A year on, no FIRs against Meerut police for men killed in CAA protests, PIL languishes in Allahabad HC

Nafisa Begum (left) and Mohsina (right), the mother and sister of Mohsin, a 26-year-old who was shot dead during the anti-CAA protests in Meerut in December 2019. Five Muslim men were shot dead in the city on a single day. Their families allege the police shot them. Rishi Kochhar for The Caravan

Over a year since five Muslim men were killed in Meerut on a single day, allegedly from police firing during protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019, the Uttar Pradesh police is yet to lodge first information reports against repeated complaints by the deceased men’s families. Through the year, the family members of the deceased have regularly filed formal complaints with the highest levels of the Uttar Pradesh police and senior members of the Meerut administration, naming dozens of police personnel as responsible for their relatives’ deaths. Citing eyewitness accounts, the complainants write that on 20 December 2019, the police opened “andhadun,” or indiscriminate firing on anti-CAA protesters “with the intention of causing death.” Their relatives died from this firing, the families state, adding that the men were not among the protesters but just bystanders.

The police later claimed that four other FIRs registered by the Meerut police were related to the five deaths. But none of these FIRs recorded the accusations of the families—none of them recorded any police firing at all, despite the family’s complaints. Further, the police has claimed its investigation revealed that the men were killed by protesters who opened fire on the police. The family members of nearly all the men have written in their complaints that the police has continuously threatened and intimidated them, in an attempt to have them withdraw their statements. The UP police did not respond to detailed queries regarding the complaints.

The five men who were killed in Meerut—a dhaba-worker named Aleem Ansari, a scrap dealer named Mohsin, a cattle-fodder trader named Zaheer, an e-rickshaw puller named Mohammed Asif, and a tyre-repairman named Asif Khan—were sole breadwinners of poor families. They all faced grievous bullet injuries between 2 pm and 6 pm on 20 December, and eventually died the same day.

Family members of several of the men noted that they filed complaints with the relevant police stations on the day of the incident, but that the police ignored these. Four men’s families have approached magistrates’ courts seeking orders for an FIR against the police, but their pleas were either rejected or are yet to be heard. In the past year, relatives of Mohsin, Aleem, Mohammed Asif and Zaheer have approached the senior superintendent of the police in Meerut, the inspector general of police in Meerut, the district magistrate of Meerut and the director general of the Uttar Pradesh police. Mohammed Asif’s father also approached the National Minorities Commission, which closed his complaint after receiving a police reply claiming that protesters shot Asif.

In 2019, twenty-two Muslims, including a 7-year-old, lost their lives in Uttar Pradesh within just two days—20 and 21 December—in the anti-CAA protests, primarily in Meerut, Kanpur, Firozabad, Muzaffarnagar, Sambhal, Rampur, Bijnor and Varanasi. A public-interest litigation demanding an investigation into police excesses and the deaths in UP is pending before the Allahabad High Court, but no hearings have taken place since February 2020. Upon directions from the court, in February, the UP police had submitted hundreds of pages summarising its investigation into the 22 deaths. It denied any wrongdoing in its reply to the court, claiming that “no one lost his life due to police action.”

The Caravan has a copy of the documents submitted to the high court. Looking at the submissions and other documents from its investigation, it appears that the Meerut police consistently ignored accounts of firing by its own personnel, especially from the family members of the deceased. The family members’ complaints tally with eyewitness accounts published by the media in December 2019, including a detailed report by this publication. Ali Zaidi, who is representing the families along with the advocate Riyasat Ali, said that the police and the administration had never paid any heed to their version. “Humko toh kabhi entertain hi nahi kiya gaya,” Zaidi said—we were never entertained. “Some of the things in these cases cannot be justified from a legal point of view. The complaint is against them and they are only investigating it.”

The law of the land dictates that the police must register an FIR into any complaint where a cognisable offence is made out, and then investigate it. By desisting from doing so in the Meerut deaths, the UP police has successfully left out grave accusations against itself from its official investigation into the killings.

