Bijnor: Two young men, Suleiman and Anas, were killed in Nehtaur on the day protests were held against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in different parts of Bijnor district. Suleiman was about to turn 20, and Anas had just turned 21. They lived in the same block, a two-minute walk away from each other.
Their families know each other. On December 20, both boys were gunned down by the Bijnor police, which said it had acted to contain the violence that broken out on the streets following the afternoon namaz. But the story which emerges from conversations with their families and other witnesses is rather different.
Suleiman, who was studying to join the police service
When we visited Suleiman’s home, his family had just had a heated exchange with the police, specifically, SP Sanjeev Tyagi, who was in charge of the police mobilisation in the area and had gone to speak to each of the families of the dead men, in their homes.
Tyagi is upset, because the media has descended upon the area, and the families have told them things that he has not.
One day ago, Tyagi had to confirm that Suleiman fell to a policeman’s bullet. It was the first instance in which the UP police admitted to killing a person in the violence that took place across the state, following UP chief minister Adityanath’s statement that ‘revenge would be taken’ on those who were ‘violently’ protesting the CAA.
We thought he had come in to assure the families that justice would be served. We were wrong.
The police are now accusing Suleiman of shooting a police officer, who then shot back in ‘self-defence’.
Suleiman’s is a joint family which lives in a house with four small rooms attached to a larger space, with exposed brick covered in pink paint. The main room has a water pump in the centre, and the floor is damp, plain cement. The paint peels in the corners of the ceilings, where wire cables hang exposed, and grime covering the tops of the walls which cannot be easily reached. A flurry of young women accompany me – his sisters and cousins – and older, more sedate women, who are his aunts.
His mother does not move. She has been lying in her bed since she buried her son, in a graveyard more than 20 km away, in a relative’s village near Bijnor.
When his mother cries, her eyes are dry. She moans softly, with a grief that is kept raw by people constantly asking questions. She has had no time, no sleep and no peace to process the fact that her son is dead. She wears red glass bangles on her hands. She says, “They killed my son. He was a good boy. They killed him. Mera Mera ”
Much has been said in the media about how he was studying for the UPSC exams because his goal was to join the civil services. His sister tells me that he has wanted to join the UPSC ever since he was a small child, when he watched movies about daring policemen. One of his favourite movies was Mumbai ki Kiran Bedi. “All he wanted out of life was the chance to serve his country,” his sister-in-law said.
His 19-year-old cousin Laiba is a delicate girl with a face of one much younger, framed in a soft pink hijab. She has a high voice, and was the closest to him both in age and in his family. “He always helped us study,” she said, when asked what kind of brother Suleiman had been “If we had any questions, he always knew the answers. We used to tease him, saying that he would become a tuition teacher, he was giving everyone tuitions all the time. He would be sitting in his study room all the time, and every time we went in, we would say we are going for tuitions. When his abba went in the room in the mornings, we used to say aap tuitions lene ke liye ja rahe ho.”
She covers her mouth when she giggles reflexively, going back to the teasing baby sister she is. “When we used to go for weddings, he used to say, jitna bhi makeup pehno, churail hi lagti hai,” she said, laughing. “He asked me to make Maggi for him once, he was hungry, and I made it with too much water, and he said, Laiba, aapki saas maregi, khaana nahi banana pata hai toh!”
This is the loving railery of siblings accustomed to teasing. In a split second, her laughter has hiccuped and she has bewildered tears streaming down her face.
“I told him not to study so much,” says his older sister Sheeba, 27. She has a toddler with her. Earlier, when the women were sitting on the cot and telling me what happened, Sheeba turned her face and buried it into the pile of blankets behind her, shuddering with silent sobs. She began to retch, and ran out of the room to vomit. “Sheeba ulti karni chali?” says an aunt who came in, with the resignation of one who has learnt the hard way that there is nothing she can do to help.
Suleiman didn’t make friends easily when he was young, and would be quiet with his family, his sister Sheeba said, and grew into talking more, even though the only thing he ever talked about were his studies. He did not speak about the CAA or the NRC to his family, and Sheeba says, “We were not worried about the NRC. If the NRC comes, we can show our documents for a hundred years, two hundred years, we have lived here. We didn’t talk about it.”
His sister-in-law pipes in, “Ham toh Adam ke zamane se yahin pe hai. Hamare nasle yahin hai.”
Suleiman first went to Greenwood Convent School. After that, he attended the Muslim Primary school, and from the 5th to 10th grade, he was at Saraswati Vidha Mandir. He went to HMI till his 12th, and attended RSM to do a BA in History.
The day before he was killed, Suleiman was extremely happy because his younger sister had won a drawing contest at Chandigarh. They could not go to get her prize, but he was hugely proud of her. He had said to her, “Chalo kuch toh hua badi hamari family mein.”
The evening that the incident took place, Suleiman had been ill, and had fever. Instead of going to the bigger mosque where he usually went for the evening namaz, he said he would go to the smaller mosque, just five minutes away from his home. He had just finished namaz at the mosque, and was walking home, when the police arrived, and had begun to hit people in the streets with lathis.
In the chaos, a gunshot rang out. Suleiman fell.
His body was taken away by the police.
SP Sanjeev Tyagi, in a statement to The Wire, said that a group of people had stolen the pistol of a sub-inspector, Ashish Tomar, and Suleiman was in that group. When the police gave chase, he says, Suleiman opened fire with a country pistol on the SWAT officer Mohit Kumar, who shot back in self defence.
He showed us a picture of Mohit Kumar, who has sustained an injury on the left side of his abdominal area – no puncture – where the bullet grazed his side. When he shot Suleiman, the bullet entered his abdomen.
His sisters are baffled, and then outraged at the allegations. “Where would he have got a gun?” asks one.
