Bare Face

We shot Suleman, it is allowed in self-defence: An interview with the Bijnor SP Sanjeev Tyagi

Courtesy Newslaundry
06 January, 2020

As nationwide protests against the recently enacted Citizenship Amendment Act escalated in mid December, news reports of police brutality against the protestors began to surface. The police killed protestors in Mangalore, and in Delhi, it fired bullets at students, lobbed tear-shells, detained and beat them brutally. The Uttar Pradesh police’s brutality stood out even amongst these horrific accounts—in the past month, the police of the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled state has been accused of killing over twenty persons, of arbitrarily detaining and torturing hundreds of Muslims, of destroying the personal property of citizens to intimidate them, and of torturing young teenaged boys in its custody. The police has consistently denied all allegations, even as video and reported accounts of horrific and illegal police brutality continue to emerge on social-media and in news reports.

The Bijnor district was among several areas in Uttar Pradesh where, according to the eyewitnesses, the police used excessive force to quell the people’s demonstrations against the CAA. On 20 December, locals in Nehtaur said they had merely closed their shops in solidarity with the marches across the nation. Yet, the police cracked down on them brutally. The locals said that the police broke into their houses, vandalised their belongings and molested the women occupants. Among the policemen, locals said, there were also non-uniformed men who brutally assaulted and raided the houses. Two young men—21-year-old Anas and 20-year-old Suleman—were also shot dead. In an earlier article for The Caravan, I reported in detail on their accounts and the devastation wreaked by the police. 

I met Sanjeev Tyagi, the superintendent of police of Bijnor, at his official residence in the district on 23 December. Tyagi denied that the police used excessive force. He said the police entered only the houses of “rioters” while chasing them from the road. He also admitted the police were accompanied by a militia that included civilians. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence, Tyagi denied any suggestion of police brutality. Instead, he characterised every person who had faced any police action as an updrabi—an agitator—justifying the treatment they faced. He acknowledged that the police had killed Suleman, but claimed it was in “self-defence.” Anas was killed with a heavy weapon, which is usually not used for policing purposes. Tyagi said he was not killed by the police but by “rioters.”  

After 20 December, an audio leaked in the public domain in which Tyagi can be heard asking his forces to deal strictly with the protestors and “break their bones.” He can be heard saying that these orders had come directly from the chief minister’s Adityanath’s office. Tyagi denied the existence of such an audio. When I told him that Nehtaur’s Muslims were too afraid to approach the police, he rubbished their fears and challenged me to bring them to him. Tyagi’s continued refusal to admit to any wrongdoing, even in the face of overwhelming evidence in the public domain, exhibits yet another facet of the police’s callous attitude—a complete denial of the citizens’ trauma and anguish.

A condensed and translated version of the interview with Tyagi is below. The full audio of our conversation has been reproduced at the end.


Sagar: What happened on 20 December in Bijnor? Tell me your version.
Sanjeev Tyagi: After the Ayodhya judgment, we had done a detailed exercise to maintain law and order. [Bijnor] district has a very mixed population, there is always some sensitivity here. It’s one thing that the district has always had a reputation for communal harmony, but the police is always required.

When protests began [in the rest of the country], we saw that it was getting violent in some places, so we were apprehensive. We did the basic preparation, be it intelligence collection, keeping the police force ready—we were fully prepared, so it does not happen in our area. Some [locals] had even assured us that everything would remain peaceful in our district, that we will get cooperation. But police work happens on many layers; the police has to prepare for everything.

On 20 December, Section 144 had been applied in the area. [Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure allows certain administrative officials to pass orders imposing restrictions in case of apprehended danger.] So after the namaz, if people wanted to gather, they would have needed permission. Nobody had applied for permission. In fact we were told that no procession will take place. But we were expecting wadakhilafi [a breaking of the promise]. The people who gathered after the namaz did not disperse. In many areas, they refused to disperse. They began to say, “We will take to the streets.” If a crowd gathers and says that, how will the police stop it? In the Nagina and Sherkot areas, we thought that since people had gathered, we could give them permission. [We thought] that those who went back on their word, we will handle them legally later.