The afternoon of 20 December 2019 saw large protests across Uttar Pradesh against the CAA, with thousands of residents coming out to protest against the discriminatory law after Friday prayers. In Meerut, at around 2 pm, protestors had gathered around Firoz Nagar, Tubewell Tiraha and Kotwali—all predominantly Muslim areas—and begun marching from the Bhumiya ka Pul area to Prahlad Nagar, and along Hapur Road. All these areas are within a few kilometres of each other and of the Brahmpuri, Lisadi Gate and Nauchandi police stations, among others. According to the subsequent FIRs, police from several stations were stationed at the protest.

Local residents told The Caravan in December that many business owners had shuttered their shops in anticipation of the protest. They noted that though there was an air of tension, the demonstration remained peaceful until the police began provoking Muslim residents. Another media outlet reported that the police lathi-charged the protesters. At some point, the clashes turned violent—the police launched a full-blown crackdown, hitting protesters with lathis, pelting stones, firing tear gas shells and chili bombs. Videos of this response were shared widely on social media. Eyewitnesses told The Caravan and other media outlets in December that policemen began chasing protesters into the surrounding narrow lanes, firing indiscriminately with the intent to injure or kill Muslims. In their complaints, the family members of Mohammed Asif, Mohsin, Aleem Ansari and Zaheer all stated that the men were killed during this firing. (Media reports pointed to a sixth victim, but the official police record reflects only five deaths. Local residents and human-rights activists have noted that the unofficial number could be as high as ten.)

Mohsin, a 26-year-old scrap dealer, was the youngest of six siblings. He lived with his ailing mother, his wife, and his two young children—one of whom was just a few months old in December 2019—in the Gulzare Ibrahim locality in Meerut. “He had gone to buy fodder, my son,” his mother Nafisa Begum told me. (I visited the family members in September, and have spoken to them various times since.) “Someone came and told us that he was bringing back fodder and he was shot. I ran out in my bare feet,” Nafisa said. Mohsin died from a bullet to his chest. 

On 21 January 2020, Mohsin’s elder brother Imran filed a complaint under Section 156(3) of the Code for Criminal Procedure. The section empowers an individual to file an application before a magistrate to seek the registration of an FIR. When the police fail or refuse to register an FIR on a complaint, the complainant can move the magistrate, who can then direct the police to register and investigate the case.

In his complaint, Imran noted that his brother had stepped out at around 4 pm on 20 December 2019, towards Lisadi Gate road, and was shot when he reached near the Brahmpuri station. “The gathered people were protesting peacefully, when suddenly, the police fired from the Bhumiya Pul side,” he wrote. Imran cited two eyewitnesses to the incident. His complaint named 16 police officers of the Brahmpuri station in the complaint, alongside 50–60 unidentified officers. He sought an FIR under sections 302 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code—related to murder and conspiracy. “The police have conspired to fire blindly at the gathered crowd and the passers-by. The named police officers have killed the applicant’s brother,” the complaint said.

Imran noted that he had filed a complaint with the Brahmpuri station on the day of the incident itself, but that the police never registered an FIR against it. He added that when he pressed for an investigation, he and his family members were “threatened with murder and were told that they would be implicated in false cases.” A few days after his brother’s death, Imran wrote, he had submitted a complaint to the district magistrate in Meerut. The Caravan has a copy of the complaint, which bears the receiving stamp of the DM’s office. He further stated that he had submitted complaints to the senior superintendent of police in Meerut, the additional director general of police in Meerut and the director general of police in Lucknow, via post. The Caravan also reviewed copies of these complaints, supplied by Imran’s lawyers.

In February this year, the magistrate rejected Imran’s plea for an FIR. In mid August, through his advocate Riyasat Ali, Imran filed a revision petition against the plea, asking for the order to be overturned and for an FIR to be registered. The petition stated that the magistrate’s court had passed the order “without inquiring into the facts given in the application” and that it “relied upon the story of the police.”

The petition also argued that the existence of an FIR to which Mohsin’s death was eventually connected during the police’s investigation does not preclude another FIR from being registered against the police themselves, and that “multiplicity of cases … is not cogent reason for rejecting the application.” It cited a Supreme Court judgment which states that if a death occurs as a result of the use of firearm by the police, an FIR into the incident must be registered immediately.

