Our second day in Shamli began with a meeting of another kind of violence that families are grappling with in western Uttar Pradesh, since the appointment of the Yogi Adityanath government.
It is not unusual for the front pages of local newspapers to be filled with sensational stories of “dreaded criminals” killed or injured in shootouts with the police.
The media publishes the police version of each of these “encounters” uncritically. Almost 30 such encounters have occurred since the new government came to power in Uttar Pradesh. It does not appear strange to the media who dutifully report the stories in which the men shot are almost always Muslims.
Nothing seems suspicious to the media despite the fact that in none of these shootouts are the police seriously injured. They just report minor injuries usually on the shoulders or arms. It does not worry reporters that most of the men killed or injured in these “encounters” are either just petty criminals or men with no criminal records at all.
One such family met us in Shamli. I will not mention their names so that they do not get into trouble with the police.
Their son, a young man in his twenties with no police record, was picked up by the police along with his friend from his village, although the police initially made no official record of their detention.
One night, they were taken to a sugarcane field and the policemen asked them to run. They were terrified, but refused, fearing that the police would shoot them in their backs. They then laid them on a field, and shot them through their ankles, knees and elbows.
The police reported the next day that they were dangerous criminals, and they had tried to run away from the police, firing at them. In self-defence, the police shot them. No one asked how the men on the run could have been shot with such accuracy on their ankles and knees in a field with the sugarcane crop standing high. Today their son is in jail and in intense pain all the time. They are day labourers, but have invested all their savings in the man’s treatment in the jail hospital. They don’t have any money left to hire an advocate. They fear their son may never be able to walk again. Even more dangerously, they fear that he will never be able to prove his innocence.
No one asked how the men on the run could have been shot with such accuracy on their ankles and knees in a field with the sugarcane crop standing high.
Incidents like this are not unusual. Cases of new encounters are added every other day in Yogi Adityanath’s UP, and there seems to be no end in sight.
In the build-up to the elections, the BJP and RSS created an impression that Muslims in western UP were the cause of the high crime rate, and that crimes increased after the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 as the number of Muslims rose in towns and villages.
A series of reports on Muslim men, all “dreaded criminals”, being shot by the UP police in large numbers, gives credence to the communal stereotyping of Muslims as criminals. It presents that UP government under strongman Yogi Adityanath as the only one with the resolve to abandon the alleged “appeasement” of Muslims by earlier governments, and come down hard on these “criminal elements”.
Muslims of the region were already living in the fear of lynching. Today they are faced with an even greater fear that they may be dubbed criminals and shot one dark night.
Our next halt in the pilgrimage of the Karwan was in Khurgaon village in district Shamli, at the home of an old man who lost his son to a mob in 2013.
The old man, his face lined with suffering, was expecting the visit of the Karwan. And yet when we arrived, for a long time he was frightened to speak. We did not force him to talk. But after a while, he wept as he spoke of the wounds of a father who did not know who killed his son. He wasn’t hope of getting justice. His son, Mohammad Salim, recently married, had gone out for work with a friend to neighbouring Haryana. News came, not from the police but from his companion that a mob of around nine men had attacked Salim.
He was badly injured when they found him. They took him to a private hospital, but they could not save him. The police did not do a post-mortem on his body, and handed it over to them for his burial.
More than a week later as pressure built on the state administration, the body of their son was exhumed, and a post-mortem conducted. The words used by his heartbroken father was “kabar phad diya”. (His grave was dug up).
Though he considered it inauspicious, the father consented to it only in the hope that justice would follow. But despite their many efforts, they have not even been given a copy of the post-mortem report.
“I just want to know how my son died,” the old man said weeping. “Maine sabra kar li (I have been patient),” he added.
“I have decided to endure,” he said.
But endure what? The loss of a son to a violent mob, not knowing how this happened, and accepting that justice will never be done. We assured him that we would help him in his fight for justice, and that he should lose hope.
The man said he if someone could just show him his son’s post-mortem report, he wished that person goes to heaven.