Adityanath’s Police Raj

Widespread fear in Nehtaur as police defends two killings and a militia-led rampage

The family of Anas, a 21-year-old who was shot by the UP police a few metres from his home in Nehtaur, on 20 December. Ishan Tankha
27 December, 2019

It was a Friday and 21-year-old Anas had promised to meet his uncle, Musharraf Hussain, who was only a few years older to him, for lunch that day. Anas had shifted to Delhi after his marriage a year and half earlier, and worked there as a beverage supplier. He had returned a few days earlier to Nehtaur, his native village—located about thirty-five kilometres away from the Bijnor district headquarters in Uttar Pradesh—with his wife and eight-month-old baby. He was staying with his wife’s parents, in a locality named Ghas Mandi. Sometime between 2 and 3 pm, he was about to leave for Hussain’s home, which was right next door, when he realised the baby was hungry and needed to be fed. Another of Anas’s uncles, whom he called tai abbu— father’s elder brother—ran a dairy barely one hundred yards away.

Anas’s father, Arshad Hussain, who works as tailor in Jalandhar, was also staying at Musharraf’s home. It was a family union for the Hussains at the end of the year. The two homes were located in an alley that opened to a lane in the colony, with shops on either side. While Anas was walking through the alley, his father told him not to leave home as the market was closed. But Anas said he just needed milk and would get it from his tai abbu’s shop.

As soon as he stepped out on the road from the alley, a bullet hit him in his eye. Anas fell on the ground, bleeding profusely. Uttar Pradesh police personnel had been stationed since morning, at one end of the road, around two hundred metres from where Anas lay, since morning. The bullet came from that direction. Anas died not long after.

The same day, the police shot another man from Ghas Mandi, while he was coming out from a mosque after offering namaz. Mohammed Suleman, aged 20, was shot at close range, in his chest.

In the days preceding that Friday, protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act had intensified across the country, including in Delhi. Bijnor was among several districts in Uttar Pradesh where people had closed their shops in protest against the act. In villages such as Nagina and Sherkot, people also came to the streets to lodge their protest. In Nehtaur, though, residents told me, there was no call for any procession. People had simply kept their shops shut in solidarity. Yet, the police was deployed all over Nehtaur, a a Muslim-majority town. By late afternoon that day—20 December—the police had killed two young men in a Muslim-populated colony where no procession was taken out.

On 23 December, I visited Nehtaur, met the two families whose relatives were killed, visited the place where the police claimed the protestors had pelted stones at them and spoke to several eyewitnesses who were present there at the time. The residents said there had been no protest. They told me that they had only stepped out of their homes to attend the Friday prayers. The Muslim residents of Nehtaur relayed horrific accounts of how the police had fired at people who had gathered for the prayers; beat up the men on street; broken into their homes; ransacked their belongings; molested the women occupants and threatened them with rape; and arrested the men. The police showed no mercy to even old people during its rampage. Men in civil clothes accompanied the police and brutally assaulted the residents. The people I spoke to said that the police fired at them with military weapons with the intention to kill. Several locals later told me that they saw the police fire directly at Anas. Suleman’s family said that the police had killed him in cold blood. Many residents have since closed their shops and fled Nehtaur, fearing a continuing crackdown by the police.

Sanjeev Tyagi, the superintendent of police of Bijnor district, denied the residents’ accounts. He claimed that trouble began in Naya Bazaar, another locality in Nehtaur, where he alleged people had marched in protest. Tyagi said that local community leaders had earlier promised him that no protests would take place. He claimed that by protesting, the Nehtaur residents had done “waada khilafi”—betrayed the police by breaking their promiseg. This, he suggested, justified police action.

Tyagi denied that the police had killed Anas. In the case of Sulemaan’s killing, he claimed that the police fired in self-defence. Tyagi also claimed that the UP police used minimum force, only to push back protestors who wanted to come out on the street in large numbers, violating orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Code of Procedure, which the police had imposed across the district. Tyagi denied that his men ever molested any woman or threatened them with rape, but said that the police was within its rights to enter the houses of those who are “updrabi”—agitators.