Ali told me that on 18 August, the session court issued notices to all the respondents, including the policemen accused in the plea. “We can say that the case is now on argument,” Ali said. The plea was last heard on 15 December. “The next date of hearing is 8 January,” he said.

Mohammed Asif, a 20-year-old e-rickshaw puller, was on his way home on 20 December 2019 when he was hit by a bullet in his collarbone. His father, Id-ul Hassan, learnt of his son’s death from his neighbours, when images of the dead began circulating among locals. Asif, survived by his father, mother and two younger siblings, was the sole earner of his household. In October, Hassan too submitted a complaint to a magistrate under Section 156(3). He wrote in his complaint that on his son was killed by “bullets fired by the police [near] City Hospital Hapur Road Thana Nauchandi.” Hassan wrote that some passers-by took Asif to a hospital, which refused to admit him, and that he died at a second hospital.

Id-ul Hassan (centre), whose son Mohammed Asif was shot in the collarbone on 20 December 2019, during the anti-CAA protests in Meerut. Since his death, Hassan has sent complaints to the heads of police in Meerut district, the district magistrate of Meerut, as well as to the National Minorities Commission, accusing the police of killing his son. Rishi Kochhar for The Caravan

His complaint named 31 police officials, from the nearby Nauchandi station, the Civil Lines station and the Medical station—both located a few kilometres away—as well as 20–30 unidentified police officers. The police officers “conspired together and fired with the intent to kill, resulting in the applicant’s son being shot,” the complaint stated. He applied for an FIR against the police under sections 120B, 302, 504 and 506 of the IPC, which deal with conspiracy, murder, provocation and criminal intimidation.

Hassan noted in his application that he had sent complaints to the additional general of police of Meerut zone and the inspector general of Meerut range in February 2020 and again in August, as well as to the senior superintendent of police. “But till now the applicant’s report has not been registered at Nauchandi thana,” the complaint said. “The applicant has been forced to seek shelter with the judiciary.” He requested that an FIR be registered and that it be investigated by an independent agency.

Hassan also wrote a letter to the inspector general in September, seeking protection for himself and his family—a copy of this letter is in The Caravan’s possession. “The Nauchandi police hold a grudge against the applicant and his family,” the letter stated. “They keep asking the applicant to take back the application. They threaten us that it is not good to mess with the police. They say that as soon as they get a chance, they’ll give us a taste that we will remember for life, that we will learn how to investigate the police.”

Hassan had also filed a complaint with the National Minorities Commission, asking for an investigation into his son’s killing during police firing. In March, the commission wrote to the SSP in Meerut, who replied in August. The SSP wrote that the police inquiry had connected Asif’s death to an incident described in one of its FIRs, which accused the anti-CAA protesters of attacking the police and firing at police personnel, as well as destroying public property. The police had identified some of the “insurrectionists” involved, and found a shooter, who was held responsible for Asif’s death.

Though this investigation had been conducted by the very police that Hassan was accusing, the commission appeared to have taken the SSP at his word. In late August, it sent a letter to Hassan, attaching the SSP’s response. “Noting the contents of the response, the commission is closing the complaint on its end,” the letter said.

A family member holding a photograph of Mohammed Asif, a 20-year-old e-rickshaw puller, who was shot dead on 20 December 2019. He was the sole earner of the family. Rishi Kochhar for The Caravan

The owner of the Rahees Hotel dhaba near Kotwali, where 25-year-old Aleem Ansari worked, had decided to shut down the eatery owing to the protests on 20 December 2019. Aleem was returning home, his brother Mohammed Salahuddin told me, when he was shot straight in the head, breaking open his skull. He referred to a video of Aleem’s body that had begun to be circulated among local residents in Ahmednagar, the area where he resides. In it, a man can be seen standing next to the body, yelling for help. A second video, evidently recorded a while later, shows a police vehicle pulling up next to the body. The policemen then roughly haul the body into their vehicle, lifting it by the limbs.