But the people in the crowd had come with other preparations.  They were not in the mood to do a peaceful protest. They pushed forward young kids, who study in madrasas and who had been brainwashed and instigated. As soon as they came out onto the street, they began fighting. They began beating people up and throwing stones. In Kotwali town, Muslims beat up many Hindus.

[On the ground, The Caravan did not find this claim to be truthful. No members of either community expressed any animosity towards the other. Many said that the Hindus and Muslims did not oppose each other, but were unified in their opposition to the police’s crackdown].

It is being said that in Nehtaur, a man named Omraj Saini was shot by someone in the crowd. This district is so sensitive that if it gets instigated, it is very difficult to control it. Our senior officers then reached Nehtaur. One of the agitators shot our constable there. He had a pistol and he fired at the constable. So, the constable fired in self defence. It is a good thing that when the constable fired back, it hit the agitator. They [referring to the crowd] took him inside. We were not expecting that they would have so many firearms.

I was surprised that the people came with so many firearms, with so much preparation. Then we charged at them with lathis and dispersed the crowd, we chased them. [On the ground, all locals and eyewitnesses in Nehtaur denied that the crowd had fired any weapons.]

The crowd was firing indiscriminately. We have to verify this but it is being said that some Muslims were trying to pacify the protestors. It is being said that there was a kid named Anas among them. Some protestors shot him.

The other man, Suleman, died when he was closer to his home. Omraj is injured. The police used minimum force and controlled the situation. The police took a lot of risk. I am thankful that my team exhibited such readiness and bravery. [To keep the situation under control,] we are conducting meetings with people, talking to them.

S: You say you used minimum force but eyewitnesses said that the police shot Anas. He was shot from a long range. This also suggests that the police used a lethal weapon, which is not used in policing. Did the police shoot Anas in the eye?
ST: See, there was no order asking the police to fire at the public. The second thing is that a 32-mm-bore bullet [police guns are usually 9-mm-bore] was retrieved from Anas’s body, so there is no question of him having been shot from a police weapon.

S: Have you sent it for forensic testing?
ST: Yes, we’ve sent it. The cartridge has been retrieved from his body only, so how can there be a question about it. We will have to see the report.

S: Suleman was shot from a very close range.
ST: Yes, because he shot at the constable, Mohit.

S: You admit that Suleman died because of police firing?
ST: Of course. In self-defence. Suleman shot at Mohit. The constable had a pistol in his hand, so he shot back.

S: Has a gun been retrieved from Suleman?
ST: We have retrieved a 9-mm bullet from his body. Mohit’s gun was 9-mm, its bullet has been retrieved.

S: Suleman was preparing for the civil-services exam.
ST: The thousand or so boys who were on the streets, they were all doing something or the other. Many of them were studying.

S: Suleman did not have any criminal antecedents.
ST: You think that any of the kids there had any criminal antecedents? Very few would have had criminal antecedents.

S: But how you can shoot at him?
ST: Who shot?

S: You said just now that your constable, Mohit, shot Suleman. You shot him in the chest.
ST: It is allowed in self-defense na, yaar. If someone shoots at you and you have a pistol in your hand, what will you do?

S: There is a difference between us, sir. You are the police.
ST: What if he had shot once more, and if the constable had died? What are you saying? Even you would kill in self defence. 

S: But you shot at him with the intention to kill. You shot him in the chest.
ST: When someone shoots at you and you have a gun, what would you do?

S: Where did the bullet hit Mohit?
ST: He was shot in the stomach. What should he do? It is common sense.

S: The locals say that police killed Anas.
ST: How can they say that? Were they also in the riot?

S: Why were Anas and Suleman’s families not allowed to bury them in Nehtaur?
ST: The police must have been apprehensive about the law-and-order situation—that it does not get disturbed. 

S: It is being alleged that the police entered peoples’ homes and beat them.
ST: No complaint has come to me. Somebody posted on Twitter that the police entered homes. So we have set up a committee of three people to enquire into this—the additional superintendent of police, the circle inspector and an inspector. These three will look into this and if any police officer has done this, they will find him.

