On December 26, the Uttar Pradesh police released CCTV footage of an unidentified civilian brandishing and firing what looks like a revolver amid the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 in Meerut. The police claimed that the video is from last Friday, the day anti-CAA protests in the city turned violent—at least five people were killed on 20 December and all of them died from gunshot wounds. The day after the protests, OP Singh, the state police chief said that “not a single bullet was fired at protesters” and that the “protesters died in firing among themselves.” The footage was uploaded to encourage the perception that the police was justified in its use of excessive force against protestors.
The Uttar Pradesh police has consistently used this argument to explain the state-wide killings of at least 19 people so far, and to justify the brutal crackdown on protestors across 21 districts. But lawyers, activists, human-rights groups, fact-finding missions, citizen networks and reports from the ground have contradicted this narrative. They have instead highlighted the leitmotif of the anti-CAA protests—excessive and indiscriminate use of police force, and the specific targeting of Muslim-majority areas.
On 20 December, Meerut, a small city in western Uttar Pradesh with a chequered history of communal conflict, became the site of a showdown between the police and the anti-CAA protesters. That Friday, after the afternoon namaz, a crowd from Firoz Nagar, Tubewell Tiraha and Kotwali—all predominantly Muslim areas in the heart of the city—started to march in protest against the CAA. They were making their way via the Bhumiya ka Pul area to Prahlad Nagar. All of these areas are within a two–kilometre radius. According to a first-information report lodged at the Lisari Gate police station in Prahlad Nagar, the crowd of around twelve hundred protestors was “sloganeering against the CAA, displaying abusive behaviour” and threatening violence. There is no consensus on what or who triggered the clashes that followed. But around 2.30 pm the police unleashed a two-hour long brutal campaign to suppress the protests.
While five people were killed in those two hours, another person succumbed to bullet wounds on 26 December, taking the official death toll in Meerut to six. In the course of my reporting, many locals dismissed the official figure and told me that the actual count is much higher—people are still missing or afraid to approach hospitals and police stations, the internet shut down in the district had made communication difficult and there is a serious trust deficit between the citizens and the media. I met with the families, friends and neighbours of the five men who were killed. The victims had been one and all, the sole-bread earners of extremely poor families, uninvolved in the protests and only interested in returning home to safety.