“The video was shot around 5 or 5.30 pm,” Salahuddin said. “I had gotten a call around 4.30 pm, that your brother has been shot. We went to the city hospital to find his body but there was a lot of police there, so we were not allowed to go there. There was a lot of panic and fear that night. Next morning, we went to the hospital.” Salahuddin, who is differently abled, described a series of events that took place over the next few hours, where he and his family members had to run from pillar to post just to locate Aleem’s body. They were finally handed over the body in the evening on 21 December.

When I met them in September, Aleem’s octogenarian father Habib Ansari cried inconsolably as his wife Saira sat by his side. She said she sought justice for her son’s death. “Pehle to laash bhi nahi uthayi, fir abb bolte hai ki humne nahi mara, lekin humari report tak darj nahi ki,” Saira said—At first they did not even pick up his body, now they are saying they did not kill him, but they are not even registering our report.

In October, Salahuddin filed a complaint under Section 156(3) against 31 named police officers and 20–30 unidentified officers of the Nauchandi, Civil Lines and Medical police stations. He, too, cited eyewitnesses present at Hapur Road, where the shooting took place, who had taken Aleem’s body to the City Hospital, which refused to admit him. The same bystanders then brought his body outside, from where the police took it, Salahuddin wrote. He took me with him to one of the eyewitness’s home—The Caravan is withholding his identity for his safety. I met the father of the witness who said that, since the incident, the witness had gone into hiding, fearing reprisals from the police. He did not share the witness’s whereabouts.

In his 156(3) complaint, Salahuddin noted that he had filed complaints with the district magistrate’s office. The Caravan has a copy of this complaint, dated 14 February, which bears the receiving stamp of the DM’s office. Further, he wrote, he had filed complaints with the IG Meerut, the SSP, and the ADG police. Salahuddin asked for an FIR against the police officers named in his statement, under sections 120B, 302, 504 and 506; and an independent investigation into his brother’s killing.

Zaheer, a man in his forties who also dealt in fodder and resided in the Lisadi Gate area, had stepped out in the afternoon on 20 December to smoke a beedi. Earlier that day, Zaheer had dyed his hair in preparation for a wedding in his wife’s family. He had just bought beedis and sat down next to the small shop to smoke, his neighbours had told The Caravan, when he was shot in his temple. The neighbours said the police shot him, and described their ordeal of attempting to get Zaheer to a hospital amid a siege-like deployment around Lisadi Gate. When I visited in September, Zaheer’s neighbour, Ikram, told me, “Everyone knows that the police intentionally shot him dead while he was smoking in the street and we could not take him to the hospital as the policemen had blocked our way at the street’s exit point from where the bullet had come.” Zaheer’s wife could not say much. She only said that she was not sure of getting justice, noting, “Abhi tak FIR hi nahi hui hai police waalon ke khilaaf, nau mahine ho gaye”—there is still no FIR against the police, it has been nine months.

Zaheer’s brother Shahid filed a 156(3) complaint on 17 January, against 18 police officials of the Lisadi Gate station and 30–40 unidentified police personnel. He sought an FIR against them under sections 120B and 302 of the IPC. The named police officers “hatched a conspiracy to fire at the crowd,” the statement said. “They were hurling disgusting mother-sister abuses at the crowd, asking the Muslims to go to Pakistan and threatening them with murder. The firing by the named police officers injured many, but people are scared and hiding their injured relatives.” He added, “The police killed [my] innocent brother Zaheer.”

Shahid had filed a complaint with the Meerut DM on 30 December—the copy in The Caravan’s possession also bears a receiving stamp from the DM’s office. He stated in his 156(3) complaint that his father, Munshi, had filed a complaint with the Lisadi Gate station on the day of the incident, but that the police ignored it.

Details of the police investigation into these deaths can be gleaned from its voluminous submissions to the Allahabad High Court in February. Though the police submitted relevant documents such as post-mortems, FIRs and tables detailing the various victims and the accused from across the state, the hundreds of pages contain no trace of the families’ version. In fact, the police version also reveals various inconsistencies.

