By SUNIL KASHYAP AND ZUBAIR KHAN
Members of seven Muslim households in Faridpur Kazi in Uttar Pradesh told us that between 7.30 pm and 8.30 pm on 8 May, police personnel attacked their homes, verbally abused them and detained three men. The police personnel arrived around the time of iftar, the evening meal that breaks the roza, the dawn-to-dusk fast observed by Muslims on each day of Ramadan. They hurled abuses at the residents and rummaged through their homes, with a focus on kitchen items in most houses—they threw around utensils and leftover food. Most members of the households told us the police gave them no reason for the search. The policemen beat up a few of male members in the households and took three men to Kotwali Thana, a police station in Bijnor city, a few kilometres away. The next morning, the village’s sarpanch Iqbal went to the police station, after which the men were released without any chargesheet or first-information report, one of the detained men said. Iqbal told us that the police had said that they “came to the village on the basis of suspicion. They had been informed that a cow has been slaughtered.”
Two news reports suggest that the raids were a part of a larger crackdown by the Uttar Pradesh Police against cow slaughter in the state. On 12 May, the Times of India reported, “Western UP has witnessed a sudden surge in encounters and arrests in the last leg of 15-day crackdown launched against ‘smugglers and slaughterers’ of cow in the state.” It mentioned police firing and raids that had occurred in different areas of the state, including in Bijnor, as a part of this effort. The news agency United News of India published a report two days later, which said that the “Uttar Pradesh government has issued an advisory to demarcate suspected areas were illegal slaughtering is taking place and declare them as ‘hotspots’ as done for coronavirus cases.” The crackdown reportedly happened at a time when the country was grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most people we spoke to in Faridpur Kazi worked on farms. They said they were resting at home when the police came. Among them was Bhura Khan, a 45-year-old man who owns a sugarcane farm of 25 bighas. That day, he had filled a trolley with sugarcane from his farm, which he had to deliver to the Bijnor Sugar Mill at 11 pm. He went home with the trolley in the evening, where he lived with his wife and four children. “I had reached home and had iftar just a while before the police came. I was resting on my charpoy when suddenly, several policemen arrived at my door,” Khan said. He said the police personnel asked, “Who is Bhura?” Khan said he started to run in fear. “Then, someone from behind struck a baton on my waist and I fell,” he said.
“This fractured a bone in my left leg, near the knee, and my foot was swollen.” Khan is the sole earner in his family. “I have a lot of sugarcane which has to be taken to the mill. I was supposed to have sown sugarcane in my field but haven’t been able to yet,” he said. “Now, my leg has been broken. How will I do all this work?”
Khan told us that the police verbally abused him and frightened his wife and children that night. At one point, he said, his 15-year-old son asked a policeman, “Uncle, what has happened?” and they responded by hitting him with a lathi as well. “They wrecked our entire home. They threw leftover food on the ground. We did not even know why the police had come.”
Like Khan, Nurhassan, a labourer, also said that the police did not tell him why his house was being attacked. When the police arrived that night, he was at home with his two children. “They began conducting a search of the house. When I asked what happened and they started abusing me. I could not understand anything.” Nurhassan said the police personnel hit him and his 12-year-old son with a stick. “I could not understand why the police had come to our house.”
Only one of the residents we spoke to had received an explanation of sorts from the police. Imrana, a woman in her fifties, told us that the police arrived at her house at around 8 pm. “I had just come back home after feeding my buffalo. I got scared when I saw so many policemen in my house,” she said. “My daughters-in-law had cut pieces of watermelon, but the police threw them away. We had prepared a sabzi. They threw that too.” The policemen verbally abused her and her three daughters-in-law. She asked them why they were raiding the house, but received no response. When her younger son asked what the matter was, a policeman replied, “You eat a lot of beef.”