 But first tell us whose home is being talked about? We do not know, no one has come to us. You tell us whose homes were broken into.

S: I have visited three ransancked houses in Naya Bazaar. I spoke to the residents as well.
ST: Which three?

S: There were many such homes. If you go to Naya Bazaar, you will find them yourself. They are not coming to you because they are scared of you.
ST: You get them with you. How do you know that they came to us and we said no? You bring them with you.

S: You are open to registering a complaint?
ST: Why not?

S: And you are not aware that police officials entered people’s houses?
ST: I have only seen this on Twitter. I immediately formed a committee to look into this.

S: You did not sanction it?
ST: What are you saying? This is common sense. Our work is not to trouble any innocent people. It is different if it is an agitator, then the police will chase them and enter their houses also, and if there is a fight, it’ll fight also. But it will not unnecessarily trouble anyone. If some agitators have told you this, then it will have to be checked [whether they are telling the truth.]

S: An audio has leaked in the public domain in which you can be heard telling your forces to “break the bones” of protestors. You can be heard saying that the orders came from the chief minister Adityanath’s office, and that they should be assured of legal protection. How do you respond?
ST: First of all, I do not know which audio you are referring to. Secondly, I have neither heard such an audio recording nor made it. 

S: You did not have any meeting with the chief minister in which it was said that protestors’ arms and legs should be broken?
ST: There is no question of that. How will I have met him? You think it is easy for any officer to meet the chief minister saab? I have not had any personal meeting with the CM.

S: You did not give your force any such instruction?
ST: I have certainly told the police officers that they can use as much force as is necessary to maintain law and order, and that they should not hesitate. Minimum force should be used to save the lives of 40 lakh people. If two–three thousand people descend onto the streets in anarchy and begin hitting people, then we cannot tolerate that, right? You tell me, should we allow that?

S: It seems you have used disproportionate force on the residents.
ST: Seems to whom?

S: To the people who narrated their agony to me, and from the damage I saw.
ST: To you, right? When you conduct a detailed enquiry, it’ll become clear to you that it is not so.

S: The locals are saying that the police was accompanied by non-uniformed people who burnt people’s vehicles, who entered their homes and beat them up? Who were these people?
ST: These were the Police Mitr [the term translates to Police’s Friends]. These are special police officers. People from all communities are made Police Mitr. Their purpose is to assist the police. Police regulation allows this; it is not illegal. It is not possible that Police Mitr [would have done this]. Give me a specific instance and I can tell you. They have helped us in many instances. On Eid, on Muharram. In fact, law and order is maintained here because the Police Mitr have been really helpful here. They work hand in hand with the police.

S: What is their job profile?
ST: They stand guard at night, they help the police here and there.

S: Is it also part of their job description to break into people’s homes, to intimidate them and fire in the air? That is what people told me they did, sir. I just want an answer.
ST: Which people? They are saying anything. It is all wrong. There is no question of this.

S: Anas and Suleman were killed. Their families’ first information report was not taken?
ST: Get them. You get them. Who said that they came to ask for an FIR and were turned away? Why do you want to believe this theory? You get someone from their home and do it. Who is saying no?

S: So you are saying the FIR was not done because they did not come to you?ST: I am saying you get them. We have registered an FIR. If they want a copy, you get them, we will give them a copy. Whatever they want to give, we will make it part of the investigation. But why do you want to believe that we are doing something wrong or that we are sitting here to do wrong?

S: If you are so friendly, why are people not coming to you?
ST: [Omraj] came here after three days. His FIR has been registered. See, the agitators will always be scared. If you have spoken to them then they will obviously have fed you such stories.

S: You believe that the people lack confidence in the police’s work?

ST: They will lack confidence, of course. Such a big incident has happened, those who messed up will be scared. There can be no confusion about this.


The Caravan is publishing the unedited audio recording of the interview. The conversation between Sagar and the SP begins about two and a half minutes into the audio recording.