Mohammed Salahuddin (right) and Habib Ansari (left), the brother and father of 25-year-old Aleem Ansari, who was shot in his head. In a complaint to a magistrate, Salahuddin wrote that the police shot his brother. Rishi Kochhar for The Caravan

The police submitted these documents after an order passed by the Allahabad High Court while hearing a plea for a judicial investigation into the police conduct during the December protests. On 4 January 2020, Ajay Kumar, a lawyer based in Mumbai, had registered a PIL in the court. Referring to news reports about the police crackdown published in the New York Times and The Telegraph, Kumar stated that the police’s conduct was “antithetical to core constitutional values” and demanded a judicial inquiry into the matter. The high court clubbed his petition with three others that spoke of the same subject, included a petition filed by India’s former chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah and the spiritual leader Agnivesh, among others. (The latter, who is often referred to as Swami Agnivesh, died in September.)

Habibullah and Agnivesh’s petition contended that the police “have targeted those residential areas which are dominated by the minority communities, including Muslims and Scheduled Castes,” describing the police action as being under “false pretexts such as law and order,” and “excessive and unnecessary.” Further, it stated, “the attacks by the police have also been directed at people who have had no involvement in the protests, and who have been picked by the police simply for the purpose of spreading terror in said communities.” It demanded action against the “deliberate, unprovoked, excessive, arbitrary and illegal police action on helpless residents of Uttar Pradesh in response to their peaceful and lawful protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act through an independent judicial commission headed by a former judge of the Hon’ble Supreme Court or Hon’ble High Court.” It added,

The unrepentant bias against the (anti-CAA) protesters held by the officials stationed throughout the executive government of the state, be they elected officials or police personnel, has been on flagrant display in media interviews and other other/video recordings. There have been calls by the high ranking police officials, for instance, that protesters should be deported to Pakistan, or that some of them raising slogans of ‘Pakistan zindabad’ deserve a taste of police violence. …The chief minister of the state has been himself quoted as calling for revenge against the protesters. The uncontrolled violence committed by the police, which has amounted to persecution of  the people, is therefore explained by the fact that discrimination has been at play in their approach

The clubbed petition was listed for hearing before a bench comprising the chief justice Govind Mathur and the judge Siddhartha Verma. Subsequently, on 27 January, the court directed the police to submit “all necessary details relating to the persons killed in police action” during the CAA protests on 20 December and 21 December. On 17 February, the state filed a nine-page counter affidavit with 579 pages annexed, comprising details of the deaths and injuries, post-mortem reports, medical certificates, FIRs, as well as the list of all people arrested until then. The Caravan has a copy of the police’s reply and annexures.

In its December 2019 report, The Caravan had noted that immediately after the shootings at the protests, the police began to issue statements denying that it had opened fire. On 21 December, OP Singh, the state police chief had said that “not a single bullet was fired at protesters” and that the “protesters died in firing among themselves.” The police had released CCTV footage purportedly showing protesters shooting at the police. The short video clip includes a few seconds of footage where a man can be seen firing one shot in the air. Several people I met in Meerut countered the police’s claim. Local residents I interviewed showed me videos they said had been shot on 20 December at Hapur Road, in which the police can be seen taking aim as they fire from assault rifles. Riyasat Ali, one of the advocates, told me that they had submitted several such videos alongside the complaints filed by the family members.

But in their submissions, the state and the police have ignored these accusations, maintaining a narrative that denies any complicity on their part. In its reply to the Allahabad High Court, the UP police stated that the five deaths in Meerut had been found to be connected to incidents described in four FIRs registered on 20 December 2019. Mohsin’s death was connected to FIR 672, registered at the Brahmpuri station; Aleem’s death was connected to FIR 817, registered at the Nauchandi station; Zaheer and Asif Khan’s deaths were connected to FIR 1079, and Mohammed Asif’s death was connected to FIR 1080, both registered at the Lisadigate station.

