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Deaths in anti-CAA protests: UP police 'pressuring' kin not to pursue murder cases

Counterview Desk
The Delhi-based collective, Citizens Against Hate (CAH), in its new 206-page report, “Everyone has been Silenced: Police Excess Against anti-CAA protesters in Uttar Pradesh, and Post-Violence reprisal”, has alleged that the police are not been “disclosing, admitting to, or registering cases of deaths by police firing”, adding, this is happening despite “ground reports” by affected persons, civil society organisations, and the media.
Prepared by a research team* under the guidance of well-known scholar Henri Tiphagne, among others, the report says, based on on-the-spot inquiries in December-January in the nine districts where violence took place Bijnor, Firozabad, Kanpur, Lucknow, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Rampur, Sambhal and Varanasi, the report says that all that the UP Police has done is only to project “denials and contradictions in disclosing how many deaths have occurred due to police firing.”
The result is, it adds, First Information Reports (FIRs) registered to date, on deaths, present distorted facts and dilute the offences, despite the fact that, according to Post Mortem (PM) reports and photographic evidence, all deaths (except the one in Varanasi) occurred due to gunshot injuries. Officially, 23 persons have been killed, and 83 injured.
Worse, it says, “All injuries are on the upper parts of the body (head, neck, chest, abdomen). In all cases, the accused are recorded as being unknown. Whether survivor families have approached the police or not, the offence of murder (Section 302, Indian Penal Code [IPC]) has not been registered.”

Excerpts:

Taking the testimonies, eyewitness accounts, and trends emerging from official documents together, it emerges that the motivation behind the post-violence police reprisal is to cover up crimes police themselves have committed. The extent to which UP police has gone to cover their tracks in murder cases, in the process subverting the justice system, is instructive.
State-wide, there have been a total of 23 confirmed deaths, all in 9 districts, all being Muslim. We visited 8 of the 9 districts where killings had taken place and met 20 of the 23 victim families. Twenty-two of the 23 died due to firearm injuries, families claim, due to police firing or firing by those working in collusion with the police to target anti-CAA protesters. The minor in Varanasi died in a stampede.

Forced burials

In all districts we visited, except Sambhal, families of victims alleged that they were forced to bury their dead hurriedly, without funeral gatherings, away from their homes, under heavy police presence.
The family of Mohammad Suleiman (Nehtaur, Bijnor) testified that they were assaulted by the police when bringing the body home from hospital. Later, after autopsy had been conducted, police refused to allow the family to take the body back home, forcing them rather to bury the body at their relative’s village, 30 mm away from Nehtaur, in the early hours of the day, under heavy police presence. This, we heard was a pattern repeated often.
In Meerut, all five survivor families testified that they were forced by the police to bury their dead hurriedly, in secret, police not allowing families time to conduct last rites.
In Firozabad, 4 families we spoke with confirmed that they were forced by police to hold funerals hurriedly, and discreetly, mostly at night.
In Muzaffarnagar, police refused to let Noor Mohammad’s body be taken home by family, forcing them to carry out the burial at a village 40 Kms away from Muzaffarnagar where the family had no family connection. The deceased’s father in law, who was with the body during autopsy, lamented: “No one saw the body. Not even Noor Mohammad’s wife. They did not allow us to even bury our dead according to our rites. Great injustice has been done.”
In Rampur, father of deceased Faiz Khan, told us how police in hospital and later at the mortuary roughed up and desecrated his son’s lifeless body. Later the family was given just a few hours to make arrangements to last rites.

