Mohammad Armaan, a 20-year-old, left from his house in Naubasta, in Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur district, at around 6 pm on 21 December. According to his parents Mohammad Hanif and Amina, even as the only Muslims in a Hindu-dominated locality, their family had lived peacefully in a semi-pucca house for thirty-five years until that day. Armaan, the sole breadwinner of his family, was heading to Mainpuri district to visit his ailing sister, when he stopped to eat aloo puri at Parade Chauraha, at least fifteen kilometres away from his home. He did not reach his sister’s home.
The next day, his parents found that Armaan was among the people—at least nine—that the Kanpur police had arrested that day in connection with the then ongoing protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in the city. During one of their visits to Armaan in Kanpur Central Jail since then, he told them that the police personnel only arrested him after he disclosed his full name. When we met the parents on 24 January outside their house, Hanif kept breaking into tears. “Humara kya kasoor hai? Ki hum Musalman hain?”—What is our fault? That we are Muslims?—Hanif said.
On 20 December, the Kanpur Police arbitrarily used brute force to quell the anti-CAA protests in the city. According to multiple accounts, after a protest in their area, the police targeted the residents of Babu Purwa and Begum Purwa, contiguous neighbourhoods dominated by poor Dalit Muslims. As earlier reported by The Caravan, the police shot three people dead; barged into homes; detained 39 men; and tortured several of them in custody. The crackdown continued the next day, but received far less media attention—the police picked up Muslims who were bystanders or happened to be in the vicinity. As of 12 February, at least eight of the thirteen who were arrested over the two days were still in jail, on charges including rioting, possession of unlicensed firearms and attempted murder.
In the last two weeks of January 2019, we visited Kanpur and spoke to some of the detainees and the arrestees, their families as well as locals. The families said that their kin were not a part of the protests against the CAA. Our reporting revealed that the police had tortured the arrestees in police custody and that the Kanpur police was blatantly targeting Muslims because of their religious identity. Everyone we spoke to was of the opinion that there has been an organised effort to threaten and intimidate the Muslims of Kanpur since 20 December.
When we met Hanif and Amina, they looked exhausted, as if they had not slept in weeks. They told us Armaan studied till eighth standard and followed his father’s line of work, shearing animals like horses, goats and dogs. While arresting Armaan at Parade Chowk, the police had taken the money he was carrying, a total of Rs 3,600, but never gave it to his family. The police slapped multiple charges on him and delivered a notice to his family to pay Rs 2.5 lakh as compensation, alleging that he set a police vehicle on fire. The family does not have the means to fight the charges against him in court or pay the compensation.
At one point during our conversation, Hanif broke down while glancing at Armaan’s motorcycle, which was gathering dust outside the house. “Armaan has been crying, his eyes have turned red,” Hanif said. “He was saying ‘Papa, take me out of here’ ... Ever since our child has gone, we have not been able to eat.” On 23 February, Hanif told us that Armaan was still in jail and that his health is deteriorating.
On the night of 21 December, the police also arrested Mohammad Ehsaan, a 30-year-old, and his cousin Mohammad Mohsin, a 25-year-old. The brothers run a saree-alteration workshop in Kanpur’s Jajmau suburb. According to Ehsaan, on the night of 21 December, they were on their way to collect money from a business associate on a moped. A Hindu minor—a twelfth-standard student who lives and assists the cousins at the workshop—had accompanied them.