A family member holding an image of Zaheer, a cattle-fodder trader in his forties, who was shot in his temple on 20 December 2019. His family and neighbours said that the police shot him. Rishi Kochhar for The Caravan

The FIRs all contain a similar narrative, one that does not include any mentions of police firing. They all state, broadly, that on the afternoon of 20 December 2019, Muslim protesters—several FIRs said they were emerging from the afternoon prayers—congregated, began aggressively raising slogans against the CAA and threatening the police officers, making them fear for their lives. Uniformly across the FIRs, the protesters are said to have been armed with sticks, stones, country pistols or petrol bombs, and are said to have opened fire on the police. In all the FIRs, the police officers filing these stated that the police repeatedly warned the protesters that Section 144 of the CRPC—which allows restrictions to be imposed on public gatherings—was in force, but that the “balwayi,” or insurrectionists, did not listen.

All four FIRs state that the protesters made the police fear for their lives, compelling the personnel to use to force to quell the demonstration. The police then lathi charged the protesters, firing tear gas shells and rubber bullets. Two FIRs—817 and 672—also note the use of chili bombs by the police. In FIR 1080, the police officer filing the complaint noted that one of the “rioters” told his fellow protesters, “The police is an embodiment of the government and we have to teach them a lesson,” prompting the mob to “hurl abuses at the police and attack it with the intention to kill, pelting stones and firing at it.” The police officer filing FIR 1079 appears to have witnessed a similar incident with two different updravi, or miscreants, who are said to have told their fellow protesters, “Let’s teach these policewallahs a lesson.” This too prompted the mob to “begin attacking the police by pelting stones and with sticks and lathis, hurling abuses.” Two separate FIRs mention that the protesters ripped out the dividers on the road. All FIRs use similar phrasing to describe them—“balwayi,” “armed with illegal weapons,” attacking the police “with the intention to kill,” under a “sochi samjhi sazish,” or a well-thought-out conspiracy.

FIR 1080 accused protesters of firing a petrol bomb at the Lisadi Gate station, and setting it on fire. FIR 817 stated that protesters had set fire to and destroyed various police properties, including police vans and motorbikes, as well as other vehicles.

None of the FIRs contained any mention of police firing, nor of any injuries to any protesters. The stark difference in the police’s narrative only underlines the need for separate FIRs into the families’ complaints—the police is bound by law to accept any complaints into an incident, and to investigate all sides fairly.

The police’s reply to the Allahabad High Court indicated that, during its investigation, it had arrested Muslim men residing around the areas where the protests took place. According to its submissions, the police charged and arrested 40 men in Meerut. All 40 are Muslims. Of these, 13 were out on bail at the time that the reply was filed.

Claiming that some of these accused had opened fire at the police, the investigation found them guilty of causing the deaths of the Meerut five, and charged them accordingly. In some cases, the police claimed the victims were part of the violent mob of protesters. This approach is evident in the chargesheet for the FIR 1079, of which The Caravan has a copy. The summary of the chargesheet states that the arrested accused had been found to have “fired bullets at the police officers with the intent to kill them, and side by side killed their fellow protesters, Zaheer… and Asif,” referring to Asif Khan. For this, the police added Section 304—culpable homicide not amounting to murder—to the chargesheet. According to the annexures, the police has added Section 304 to all four FIRs.

The chargesheet also spoke of Aleem and Mohammed Asif’s deaths. While claiming that Zaheer and Asif Khan were members of the protesting “mob” who died during its own firing, the diary entry claimed that Mohammed Asif had been killed during this firing as well. It noted that Mohammed Asif’s body had been sent for a post-mortem to the mortuary at Meerut Medical College. The diary entry further claimed that the police had only come to know of Aleem’s death the day after the protests, on 21 December. One page of the diary entries that are part of the chargesheet states that the police at the Lisadi Gate station received news of Aleem’s death on 21 December 2019, and that an official from the station investigated it. “The location of Aleem’s death being Nauchandi, the PM was sent over to Nauchandi station.”