Doctored FIRs

Despite the passage of two months since the killings, our visits to survivor families revealed, only a few families had copies of FIRs of incidents. It is a violation of Section 154(2) CrPC when a copy of the FIR is not given to the informant/complainant. The FIRs that are available, also reveal significant distortions, hinting at the possibility that the police was manufacturing accounts to suit its version of events.
In Firozabad with the most killings – 7 – all except one surviving family had copies of FIRs of their kin’s murder. But remarkably, these have all been registered under Section 304 IPC (death due to rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide – hence without intent), rather than under Section 302 IPC (murder).
Most did not mention bullet wounds. This is despite photographic evidence in all cases of bullet injuries to head or upper torso; post mortem reports that all mention deaths due to bullet injuries (see later); and families, in their complaints to police for registering FIRs (tahrirs), in some cases anyway, mentioning the nature of wounds and the circumstances in which they found the bodies.
Family testimonies we obtained, in our interviews with them, too contradict FIR accounts. Haroon is mentioned as having died in a stampede.
Abrar is recorded as having been found in an “injured condition”. Armaan’s FIR is ambiguous about whether he was shot by the police, despite the family’s insistence that it was Police killing. Rashid’s family has not received a copy of FIR. He had a bullet injury in his head.
Remarkably, many families mentioned to us that bodies of their deceased was released to them (from hospitals in Delhi, where many victims had to be taken for want of medical care in Firozabad) for burial only after they had submitted signed complaints that police officers dictated to them – not mentioning bullet wounds, or that they had died in police firing.
In Meerut, none of the five families we met in mid-January 2020, had received copies of the FIR. None too had any knowledge whether FIRs had been registered, despite some families having submitted applications to police for registering cases.
In some cases, police has also filed counter-cases against members of victim. Brother of one of the deceased who had filed complaint on the very day of the incident, informed us, he had since been charged under an open FIR for rioting and loss to public property.
In Sambhal, the two cases have both been registered under Section 304 IPC, mentioning minor injuries as cause of death, despite complaint mentioning bullet wounds, and photograph providing evidence.
All four survivor families in Bijnor and Sambhal testified to us that police have been constantly pressuring the families to record in their statements, the police version that deaths did not take place due to police firing. SHOs and other police officers have made phone calls and have summoned family members repeatedly to have them change their accounts in the complaint.
In Muzaffarnagar, exceptionally, the FIR of murder in Noor Mohammad’s case, is registered under Section 302 IPC. But family members testified before us that they were forced to agree to recording that the death occurred due to someone from among the protesters firing at the deceased. The family also alleged that the police has been threatening them not to pursue the case.
Efforts by families to correct the distortion in registering of the crime (so these are recorded as murders by police) have not worked so far, despite passage of two months since the violence. Many families submitted complaints to police with names of police officers they considered had shot to kill – citing witnesses accounts (Nehtaur, Meerut).
They also sent copies of these complaints to higher authorities – senior police officers in districts as well as state police chiefs, besides bodies such as National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and National Commission of Minorities (NCM). These have not yielded any results yet.
In its recent deposition before Allahabad High Court, state government admitted a total of 8 complaints had been received against police officials, adding that these had been made part of ongoing investigation being conducted by Special Investigation Team of the concerned district.155 Two families have also made use of procedures under CrPC [Section 156(3)] to submit complaints to the local judicial magistrate to direct police to register the criminal offence and carry out investigation -- both from Meerut.
UP Police has been known to use non-prohibited bore weapons in their operations,  making it difficult to deduce police role in crime
Both these applications to the Chief Judicial Magistrate Meerut were rejected on February 20, 2020, lawyers for the families claim due to intense pressure on all justice institutions by government.
Meanwhile, state government and UP Police continue to stand by their position that “so far as persons who died in Muzaffarnagar, Kanpur, Sambhal, Firozabad, Meerut and Rampur are concerned, it is stated that no one lost his life due to police action”. 
That only leaves out Bijnore (two deaths), where police have claimed they fired in self-defence; Varanasi, where the death was in stampede, and Lucknow, where police have refused to acknowledge the death.

