In the early hours of 30 August, personnel of the Uttar Pradesh Police brutally assaulted Salim Qureshi, a 55-year-old fruit seller, at his house in Ghazipur district’s Dildarnagar village, according to his family. Qureshi’s wife, Sarvari Begum, said the policemen arrived at the house at around 2 am and hit her husband so much that a part of his heel broke away from the right foot. After this, she said, the police stole Rs 20,000 from him and ran away. While Begum told me that the policemen refused to give any reason behind the assault, the Uttar Pradesh police claimed that they visited the house based on an input regarding illegal cow slaughter.
Begum told me that she could not identify the policemen at the time of the attack. But on 4 September, in an application to the superintendent of Ghazpiur district, seeking the registration of a first-information report in the incident, she named four police officials of the Dildarnagar police station as the assailants—the sub inspector Sandeep Kumar, and the constables Vineet Kumar, Raju Kumar, Kundan Kumar. The same four officials were sent to the police lines. She mentioned that the fifth assailant had not been identified. In her application, she requested the superintendent to intervene in the matter as the police officials in Dildarnagar had refused to register an FIR in the case. The letter was also marked to the deputy inspector general and inspector general of police in Varanasi district, and the National Human Rights Commission office in Lucknow.
Qureshi’s family members are among several Muslim villagers who told The Caravan this year that the Uttar Pradesh Police has assaulted or harassed them. In a conspicuously similar case, members of seven Muslim households in Bijnor district’s Faridpur Kazi village told me that on the night of 8 May, policemen attacked their homes, verbally abused them and beat up the men at home. They later found that the police had conducted the raids on the suspicion of cow slaughter. Dr Khalid Anis Ansari, a sociologist at the Glocal University in Saharanpur district, told me, “In my area too, such incidents are happening there every day.” Ansari, who has researched on Pasmanda Muslims, said that the police is targeting poor Muslims under the guise of curbing cow slaughter in the state.
Begum, a 50-year-old, told me that her husband has been selling fruits from a cart for a decade now. The couple has six children, two of whom are married and do not live in the same village. She said another son assisted Qureshi and lived elsewhere in the village. On the night of 30 August, Begum told me, she, her husband, three of their children and another relative—a young boy—were sleeping at home.
When the police knocked on the door to the house, Begum said she was the first one to respond and ask who was there. “A man said, ‘I am Aslam.’ I asked, ‘Aslam who?’ The voice seemed unfamiliar, not of anyone in our neighbourhood,” she told me. Begum kept asking the man to identify himself correctly, but received the same response. She said she went to the roof to see who it was, but someone flashed a torch on her face so she was unable to see. “I again asked, ‘Who are you?’ They started giving maa-behen ki gaali”—profanities, abusing mothers and sisters.
The man insisted she unlatch the door, Begum said. “Then he started beating our doors—one door led to our home, the other to a sitting room where my husband was sleeping. He woke up and answered.” The couple’s 15-year-old daughter Subi Khatoon said she woke up after hearing the commotion. “Abbu opened the door and five men were there, who started beating him,” she told me. “Three were in uniform, two were without uniform. They were all drunk and no policewoman had accompanied them. While my mother was pleading with them, they hit her also.”
Begum said she kept asking the policemen why they were attacking Qureshi, but received no answer. She told me that at one point during the assault, the policemen noticed that one of the rooms in the house was locked, which belonged to her elder soon who worked in Mumbai as a labourer. She said one of the men remarked, “It must be hidden here.” They continued to hurl verbal abuses at the family. “I asked them to talk properly, and they responded by slapping me twice,” she said. The family members handed over the keys to the room and the policemen saw that there was nothing out of the ordinary there, Begum told me.
“They began hitting my husband again, punching and kicking him,” she said. The attackers also charged lathis, Khatoon said, and that her “abbu began shaking.” Begum told me, “I said, ‘Sahib, leave my husband, he will die.’ They again slapped me twice.”
The men started dragging Qureshi out of the house, Begum said. “I saw my husband was losing consciousness,” she told me. “I held their feet, pleaded them to leave my husband. The man said, ‘This is drama,’ and kept beating him. They were saying, ‘Hit him so much that his arms and legs break.’ Me, my daughter were just crying, trying to make them let go of my husband.”