Tyagi also denied that the police personnel fired from military weapons but said that the police recovered cartridges of 0.312- and 0.315-millimetre bore from around the town. He instead claimed that the locals carried such weapons and fired at the police. The superintendent was unable to show any seizure memo—which would indicate that the police had recovered such weapons—or the post-mortem reports of the deceased men, or even the first information report registered in the incidents. Tyagi admitted that non-uniformed men were present during the police raids—he described them as “police mitr,” or police friends, who had been appointed within police regulation to “assist” the police. He told me that 131 people were arrested in Bijnor district and sent to jail for rioting that day. More arrests would be made in the coming days, he said.


Bijnor’s population is comprised largely of Hindus and Muslims—55 percent and 43 percent respectively. The Bijnor Lok Sabha constituency, which spreads over parts of Muzaffarnagar district as well, is represented by the Bahujan Samaj Party, while all the five assembly seats within Bijnor Lok Sabha are represented by Bharatiya Janata Party. Bijnor is among several districts in western Uttar Pradesh that have a sizeable Muslim population, and has always posed a challenge to the ruling BJP.

At Ghas Mandi on 20 December, Anas lay on the road bleeding for several minutes before anyone attended to him, his cousin Mohammad Arif, told me. The locals feared that if they went to fetch him, they too would be shot by the police, which stood unmoved and still armed, at the same distance. It was only when the local youngsters ran inside and told Anas’s father that he had been shot that Arshad ran towards the alley. “I had to crawl on the ground to drag my son’s body into the alley. As soon as I got him in, the boys helped me to take him to a local hospital that referred him to Bijnor town. But we had hardly moved some distance from there when Anas stopped breathing.”

Arshad told me the police then took possession of Anas’s body and forcibly sent it for post mortem to Bijnor. “They told us, ‘Leave, come in the morning to take the body,’” Arshad said. But the police called him up around 1 am in the night and asked the family to fetch the body from Bijnor. When members of the family arrived to collect the body, the cops forbade them from taking the body back to Nehtaur and told them to bury Anas in Bijnor itself.

Hamare sath bahut na insaafi kari. Bade adhikari jo they, unhone kaha, Yahin dafnao, Bijnor. Hum nahi jaane denge body,’” Arshad wept as he narrated to me—There was great injustice done to us. The senior officials told us to bury him in Bijnor. They said they will not let us take the body. After a lot of pleading, Arshad told me, the police agreed to let them bury Anas in a village near Bijnor, Mithaan, which happened to be his grandmother’s native village. He said the police did not hand over the body until after they had dug up the grave. Before handing Anas’s body over, the police took away his clothes and washed his body with warm water, Arshad said. Most of Anas’s family members, including his wife, were not able to see him before he was buried.

Several Ghas Mandi residents told me that they saw the police firing directly at Anas. “Yes, the police killed him,” one local resident who, fearing reprisal, spoke only on the condition of anonymity, said. “You go and see the distance from which Anas was shot. They shot him from such a long distance and it ripped through his eye. What does it tell you? Can they use such a gun on us? Are the police there to disperse a crowd, even assuming there was a demonstration? Do they have authority to shoot people in the head?”

Anas’s family member taking documents and photographs of the 21-year-old, to make photocopies for lawyers and journalists.

Tyagi denied that the police had killed Anas. He told me the post-mortem reports of both deceased young men of Nehtaur were ready and he would give it to the respective families “if they approached him.” He also told me that their FIRs would be registered if they approached the police station and gave their statement to the police. “Aap le aao unko, unko jo dena hai woh likh ke de hummein”—You bring them, whatever they want to say they can give it to us in writing. Tyagi said Anas’s body was not allowed to be brought into Nehtaur “because it could have created a law-and-order problem.”

The SP said that the bullet that had been recovered from Anas’s body was of 32-mm-bore, which is not used for policing. Police use weapons that usually have a 9-mm-bore diameter. Tyagi claimed that the people in the Muslim neighborhoods in Nehtaur had gathered that day with “full preparation” with a “purpose to cause communal disharmony.” He also believed that many of the residents carried weapons and used them at the police. Tyagi told me that the bullet that hit Anas was not of the police but one of their own.

He is not alone in his efforts to blame the Muslims of Nehtaur for the police brutality unleashed on them. The state director general of police stated that the people across the state on 20 December were killed in “cross fire”—indicating that protestors shot at the police and were killed in retaliatory fire.