This contradicts the events narrated by Salahuddin, Aleem’s brother. Salahuddin told The Caravan in December 2019, and again in September, that he had spent the evening of the protests hunting for the body after the police took it away. The videos he referred to, in which police officials can be seen taking away Aleem’s body, were recorded on 20 December according to him—suggesting that the police knew that Aleem had died from a gunshot wound to his head that day itself. Zaidi, one of the advocates, said that the police purposely obscured details to escape culpability for Aleem’s death. “They are taking their own version and going with it,” he said, referring to the chargesheet.

According to media reports, the additional district magistrate’s office had instituted an inquiry into Aleem’s death. The Hindu reported on 22 December this year that the ADM was yet to give his report.

Mohsin’s family, too, alleged that the police had obscured the details of his killing. In tears while speaking to me, his mother said, “He was shot in the chest and the bullet was inside but the police showed that the bullet had passed through him, which is false.” Mohsin’s post-mortem, which is among the annexures submitted by the police, notes an entry and an exit wound in his chest and back, respectively. Mohsin’s family members spoke of a video that was shot after his family members found his body, in which the entry wound can be seen. The person shooting the video then points to the back of the body, where no exit wound is visible. Local residents had shared this video with me. Mohsin’s family confirmed to me that it was genuine, and that his brother was present when it was recorded.

Further, Nafisa Begum said, the police forced them to bury the body hurriedly. “Police walon ne aadhi raat ko hi laash dafnaane ko kaha aur kabristaan jaa kar maulvi se qabar khodne ko bol diya”—the policemen forced us to bury the body in the middle of the night and even forced the maulvi at the graveyard to dig a grave. The Caravan had reported in December 2019 that families of other victims, too, voiced similar complaints. Salahuddin had said that they were forced to bury Aleem’s body within two hours of it being handed over.

The police’s reply to the high court was submitted on 17 February 2020, by its special secretary for home, Bhupendra Singh Chaudhary. By this time, several officials of the police and the Meerut administration would have received complaints from the families of Mohsin, Zaheer and Aleem, even apart from the complaints their family members had submitted on the day of the incident. The annexures barely mention these complaints, and do not include any details of the contents. On two pages out of the few dozens that concern Meerut, the police added a table acknowledging the 156(3) complaints filed by Mohsin and Zaheer’s families, as well as a complaint filed by Mohsin’s brother through the IGRS, a public grievance-redressal portal set up by the UP government. The table listed the names of the accused officers, but did not include any details of the complaints. The police noted that relevant charges had been added to the FIRs concerning to these deaths. It did not explain why no FIR was registered against these complaints, even when the offences made out in these differed drastically from the existing FIRs.

In his covering reply, Singh, the special secretary, had noted that across the entire state “a total of eight complaints have been received from the individuals against the police officials and all the complaints have been made part of the investigations being conducted by the special investigation team(s) of the concerned districts.” According to the table in the annexures, only three of these eight were from Meerut.

On 17 February, the high court passed an interim order granting the petitioners time to peruse the police’s filings, listing the next hearing for 18 March. But the hearing never took place. The website for the Allahabad High Court does not show any further orders in the petition’s hearings.

The Allahabad-based senior advocate Syed Farman Ali Naqvi is an amicus curiae in the PIL. When I contacted him in September, Naqvi said that owing to the coronavirus pandemic, “The court is not hearing the old cases at present, and this particular case is not enlisted so far.” The court, he said, was presently entertaining fresh petitions only or cases of “high priority.”

I sent detailed questionnaires regarding the complaints to the DGP of the UP police and the senior superintendent of Meerut, asking why no FIRs had been registered, and whether any action had been taken against the accused police officers. At the time of publication, over ten days since I sent the queries, no response had been received from the UP police.

Despite the lack of success in registering an FIR against the police, the advocates Zaidi and Ali did not seem discouraged. “We will file the applications under 156(3) in all the five murder cases,” Ali told me, citing the pandemic as the only reason for delay.

Salahuddin, too, said he would fight the legal battle until all his options were exhausted. “Bass aap log aaye dubara Dilli se, humara hausla badhtaa hai”—just as long as you all keep coming from Delhi, our strength increases.