Delayed autopsy reports

Most families we visited in mid-January 2020 had not been provided copies of report of post-mortem. This was despite the lapse of over a month. Till January 20, 2020, none of the 7 families had received PM reports in Firozabad. As of January 14, 2020, this was also the case in Meerut, where 5 murders took place.
In Sambhal similarly, the two families had not received PM report, despite both having met police authorities several times, including the district police chief. Exceptions are the two families in Bijnor, that received PMs eight days after the incident. The family of the victim in Muzaffarnagar received PM on January 13, 2019, more than three weeks after the incident, after local politicians intervened.
It was only after Allahabad High Court, in PIL in police repression against anti-CAA protesters, ordered, on January 27, 2020, state government to provide copies of PM report to families of all deceased persons that these have since been made available to everyone. 
PM reports are revealing in how they contradict police’s accounts of the killings. All mention gunshot wounds, all on upper part of the body. Allahabad High Court, hearing the aforementioned PIL, noted this violation when it directed state authorities to provide latest information on, among others, complaints made against police officers and actions taken by police, as well as PM reports of all persons killed while participating in protests.
Except for the PM from Kanpur, which also mentions an exit wound, others are only entry wounds, implying that bullets would have been left lodged inside the body after incident. These would be available to authorities during autopsy and for conducting additional forensics tests, to determine origin. The ballistics of the bullets become important then, to be able to identify the weapon used, and investigate police’s liability in the murder.
PMs of both Bijnor victims mention black edges, signifying tattooing. This implies close range firing – thus probable cases of targeted killing. In response to questions by the bench at hearing in PIL on February 17, 2020, the state government counsel reported that forensic report had confirmed that injury received by Anas (Nehtaur, Bijnor) was from a 0.315 bore weapon (country-made, not prohibited).
On being quizzed by the bench why forensic reports for the rest of the cases had not been available yet, the counsel claimed it was time-taking. We also heard in our interactions with informants that UP Police has been known to also use non-prohibited bore weapons in their operations, thus making it difficult to deduce police role in the crime solely on the basis of forensic examinations of the weapon used in the crime.

Witness intimidation

All survivor families we spoke with confided that they were under pressure from police not to pursue murder cases. From the time they approached police to recover bodies for burial, to registering FIRs, and to try to obtain death certificates and postmortem reports, the experience of family members has been tough and disparaging.
Police have mostly dragged their feet to provide victim families what is their right – copies of FIRs and PM reports. And they have either tried to persuade families to change their accounts in applications or resorted to threats and intimidation to force the hands of witnesses to record police versions.
Brother of a victim in Meerut, who filed a complaint demanding appropriate registration, has had a case registered against him in one of the ‘open FIRs’. Another in Muzaffarnagar, has had police personnel visit him, to put pressure, and at other times, offer him inducement, to weaken the case. Another family member, an advocate himself pushing for justice for his nephew (Mohammad Suleiman, Nehtaur) has had notice of recovery issued in a case of destruction of public property, in an effort to silence him.
In Firozabad, site of 7 murders, 34 FIRs were filed regards incidents of December 20, 2019 – 18 Firozabad South PS and 16 Rasulpur PS. Only 6 were registered the same day, the rest, over the next four days. In 13 of these, complainants were media persons and journalists, who, media reports claim, had been forced by the police to make complaints.
Just 5 FIRs contain names of 29 persons, rest are all open FIRs, with the accused recorded as ‘aggyat’ (unknown). As a whole, FIRs list charges of rioting, unlawful assembly, mischief causing damage, mischief by explosive substance, dacoity, criminal intimidation, even ‘attempt to murder’ in some cases.
Open FIRs have allowed police in Firozabad, as in other districts, to implicate fresh people in ongoing cases. In Bijnor, one of the worst affected districts, 11 FIRs were registered, with 200 persons named in those. 101 persons were reported arrested and charged for attempt to murder and other grievous crimes. Twenty among the arrested were reported to be juveniles.
Notably, FIRs also recorded involvement of another 4,000 persons in the protests, without specifying their names, leaving it open for police then to book individuals arbitrarily on the strength of those open FIRs.
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*Members of the research team: Abhimanyu Suresh, Adeela Firdous, Aiman Khan, Angela Dua, Anshu Kapoor, Devika Prasad, Fawaz Shaheen, Ghazala Jamil, Guneet Ahuja, Madhur Bharatiya, Mohammad Ghufran, Mangla Verma, Mathew Jacob, Misbah Reshi, Nidhi Suresh, Parijata Bhardwaj, Rehan Khan, Sajjad Hassan, Salim Ansari, Sharib Ali, Shreya Singh, Sneha Chandna, Sunil Kuksal, Talha Rahman, Vipul Kumar and Zainab Amal

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