Naya Bazaar, where the police said the protests began, was practically deserted when I arrived. In fact, most of the shops in Nehtaur were still closed. Local residents told me people feared they would be arrested if they opened their shops. Tyagi’s claims had no takers here. Not one resident told me that there was any provocation from the locals—in fact, they outright denied that any protests had taken place. Many locals were so scared that they asked not to be named. In most of the homes we came across, only one resident had stayed back. Fearing for their lives, the rest had left.

A gathering of two elderly persons and half a dozen young men at Naya Bazaar square told me that on 20 December, though the police was deployed all around, the neighbourhood was relatively calm until 2 pm. They had even given the cops chairs to sit on and tea during the day, they said. "On Friday, at the mosque near the square, the residents had gathered to offer namaaz. Around the time when the namaz got over, a jeep full of non-uniformed men pulled over and the men got down at the square and took position around the mosque. The people at the same time were also coming out of the mosque."

One of the young men further told me, “Some of the men mixed with the crowd of locals who were leaving the mosque and pelted the cops with stones. Soon after that the police unleashed a crackdown on every house in our neighbourhood.” The locals told me they had never seen the men who alighted from the jeep before. “Police walon ne khud hi apni jeep jala di,” one man in the group said—The police people burned their own jeep. “Woh jo aaye the, bina wardi wale, unhone hi jalai”—Those people that came, without uniform, they only burned it.

As commotion ensued at Naya Bazaar, the police began its crackdown. It shot dead Suleman, also from Ghas Mandi, while he was coming out from the nearby mosque, after offering namaz. Suleman was hit from close range and was hit in his heart. His family told me they only found out that he had died through word of mouth. By this time, the police had taken possession of Suleman’s body. They had also taken his shirt.

Tyagi claimed that the police shot Suleman in self-defence. “Suleman had fired from a country-made pistol at one of my constables, Mohit, and so Mohit killed him in self-defence,” he said. Tyagi was not able to show me the weapon with which Suleman allegedly fired at his constable nor a seizure memo for it. Suleman had no criminal antecedents, but Tyagi believed he had been brainwashed by some religious leaders to come out on the street and fire at policemen. “Aapko lagta hai jo hazar ladke the sadak pe uss din unka sabka criminal antecedent tha. Ye toh unlogo ko kuch logon ne chaabi di hoti hai, brainwash kiya hua hota hai”—You think the thousand boys who were on the road that day all have criminal antecedents? Some people instigate them, brainwash them, he told me. Notably, the police constable that Suleman allegedly fired at has not filed an FIR against the young man.

A family member holds up an image of Suleman, a 20-year-old. On 20 December, the police shot Suleman as he was stepping out of a mosque in Naya Bazaar, Nehtaur, after Friday prayers. The police claimed that it killed Suleman in self-defence, but has been unable to show any documents to prove this claim. A visit to his home yielded no traces of the police’s version—by all accounts, Suleman was an ambitious, studious young man, who had only left his home to pray. Ishan Tankha

I visited Suleman’s home at Ghas Mandi and met his family. A visit to his home yielded no traces of the police’s version—by all accounts, Suleman was an ambitious, studious young man, who had only left his home to pray. He was graduating college this year. Last year, he had begun attending coaching classes to prepare for the IAS. His room had a small bed, a mosquito net, a study desk, a chair and a cemented almirah. The almirah was full of books and research files that he had made for different subjects as part of his preparation. Near his study table, a hand-written time table was pasted. According to it, Suleman’s day started at 5 am in the morning and ended by 12 am at night. Of these 19 hours, he would dedicate 15 hours to studying. He had allocated the rest to bathing, brushing, eating, household work and praying. Suleman had dedicated his fifteen work hours to subjects such as English, science, mathematics, reasoning, world history, medieval history; to reading the newspapers; and finishing his homework from the coaching classes. His mother, Akbari Khatoon, told me that he would strictly follow this routine and was excited to write the IAS examination. Suleman’s coaching class was in Noida and he had come home a few days earlier as he was unwell.

Recounting their last conversation, Shoaib Malik, Suleman’s brother, told me, “He gave me water and asked me to wait for him for lunch. He said ‘I'll be back soon after offering namaz and then we will eat together.’” Malik said that, according to people present at the mosque, the police picked Suleman up outside the mosque. The police later killed him in cold blood, shooting him point-blank in the chest. The police has not registered Malik’s FIR. He said the family was considering reaching out to the local court to register a case against the Bijnor police.

