In the Muslim-dominated Taprana village of Shamli district in western Uttar Pradesh, a leaflet stuck outside close to fifty Muslim homes read:
This house is for sale. We are forced to flee the village due to ransacking and destruction by the police and its informers. Our children and women are mentally compelled to leave the village.
These Muslim families—90 percent of Taprana’s population comprises Muslims—had decided to leave after an attack that occurred on the intervening night of 26 and 27 May. Residents alleged that around two hundred police personnel, members of the Provincial Armed Constabulary, or PAC, and local informers attacked the villagers. They severely beat up dozens of Muslim residents—including a 13-year-old girl and a 30-year-old man with a mental disability—verbally abused them, ransacked their homes, and destroyed their belongings. The police were so barbaric, villagers said, that they brutally beat up children and senior citizens, used slurs against the women, and even thrashed the cattle tied in the courtyard of a house. Some residents further alleged that the police personnel looted their savings and valuables such as jewellery.
According to local residents, police officials from the nearby Jhinjhana police station first showed up in Taprana on 25 May, on Eid, to arrest two brothers named Afzal and Imran. The brothers were accused of cow slaughter and had been ordered to leave the district. The police received information that the two had come home for Eid. Jamshed Ali, a 65-year-old resident, said that when the police arrived to arrest Afzal and Imran on the night of 25 May, Afzal unsuccessfully attempted to flee. Meanwhile, their family members and some villagers gathered to persuade the police to not take them away that night. “They requested the police, saying that he is not a murderer,” Ali said. “They told the police, that ‘you could have come in the morning, or asked us, and we would have sent him’ … But the policemen said he was guilty of having entered the district when he had been asked to stay away, and insisted on taking him.” An argument ensued, but the police relented.
The next evening, the police came back at around 10 pm. Afzal and Imran were not at home, a neighbour told us, on the condition of anonymity. He said that the police asked the villagers and the family to ensure “turn in the brothers or face the consequences.” An hour later, villagers located and accompanied Afzal to the police station, to turn him in—Imran remained absconding, according to the neighbour. A few hours later, several residents told us, police personnel surrounded the village and began to ransack homes and beat up residents. Members of the PAC accompanied the police on its rampage, locals alleged. Ali said, “about 200 police and PAC jawans in 10 or 12 cars came for the first house in the street and made their way, one by one, until the last one.”
Early in the morning on 27 May, the police registered a first information report against 42 residents of the village—all Muslim men—alleging instead that the men attacked the police officials to prevent them from arresting the brothers. The FIR accused the villagers of having pelted stones at the police, shot at them, and severely injuring at least two officers. The FIR also mentions eighty to ninety “unknown” accused of violence, and notes that the police subsequently arrested 23 men. Nafeez Khan, a local lawyer representing many of the accused, told us that the arrested men are in jail, and that their bail hearing will take place on 19 June.
The contents of the FIR are not borne out by the fear and destruction we witnessed in the village. Nearly two weeks after the incident, when we visited Taprana, it was evident that the small village had been silenced by fear. Many villagers were at first reluctant to share their accounts or be videographed fearing that the police would include them among the “unknown” accused in the FIR. One person said, “If we speak in front of you, the police will also add our name to this incident.” Villagers alleged that after Ayaz Khan, a doctor in the village, spoke to local media about the police’s alleged conduct, his name was added to the FIR. Others directed us to the pradhan, saying he would be able to give me an account of the incident. Some residents showed us the wounds they had received during the police attack, but still did not reveal their names. Others only gave us their first names.
Only a few hours after our arrival did people discuss the attack—women and children began recounting their ordeal, and others followed. “I cannot forget the horror of that night,” Mumtaz, a 45-year-old, said. “The police’s abuses are ringing in my ears.” Some people took us around to their homes, to show the havoc the police had wreaked. “The police took many people unrelated to the crime,” Jamshed Ali, a 65-year-old resident, said, referring to the accusations against the two brothers. “Not knowing who they will pick up next, five hundred or so people have left the village. They all fled due to the fear of the police.”
