At around 3.30 pm on 20 December, a 15-year-old teenager set out from his home in the Sambhal town of western Uttar Pradesh to attend a one-hour-long tuition class. The teenager lived with his parents in a chawl named Mehmood Khan Sarai and had to go to Shankar Chauraha, just around one kilometre away. That day, in the afternoon, Muslim men had led a procession near Shankar Chauraha to protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. The Uttar Pradesh police used brute force to quell the protests—with tear gas, lathis and even open firing—as it had in other districts as well. Two Muslims were killed during the protests that day.
When the teenager did not return home by 5 pm, his mother became anxious. “I went and met the tuition teacher who told me that he had attended tuition and had set out for home from here,” she said. “Now, tell me, what was wrong in sending my child for tuitions?”
By then, news had spread about what had transpired in Sambhal that day. The chawl was rife with fear and paranoia. It seemed unsafe to step out into the streets. Still, at around 9 pm, four women in the chawl whose kin had not returned home on time that day went to the Kotwali police station nearby. The police personnel there shooed the women away and called them “patharmaar aurtein”—women who pelt stones.