Like Anas’s father, Malik, too, said that the police coerced the family into burying Suleman outside Nehtaur. Malik said the police called them to the Nehtaur police station and asked them to take the body to Bijnor and bury Suleman there itself. The police, Malik told me, threatened him and his father, Zahid Hussain, saying that the two would be framed in false cases if they did not accede. Suleman's sister, Sana, told me, “Humare papa ke seene pe gun rakh ke dhamki di ki le jao isko Bijnor. Mere papa dil ke mareez hai, kuch ho jata toh?”—They put a gun to my father’s chest and told him to take the body to Bijnor. He’s a heart patient, what if something had happened?

Malik said, “Raat ko jab humein bulaya toh humein dekh ke paanch-saat fire kiye. Maine pucha ki kya ho raha hai, toh kaha ‘naalsaaf ho rahi hai’”—When they called us at night, they fired five-seven rounds in the air. When I asked what is happening, they said, “We are cleaning the barrels of the gun.” He continued, “CO saab ne kaha agar tum nahi gaye post-mortem karane toh itne mukadamein laga denge ki peecha nahi chudha payoge”—The circle officer said that if we do not agree to get a post mortem done, they will file so many cases against us that we would be caught in them forever. “Wahin jaana hai aur wahin gaddha kar dalna hai kisi kabristan mein”—You have to go there and you have to bury him in a hole in the ground in some cemetery, Malik said the CO told him. The circle officer at the Nehtaur police station refused to speak to me. He said that only the SP, Tyagi, was authorised to speak to the media.

As if the killing of these two young men was not enough to terrorise Nehtaur’s Muslims, the police and its militia continued to ransack the homes of most of the town’s residents. At Naya Bazaar, residents told me, the police broke into the houses of individuals, beat up and molested the women and arrested the male occupants. The police personnel went from colony to colony in their Jeeps, and raided every house. They ransacked the homes and destroyed the residents’ belongings.

These accounts aligned with what the residents of Ghas Mandi, where Anas was shot, had told me. The residents of Ghas Mandi also told me that on 20 December, men who were with the police but not in uniform had arrested a local man while he was on his way to close his bakery shop. The militia set his bike on fire. Locals said that the militia men damaged their vehicles and their houses. They had guns as well as lathis in their hands.

Mohammad Imran Ansari, one of the residents of Naya Bazaar, showed me the broken lock of his door through which around ten cops had entered his house, he said. They broke his two bikes, which were kept in the front room. The police personnel, Ansari said, went up to the terrace and fired in the air to terrorise the occupants. They then came down and beat up his younger sister and molested her.

Ansari said that he had gone out for namaaz and was unable to return home due to the chaos of the crackdown. The police arrested his father. “My father suffers from paralysis and can’t move. The cops dragged him out and beat him up. They took him away,” he said. He did not know his father’s whereabouts for three days, until someone in his neighborhood who had visited jail told him his father was there too. Then, he was able to go and visit his father. Showing me the stamp that jail authorities put on a visitor’s palm, Ansari said his father had severe injuries and needed medical help. “He had an injury on his head,” Ansari said. “The police has not even taken him to get treated. His mind is already impacted by age.” When I asked the police, the SP did not clarify under what charges Ansari’s father was arrested.

At that moment, he was not able to focus on saving his father, for he had to worry about saving the rest of his family and his home. He had sent his sister away from Nehtaur and was living alone at home. He had put nails in the door through which the police had earlier entered the house, reinforcing it with two big sacks of sand and a bike, to prevent any forced entry.

Inside Shama Parveen’s home in Nehtaur. On 20 December, while Parveen was away, the police broke into her home and ransacked it. Residents recounted that the police personnel were accompanied by a militia that terrorised and beat the locals. Shaheen Ahmed

Ansari’s was among several homes in Naya Bazaar whose occupants were no longer there. Many homes we saw were abandoned or locked. Those who had stayed back said their family members or neighbours had run away to other villages for the time being. Mohammad Javed’s home was one such deserted house. The main door had been broken. Inside, the wash basin, the door of his latrine and kitchen were also destroyed. The house was abandoned. The locals told me the cops had broken into the house that day and beat up Javed and arrested him. They told me his wife and kids had gone somewhere since then, but they did not know where.