Zameer Khan, a 70-year-old, was sleeping in the courtyard when he heard sounds his neighbours’ homes being ransancked. He said, “I woke up and went inside the house. My wife and two daughters were there. My daughter said, ‘Abbu, you run away from here.’ I said, ‘Where should I go? I am an old man.’” Khan sat inside the house, he said. He recalled that the policemen broke the door of his sitting room. “They started ransacking the whole house. I told them, ‘These are my daughters, please don’t hit them.’ The police man promptly hit me three times with a stick and then brought me outside. One held me forcefully and the other hit me repeatedly.” The police personnel hit his daughters as well, Khan said. “When one of my daughters took out a phone to shoot a video of the goings on, the police hit her and broke her mobile. They hit my wife too. They were beating me outside, and my wife and daughters inside. They did not listen to anyone.”
When he fell to the ground, Khan said, the police personnel said they would take him with them in their car. “I said my leg is broken, and I’m an old man of 70 years. Then they told me to not go outside and to stay where I was. I just lay there, even as my pain kept increasing.” The police broke everything in his house, Khan said. “The chair, the wall the clock, the bulb, the fridge, the cooler, the fan, the cupboard—it’s all gone.”
Khan said that he had arranged for the marriages of his daughter and his son to take place on consecutive days, on 12 and 13 April, but after the government announced a nationwide lockdown to combat the novel coronavirus, the family postponed the celebrations. In preparation for the weddings, however, Khan said that he had bought two sets of earrings and set aside Rs 2 lakh in cash. “I had taken a loan of one lakh rupees against my land with a credit card, and my sons had saved up money by working as daily-wage labourers,” Khan said. “The police took everything away.” According to Khan, there were over 30 policemen in my house that night.
He added that his nephew had driven from Delhi to visit the family over Eid. The police also broke his nephew’s car, Khan said. “They have written the name of one of my children in FIR too,” he said.
Khan’s family is among the dozens who stuck a notice outside their house after the attack, putting it up for sale. “We are completely scared of the police here. For this reason, we have put pamphlets on our homes. But the police also tore up those leaflets later,” he said. He remained fearful that the police would continue to harass the villagers. “I could not walk for 7 days after the attack,” Khan said. “We still cannot sleep in the night. We are scared.” After the incident, Khan called five people from the village on 31 May and conducted his daughter’s wedding ceremony.
Khan’s 22-year-old daughter Zainad echoed his account. She said she was sleeping inside her house when the attack took place, at around 3.30 am. “We were woken up by crashing sounds and abuses being hurled at us,” she said. “Police and PAC had broken through the door of our house and begun vandalising it. They hit the door of the room in which we were sleeping so hard that it broke.” It was Zainad’s phone that the police broke, when she attempted to record a video on it. “They beat my sisters, my ammi and my abbu,” she said, referring to her parents. “No one beats a man of this age so ruthlessly.”
According to Ali, the 65-year-old, the police destroyed “two cars of the locality … 10 bikes were broken and whatever items appeared in the house, chest, cupboards, fridge, washing machine, LED TV, all were destroyed.” Ali said that the police told the Muslim residents, “Go to Pakistan from here. What are you doing here? Make your way to Pakistan or the graveyard.” Like other villagers, Ali, too, said he was afraid to be speaking out against the police, lest he also be arrested. “Why were they calling us Pakistani?” he asked. “Didn’t Muslims also help this country gain independence? We belong to this country, we have not come from outside somewhere. We have also made sacrifices for the sake of this country.”
Ali has two sons. One drives a truck and the other works in Oman. “He was also came home on Eid and got his name written in the FIR,” Ali said, referring to his second son. “I am scared of this village too. I am the only man in my house and there are my daughters-in-law.” Referring to police excesses, he said, “This is happening more with the Muslims and they are being beaten more and more.” The fear of being implicated in the violence and being accused had led hundreds to leave, he said. “They have imposed 19 sections on the accused … Who knows who will be arrested next?”
In the intervening the police also intimidated and threatened Mumtaz, the 45-year-old. She said that the police broke everything that was kept outside her home—such as the electricity meter—and then forcefully entered. She said that around thirty-five police personnel attacked the house. “I was very scared because I thought they would kill my child,” she said. “At that time, only my five-year-old child and I were in the house.” The policemen used derogatory language and verbal abuses, she said, as they vandalised her home. “I pleaded with them to stop and leave, saying that they there is no man in the house, but those evil men did not relent,” she said. “My child was so scared … They were abusing me in such a way that I cannot even tell you. I had kept Rs 10,000 for house expenses in a drawer, they took that out. But at that time, I was only worried about my child, just hoping that we make it out alive.”
