Blindfolded, shot in custody: Muslim families accuse police of fake encounters in Nuh

Portraits of Muslim men who the Haryana police are accused of shooting while in custody. (L-R Osama, Aamir Khan and Munfaid Khan.) SHAHID TANTRAY FOR THE CARAVAN
15 October, 2023

“I had met my son on 1 August,” Mohammed Hashim, the father of 25-year-old Aamir Khan who is currently in jail following the anti-Muslim violence in Haryana’s Nuh, told me. “The next time I saw him, he was in the hospital in Nalhar. He had been shot and was lying in the emergency ward.” Aamir is among several young Muslim men picked up by the Haryana Police in August, who were later reported to have gunshot injuries following “encounters” with the police. However, in at least three of these cases, accounts by witnesses as well as families of those arrested suggest that the shootings were staged by the police after the accused were already in its custody.

On 31 July, a Hindu nationalist rally—organised by the Bajrang Dal and the Vishva Hindu Parishad—of over fifteen hundred people, marched through the Muslim-majority areas of Nuh to the Nalhar Mahadev temple, which is around three kilometres from Nuh town. Members of the rally were armed with swords and chanted provocative slogans as they crossed the Muslim areas. Shortly before the rally, Raj Kumar, a senior leader of the Bajrang Dal, who is also known as Bittu Bajrangi, uploaded a provocative video on social media and said, “Keep your garlands ready, your brother-in-law is coming.” He had previously been arrested in at least three cases all of which he was released on bail in. The Bajrang Dal have since disavowed any association with him.

A clash occurred, in Nuh town, between members of the rally and the Muslim residents, and the violence spread throughout Nuh district that day. Soon after, the Bajrang Dal and the VHP attacked Muslims in the surrounding districts of Gurugram, Palwal and Rewari, and the attacks continued for almost three days. The violence claimed six lives and saw the wide-spread destruction of Muslim homes, shops and mosques. Following the violence, the Haryana Police has systematically arrested hundreds of Muslim youths from Nuh district with seemingly little investigation into their alleged role in the violence or even their presence in Nuh on 31 July.

In three of these cases, the families of the arrested men described how the youth were taken into police custody and how the Haryana Police later staged encounters claiming that the youth were armed and attempted to evade arrest by shooting at the police. All three families said that the youth were unarmed when picked up by the police. All three were shot in the right leg. “The police are doing this just to clean their image and project that they are effective and quick,” Tahir Ruparya, a lawyer defending several of the Muslim men who were arrested, told me. “These encounters are all false. They were arrested and then taken to the hills to be shot by the police. They are claiming all these boys as dreaded criminals.” In none of the cases have the police suffered any gunshot injuries.