Inside Shama Parveen’s home, a television set lay broken on the ground. The utensils were scattered all over the floor. On the day of the rampage, Parveen was away visiting her mother. She had gotten married only six months earlier. That day, her husband, her mother-in-law and her three young sisters-in-law were home when the police and its militia broke into the house. The men, uniformed and otherwise, beat her husband mercilessly and molested the young women. The police had even cracked open the pipe of the gas cylinder and threatened her husband and sister-in-laws that it would set them on fire, she said. The police arrested her husband. Parveen is pregnant, but she was forced to go from pillar to post, looking for him. “For three days, I kept asking the cops about the whereabouts of my husband but they rebuffed me every time. After three days, I got to know my husband was jailed. I do not know where will I get money from to get him out,” she told me. Parveen, too, said the police had not told her or her family why her husband had been arrested and what charges he may face.

All the residents at Naya Bazaar had told me that along with the police, the men without uniform had also broken into the house and were damaging vehicles of the residents. Toottan, a labourer, said, “They wore green-blue-red shirts, and had sticks in their hand. They were roaming around with the police. They beat people, they abused them, they banged their sticks on people’s doors.”

When I asked Tyagi if the militiamen were part of the police, he said, “Yes. They are police mitr or community police. It’s a concept which is not illegal and they function under police regulation.”

It's not known when the community police programme started in the state but news reports suggest that they existed before the BJP came to power. According to a 2015 report in Dainik Jagran, the state police were going to recruit 1000 “police mitr” for which no education qualification was needed. Shahnawaz Alam, a Congress leader from Uttar Pradesh, said that “the concept of community policing was adopted from the conflict zone where the police recruit locals for intelligence gathering and spying on their own people.” Alam said, “They are mostly the people with criminal antecedent or people with vested interests. It's a way to militarise society.”

It also appears that the presence of the police mitr became more visible during the BJP’s rule in Uttar Pradesh, helmed by the chief minister Adityanath. In July 2017, the administration directed the police to recruit 15,000 mitr within 72 hours. In June 2018, Praveen Kumar, an additional director general of police (law and order), announced in a press conference that the state police will launch a scheme called S10, under which police stations would recruit mitr. The ADG said the police mitr will “help get feedback from the community.”

Tyagi told me that the police mitr were present on the spot that day but he denied their involvement in ransacking houses and molesting women occupants. In fact, he was proud of them. “I'm thankful to police mitr,” he said. “We were able to maintain law and order here because we received cooperation from our police mitr.”


Soon after the Friday crackdown, an audio of Tyagi began circulating. In it, he can be heard instructing his forces to deal harshly with the protestors. “Bohot hi zyada sakhti se deal kariyehaath-pair kyun nahi tod rahe hain aise apradhiyon ke,” he can be heard saying—Deal with them great force … Why are we not breaking the arms and legs of such criminals? He can also be heard saying that the police should not shy away from beating the protestors with lathis even if there are cameras present. Tyagi said that these instructions had directly come from the chief minister Adityanath. “Bohot hi spasht nirdesh CM mahoday ki meeting mein prapt hue hain”—the orders obtained during the meeting with the CM are clear.

Tyagi denied having ever spoken to his subordinates in that language and also said he received no such instruction from the chief minister. But he admitted that he gave clear instructions to his subordinate officers “not to hesitate while using force to maintain law and order.”

Two days after the crackdown by police across the state and other BJP-ruled states, in a speech at Delhi’s Ram Lila Maidan, the prime minister Narendra Modi called the police “martyrs” and defended their use of force to maintain law and order. The prime minister did not comment on or cite any of the numerous incidents in recent days where the police were found using disproportionate force on unarmed protestors, such as the brutal police attack in Jamia Millia University a week earlier. After Modi’s speech, the UP police tweeted from its official handle that the prime minister had reminded people of the police’s sacrifice and urged citizens to heed his words.

While I was leaving Nehtaur, we saw riot police occupying a bus stop, leisurely eating groundnuts. The video journalist accompanying me decided to take a picture of them. One riot police personnel saw us. “Wait, let me pose for you,” he said. His colleagues then wore their helmets, held their guns, stood in a line and said, “Ab lo photo”—Now take our photo.