Mumtaz left her home after the incident and only returned on 6 June. She too has decided to sell her home and leave the village. “They broke all our belongings, they turned us out onto the street. We have been forced to sell our house and leave the village. The government is also not supporting us. What should we do in this condition?” she asked. “If we were not the perpetrators, then why did we suffer so much? Even in the evening we are unable to go out of the house.” She said she wanted to leave the village to save herself and her family from the police and its informers. “We will live anywhere. We will do some hard work, and stay away from the police anywhere. If our children were gone, what would we do? If our children are with us, the future can be worked out.”
Shaista, a 43-year-old, was sleeping in an upstairs room of her home, with her three daughters, when the police entered their house. Her son was sleeping on the ground floor “They started began beating my son. I couldn’t help but scream,” she said. Her son has sat for his tenth standard examinations this year and was studying online for the eleventh standard. “I had never even let my child go out for any work and the policemen took him with them, beating him all the while,” she said.
She alleged that the police personnel stole Rs 1,50,000 rupees, half a kilo of silver, and about fifty grams of gold. “They were abusing me, saying, ‘Saali, you will throw stones and bricks?’” She continued, “We had returned to our home the same day and we did not even know anything.” The police broke even the toilet of the house, Shaista said.
Naima, a 70-year-old said that she and her son Mehboob, who suffers from a mental disability, were home when the police attacked. “Two policemen came to my house to beat my son. I said, ‘Bhai, he is not right in the head, don’t beat him, but the policeman pushed me away. My head hit the door. Then they hit me three times with a stick.” The policemen continued to beat her son and break their meagre belongings—the bucket, the stove, the fan, and the bed. “We are poor, we beg and eat,” Naima said. “On Eid, the locals had given us Rs 3,000—the police took that money, and took away Mehboob.” Her son is unable to even feed himself, Naima said. “He had gone missing a few years ago, and only returned two years earlier. I am worried about him. God only knows how he is right now.”
The police beat up even the youngest children in the village. A 13-year-old girl said that when the police broke down her house’s door, she panicked and hid under the cot. “It was the second day after Eid and my father, my two brothers, my two sisters and my brother-in-law were in the house. As soon as the police entered, they started vandalising our home,” she said. “I hid under the bed. When they started beating my brother and Abbu, I let out a scream. Then they hit me, too, and beat me a lot.” The 13-year-old began crying as she recounted the attack to us, and fell unconscious. Her neighbours and other villagers gathered and helped revive her.
The 13-year-old said that the police beat her mother and sister-in-law as well. The personnel took away her father, brother and brother-in-law, all of whom work as barbers. At present, she said, there are no men in their house and the women are scared. They do not know when the men will be freed. The neighbours and locals said that this family lived a hand-to-mouth existence, and was already financially strained owing to the lockdown.
On the day after the attack, the public-relations office in Shamli released a press note claiming that on 26 May, the villagers attacked the police upon its arrival in Taprana to arrest Afzal. “There was an announcement in the village mosque by some anti-social elements, encouraging the rowdy crowd to attack the police,” the note claimed. It further said that the villagers pelted stones at the police, and that they shot at the police. “A sub-inspector was injured and two persons were injured severely on their head and face,” the note said. “The police has taken note of the leaflets stuck outside the residents’ home, which are meant to add to the pressure on the police and to evade arrest.” The note claimed that the police is investigating 45 known and between eighty and ninety unknown persons in relation to the violence.
Vineet Jaiswal, the superintendent of police in the Shamli district, also contradicted the villager’s accounts, and stuck by the claims made in the FIR and the press note. “The announcement at the mosque said that none of these kaffirs should be not be left alive,” he claimed. Jaiswal confirmed that the police had visited the village on 25 May, and added that police personnel from five police stations went the next day. When I asked him about the allegations that the police had looted the villagers, he said that the department “has received 5–6 such complaints and is looking into it.” He added that the villagers’ allegations could not stand. “We have only one and half battalion of PAC,” he said, indicating that the police did not have as many personnel as the villagers had alleged. “Here in Shamli, every other month people put out a leaflet to pressurise the police,” he said. Jaiswal sent The Caravan some video clips, of a destroyed police car and a police officer with a bandage around his head. We have been unable to verify the veracity of the contents.