state, cautioning them to not participate in protests against CAA. These notices were issued under Sec.149 Cr.P.C and Sec 116/107 CrPC, to individuals to not participate in any kind of protest and to execute a bond for keeping peace and good behaviour.
Key activists including Advocate Mohammad Shoaib, Sandeep Pandey and SR Darapuri were kept under ‘house-arrest’ from the 18th night /19th early morning. The state administration, completely undermining the constitutionally guaranteed rights of citizens under Article 19, invoked Section 144 CrPC in a blanket sweep to impose ‘curfew’ across the entire state, rather than localised areas which is how Section 144 is legally intended to be used, as laid down by the Apex Court.
This heavy-handed response of the state against citizens, expressing their disagreement to the CAA, seems to have the approval of the highest offices in the state. OP Singh, Director General of Police (DGP), Uttar Pradesh, also tweeted the same from his official account.
However, thousands of people both in UP and many other states where Section 144 was imposed came out on the streets in large numbers and participated in the mass civil disobedience against the CAA. At Parivartan Chowk, Lucknow, as well, the 4-5 hours long protest was largely peaceful which only included a march, mass chanting of slogans, reading of the Preamble and tearing down the CAA.
It was only towards the end that some unidentified miscreants burnt down a bus and some media OB vans, leading to police raining lathi blows on protestors and the situation turning volatile. Thereafter, across various districts, certain incidents of stone-pelting and destruction of public properties were reported in the media, but it was not established as to who exactly were responsible for the same.
Some reports indicated that the arson and violence was being carried out by ‘hired rioters’ to sabotage the peaceful protests. In the past couple of days, the security forces have been using excessive force on peaceful protestors, leading to loss of lives and severe life-threatening injuries.
Eyewitness, video and media reports clearly point to the fact that the state government and police have not been following the required legal standards and operating procedures to manage assemblies.
On December 19 itself, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announced that his government would ‘take revenge’ on those involved in the violence by confiscating their properties. He said all of them have been marked in the CCTV footage and the state shall seize their property and compensate the losses caused. Within a day, he also ‘appealed people to maintain peace and law and order across the state’. He urged people ‘not to fall for rumours and get misled on the new citizenship law’.
Internet Blockade: The mobile internet blockade began on December 16 itself at Aligarh where the students were attacked and spread soon to many other districts. The internet access on mobile phones was suspended in 21 districts of UP, including Lucknow, Kanpur, Allahabad, Agra, Aligarh, Ghaziabad, Varanasi, Mathura, Meerut, Moradabad, Muzaffarnagar, Bareli, Firozadad, Pilibhit, Rampur, Saharanpur, Shamli, Sambhal, Amroha, Mau, Azamgarh and Sultanpur.
In some places internet speed has been slowed down. On December 16, it was reported that mobile service was suspended only in Muslim localities of Muzaffarnagar, while they were restored in the rest of the district. Broadband internet services were also terminated partially in some cities including Lucknow and Ghaziabad. 
Internet blockade for over two weeks has also led to a serious deficiency in effective communication flow. The state government has not given any specific reasons or justification for the suspension. Suspension of internet has badly affected civilians and local businesses.
At least 20 people, including a minor, have died across the state, primarily due to police firing and brutalities. This is the highest in the country, during the anti-CAA protests. According to a media report, a senior police official confirmed that the deaths of at least 14 persons were due to ‘firearm injuries’.
An independent investigation is urgently required to ascertain the exact cause of the deaths due to police firing. This is even more necessary since in several videos that have emerged, policemen are seen with revolvers and batons, aiming and shooting directly at unarmed protestors/civilians, above the waist.
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