“They are lying to save themselves.” The weapon by which Suleiman allegedly shot Mohit Kumar has not been found. This statement from Tyagi does not come with a ballistics report, but is on the word of other policemen who saw what was happening, Tyagi claimed.
Tyagi says that when the shoot-out happened, the police collected around Mohit Kumar, and the protestors collected around Suleiman and each group took their man away. The family says this is not true. Suleiman’s uncle Anwar says that when the family found out Suleiman had been shot, they rushed to the spot to pick up his body. But when family members tried to take the body away, policemen stopped them at gunpoint. He says, “Chaati pe bandook rakh ke bola ki nahi le sakte hai. They said that he is dead, and if you do not leave, we will shoot you too.”
Suleiman was taken by the police for a post mortem. The report, which the family had to fight to gain access to, was only given to them on December 25, five days after he had been killed.
Anas, shot while out to buy milk
Anas was 20 years old. He used to work with his uncle in a business in Delhi which supplied coffee at weddings and other events, and when he came back to Rampur to visit, he used to do odd jobs – plumbing, attaching fittings. Anas had married “paune doh saal pehle”, and has a baby boy, Mohammad Adib, who is seven months old. He had been in Rampur for eight days when the protest took place.
His mother is angry, and not just at the fact that her son is dead.
“For three days the media has been coming and asking questions. Our sons have died and they have made a spectacle of us.”
She is angry because they have not allowed them to bury her son’s body in the kabristan nearby, and that only the family could go for the funeral, and that the community could not attend. She is angry because her son was so young, and he has left behind a widow who is even younger with a baby. She is angry because her son is gone.
Anas’s father is a gentle, soft-spoken man, who works as a tailor. Where Anas’s mother is full of rage, he speaks to us with a quiet bewilderment.
He takes us to the place where it happened, in the dark. As the media has reported, Anas had gone out to buy milk. His father walked in his steps on that day – outside the house, a small road leads to a corner with a small open patch of land, maybe eight feet across. In front of that, is a small gate, and to the right of that is a tiny alley – a separation between two houses just wide enough for a person to walk through, which leads back out into the road where there are shops.
Anas’s father walks through the alley and takes a single step, over an open water drain, and points to the shop on the right, where Anas would have gone to buy milk. “He just stepped out of the lane, and he heard the police, and turned his head to look,” he says, enacting the sequence of events, “And the bullet hit him straight in his eye,” he says, putting his finger to his own face in between his eye and his eyebrow. “Woh gir gaya.”
He stumbles carefully backward. He turns. He points to the blood on the street, that has seeped into the cracks. We have come four days after the blood has dried, and been walked into the cracks of the street, and it is still plainly visible. “We picked up his body and dragged him inside,” he said. Through the alley. Across the patch of land. Onto the corner. At the corner, 10 feet away from his own door, he points to the patch of blood where they had put down his body, checking if he was alive.
Anas’s uncle shows me a picture of his head after he was shot. It is gruesome, with a large chunk of his skull laid open.
The police say that his death happened when he was caught in the crossfire of a gun being fired by the crowd at the police. The street where it happened looks out into the large main road, where the protests had been taking place, and from where the police were coming into the lanes.
SP Tyagi, says that the area was communally sensitive, and the reason that the police had come out in force was to contain the communal violence that was threatening to break out.
Tyagi says a Hindu by the name of Omraj Saini was also shot, and uses that as the basis for asserting that communal violence was taking place. He says that Saini has also filed an FIR, which the police are looking into. When The Wire made further enquiries into this, Saini’s family said that they have not filed any such FIR. When enquiries were made at the police station about the FIR, the police said their computer had broken down, which was why no FIRs in the name of Saini were found. The Wire has asked SP Tyagi for the FIR number, and he has not yet provided it.
Every single family we spoke to at the time said that there has never been a history of communal sensitivity in the area. Anas’s uncle says, “Holi bhi yahaan sabh khelte hai. Ham ek jaise rehte hai.”
Even now, there is no ill-will being borne towards any Hindu families, or the religion – there is only terror of the police. Tyagi in a statement to The Wire said that he was proud of the way his policemen handled the situation, saying that it was a ‘daunting task’ to contain a crowd that had grown so large.
Anas’s father said, “Everyone in the neighbourhood, if they were old or young, was his friend. If he saw you on the street, he would come and say ‘behna behna’, aur gale lagate. Woh bohot khushmajaz the. He wore his friend’s clothes more than he wore his own. If he saw good clothes, he would take pictures of them, pictures of pants –” his breath hitches, and tears run down his face. There is only the sound of his silent crying in the freezing night.
He used to ask his father to make him new clothes, a new suit, and his father would say, I’ll make you one when you marry. At his sister’s wedding, he asked his father, when will you arrange my marriage, and his father said, you are too young, not yet. Then he fell in love with a girl from the neighbourhood, and at his wedding, his father made his clothes.
His father says there are still three or four new kurtas lying at home, that Anas hasn’t even worn yet. His father makes clothes for a designer in Dubai that he calls “Loomer”. When he gave his son those, Anas said he didn’t want to wear white. “He wore checks, modern clothes, saying he wouldn’t wear those kinds of clothes – lafanga wale, jahil wale.”
He falls quiet. “Kya baat hai,” he says. “Zindagi insaan ki. Mujhe kehna hai, ki jitne bhi ye neta log baithe hain, har shaakh pe ulloo baitha hai, anjaam-e-gulistan kya hoga.” (One owl is enough / to destroy the garden / What will happen if / There is an owl on every branch?)
He falls quiet. It is late. We are standing just beside his son’s blood. He looks up at me, smiles tiredly, and says with deep courtesy, “Ijazat chahta hoon.” I will take your leave.
He slowly walks back home.
This story first appeared in The Wire on December 26, 2019 here.