Everyone told us that the police spoke to them with contempt, hurling verbal abuses throughout the duration of the raids. The police also went to the home of Chhoti, a middle-aged woman. She said that at least twenty-five policemen had arrived looking for her son, Faheem. “Faheem had gone to bring straw from the field at that time. I was with Faheem’s wife and their two little children. They started hurling filthy abuses at me and Faheem’s wife.” They searched the house, without explaining what they were looking for. “I asked them why they were doing this. They replied with nothing but abusive words. My grandchildren peed their pants in fear.”
Chhoti described the damage the police had done to her home. “They trashed everything in the house. They threw away leftover food,” she said. “They broke utensils which were made of glass and even the door to our house.” She said that even before the attack, the family had been in distress. “We were just worried about our work till then. Due to the rains, wheat had been harvested late and then it rained again. Because of that, it took time for it to be processed in the machine. That wheat has spoiled.”
From the other homes, the police picked up three men—Mohammad Matim, Dilshad Ahmed and Varish Ahmed, aged 22, 28 and 30, respectively—who gave us their accounts. Matim said he used to work as a painter in Dehradun and had returned home 15 days before the lockdown began. Matim, his wife, his three brothers and his elder brother’s wife were at home that night. He had gone to his room after iftar, when the police came and started banging on their main door. “The police broke the door to our house. After hearing the loud noise, I went out to my courtyard. The police started abusing me and beat me up,” he said. “Everyone in my house was frightened.”
According to Matim, the police was violent. “They hit my younger brother Tasim with a danda,” he said. “The doors of our house, utensils, stove—they broke everything.” Matim had asked one of them, “Sir, what has happened?” The policeman swore at him and replied, “Let me show you.” They took him to the police station.
Dilshad and Varish, who were also taken to the police station, told us that a similar chain of events had unfolded at their homes. Dilshad said the police’s sudden arrival and their aggressive demeanour had scared his family, which comprised his wife, his parents, his two brothers and their wives. “The policemen started hurling dirty abuses and badly damaged our belongings,” he said. When the police arrived at Varish’s home, he said, they were looking for his younger brother Anish, who was not present there. “Mummy and Papa were very scared,” Varish said. “The police threw things around in our house, broke things, including my bike.” He said, “I asked, ‘Sir, what happened?’ He replied, while abusing me, ‘I will tell you. Come to the station with us.’” He was made to sit in a vehicle, which Matim and Dilshad were already in.
Matim told us that at the station, other policemen asked them why they had been brought there. “We said we did not even know that.” They had to spend the night at the police station. “The next day, Iqbal, our village’s sarpanch, was called and we were released. He told us that the police had come to our house on suspicion of cow slaughter.” Matim added, “We don’t know who told the police this rumour.” Iqbal confirmed to us that the police had told him that they had been taken to the police station on the suspicion of cow slaughter.
We asked Ramesh Chandra Sharma, the station-head officer of the Bijnor police station, about the police’s raids. “To my knowledge, there is no such matter,” he replied.
By the next morning, word had spread that the police had raided some homes due to an incident related to cow slaughter. We spoke to a couple of other villagers who said that they did not think that a cow-slaughtering incident could take place in their village. Naresh Kumar Prajapati, who runs an atta mill in the village, said that other villagers had informed him that the police had raided some homes due to an incident related to cow slaughter. But, he said, “We do not have any such thing here. Most Muslims come to my mill only. The police is unnecessarily harassing the villagers. ”
We also spoke to Ashok, who works with in Noida and had come back home to Faridpur Kazi due to the lockdown. He said he did not think that any cow could be slaughtered in his village. “Someone must have given wrong information to the police. There is a lot of brotherhood in our village. We have a lot of love for each other,” he said. “My field and those of Muslims are all in the same area. We farm together. Now sugarcane is being sown in the village and we are all helping each other.”
Iqbal said that it was wrong of the police to wreck people’s homes. “They should not have done so,” he said. “They should not be suspicious without any reason, too.”
This story first appeared on caravanmagazine.in