“At that point, I don’t know what they hit him with, but a part of his heel broke away from his foot,” Begum said. Qureshi began screaming in pain. “Even after that, they mercilessly kept dragging him outside, leaving a trail of blood everywhere.” Khatoon said she continued to plead with the policemen to stop but they did not relent. Instead, Begum told me, the attackers threatened them: “Go away, or we will hit even more.” But the women said they kept following the attackers outside and eventually saw that Qureshi had fainted.
It was then that the policemen stole Rs 20,000, Begum said. According to her, Qureshi had slept with the money in his pocket as he needed it to payback a shopkeeper the next day. “He had to give Rs 20,000 to a shopkeeper, from whom he had taken fruit on credit during the coronavirus lockdown. The attackers took that money also,” Begum said. “They took it out, left my husband and began running away from there.” She told me that she managed to catch hold of one of them. “I said, ‘I will call the pradhan’”—the village headman. “The man replied, while abusing me, ‘Woh humaara kya bigaad lega?’”—What will he be able to do to us? The assailant then left, she said. Khatoon told me that a policeman left his mask and slippers in their courtyard.
The family brought a cot outside, shifted Qureshi on it and carried him back inside, Begum said. “There was an atmosphere of terror till the time of the morning azan”—the call to prayer in Islam—Begum said. “We feared that they would return. We are just watching the time pass and sobbing.” Khatoon told me, “I have never seen such a thing. I was very scared. We do not know why they came.”
In a video statement posted on Twitter on 31 August, OP Singh, the superintendent of police in Ghazipur, admitted that personnel from the Dildarnagar police station had visited Qureshi’s house based on an input about cow slaughter. Singh said in the video that according to an inspector at Dildarnagar, when the personnel tried to ask for Qureshi, he began to run away by jumping a five-feet tall wall in the house, and in the middle of all this, he hurt his foot. When I asked Singh about the case, he said, “The matter is under investigation right now. One SI and three soldiers have been sent to the police lines.” He told me that the commanding officer of Ghazipur’s Zamania town is investigating the matter. “Strict action will be taken against whoever is responsible.”
Naseem Raza Khan, an independent journalist who resides in the village, believed that the police lied about Qureshi’s injury. Khan said he visited Qureshi’s home on the morning of 30 August and saw that he was in a serious condition. “The wall in his house is not that high—it is three-feet tall. No one’s foot will break apart after falling from there,” he said. An injury examination form, issued by a district level government hospital, also noted that Qureshi’s “bone came out from original position.”
Khan pointed out that it was strange for the police to follow up on an input so late in the night. “Even if the police had any such input, they could have gone in the evening, at 7–8 pm.”
The Uttar Pradesh government led by the chief minister Ajay Singh Bisht—commonly known as Yogi Adityanath—has stepped up efforts to curtail cow slaughter during the pandemic. This year, as of 8 June, the state police had reportedly arrested 3,867 people who were involved in cow slaughter, smuggling or both. According to a report in Outlook, 76 people accused of cow slaughter have been booked under the National Security Act. In early June, the state government approved a draft of the Uttar Pradesh Cabinet Cow Slaughter Prevention (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, which increased some penalties laid out in the Uttar Pradesh Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1955.
According to Ansari, the sociologist, the police generally conducts raids on the suspicion of a cow slaughter case on the basis of inputs from a “mukhbir,” an informant. “The problem here is that when the police does not find any evidence, it beats up people, instils fear in them,” he said. “And this is happening to the poor section of the Muslim community, most of whom are labourers.”
There can be two reasons behind this, Ansari said. “One, forcible extortion has become a business,” he said. “Or the police’s religious bias is showing. The police requires workshops to end religious prejudice.” He said that the instances of violence were a result of the “overzealousness” of the police. “Someone’s house has been ransacked, someone’s foot has been broken. This is being done too much,” Ansari said. “Under the guise of stringently implementing the law, the police is indulging in hooliganism.”
Meanwhile, Qureshi has been admitted to the Hari Bandhu hospital in Varanasi district for an operation on his foot. The family told me on 1 September that they still do not know on what basis the police had come to their house.
“My father had never even picked up a fight with anyone,” Khatoon said. “He used to tell us that policemen would eat fruits from his handcart without paying any money.” Khatoon added that since the fruit cart was the only source of income for running their household, the family did now know how they would make ends meet now. “I was the only one studying in our house. I passed high school this year,” she said. “I used to think I will make my ammi and abbu proud. Now, all our dreams have been shattered. Our life is ruined.”