After Kanpur Violence, Lives Of Poor Muslims Upended, No Justice In Sight

18 Jun 2022 15 min read  Share

In Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur, where communal violence on 3 June was pinned on the minority community, the indiscriminate arrest of Muslims left poor families struggling to gather even basic information about charges levelled by the police. The poorest are ill-equipped to navigate police stations and courts, and have no money to hire lawyers. As the police persist with its seemingly one-sided investigation, they brace for long-drawn legal battles to drain their meagre resources.

B said her son Ghulam Ghose was arrested while he was out conducting business at Parade Chowk, Kanpur. June 8/NIKITA JAIN

Kanpur: Sitting with puffy eyes in her one-room house with an attached kitchen in Heeraman ka Purwa, a locality of Muslim daily wage labourers in Kanpur, Ruksana Parveen, 50, broke down as she tried to explain that her 19-year-old son was innocent.

Worried about the unrest in the city, Sajid Hussain, who is pursuing his undergraduate degree from Prof Rajendra Singh University in Prayagraj, had stepped out to pick up his twin sister Shifa Anam from the Chandni School of Nursing, where she studies, when he was arrested by the police on 3 June, his mother said.

“The police, who are supposed to make us feel safe, are the reason for our sorrow. My poor son was only doing his duty as a brother,” she said. “The police caught him as soon as he stepped out of the house.”

Many Muslim families Article 14 spoke to said the investigation by the UP police into the communal violence on 3 June in the BJP-ruled state was “biased” and “one-sided”. Fifty-five people have been arrested in the two weeks since Muslims came out to demand the arrest of former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Nupur Sharma for her derogatory remarks about Prophet Mohammed.

No Hindu was arrested or named in the FIRs despite video footage of Hindus pelting stones in the presence of the police. Four days after the violence, a local BJP leader Harshit Shrivastava Lala was arrested in Kanpur for his objectionable remarks against the Prophet Mohammad. While Sharma has been suspended by the BJP in the wake of a global outcry over her remarks and multiple criminal cases have been registered against her, she  has not been arrested.

Most of the Muslims arrested live in low-income neighbourhoods that are home to street vendors and daily-wagers. Many are their families’ chief earning members. Not only did the arrests leave poor families in a dire economic condition, the families of the accused said they struggled to gather even basic information about the cases against their loved ones.

They said they were ill-equipped to navigate the police stations and courts. Some were too poor to hire lawyers.

On one hand, the families were terrified of their houses being razed without due process—an illegal practice the BJP government in UP has been using against Muslims who participate in public protests and then face rioting charges. On the other hand, family members, desperate for their young men to be released, braced for long-drawn legal battles guaranteed to drain their meagre resources.

In the case of the main accused, Hayat Zafar Hashmi, 32, founder and president of the Maulana Mohammad Jauhar Fans Association, a non-governmental organisation that has been raising political and social issues impacting Muslims since 2007, there are videos and WhatsApp messages that show that he had called off the protest on 3 June—the day of the violence —at the request of police officials, and postponed it to 5 June. Kanpur police commissioner Vijay Singh Meena said, however, that they would investigate him under the National Security Act, 1980 and the UP Gangsters and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act, 1986.

Stating that he would cancel the protest if Nupur Sharma was arrested, and explaining that the protest was not meant to disturb the peace in Kanpur, Hashmi is heard asking Muslims to gather on 5 June. “We will not under any circumstance come on the streets tomorrow (3 June),” he said in a video. “We are asking our young friends not to hold any kind of demonstration tomorrow.”

A week later, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s government arrested hundreds as protests against Sharma’s remarks erupted in many districts of UP, turning violent in some places. Accusing politician and social activist Mohammed Javed of instigating violence in Prayagraj, the government arrested him and bulldozed his house without due process. Both he and his 24-year-old daughter Afreen Fatima are vocal critics of the BJP. 

The illegality and excessive force with which the police responded to Muslim protesting the insult to the Prophet Mohammed, far less violent than the burning and vandalising of trains and buses by the young men protesting Agnipath— Prime Minister Narendra Modi's new recruitment scheme for the armed forces—that police officials are calling minor incidents and offering to counsel “our children”—critics say exposes the anti-Muslim bias in government, even as 260 were arrested in U.P. on Friday. 


Three FIRs, Only Muslims Named 

Three first information reports (FIRs) have been filed in connection with the communal violence, with 36 people identified and named—all Muslim—and 1,350 unidentified accused. Thirteen sections of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, were invoked in these FIRs.

The first FIR was registered on 4 June at the Becon Ganj police station against 36 people identified by their names, based on a complaint by Beckon Ganj station house officer Nawab Ahmad. It invoked 13 sections of the IPC including 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting a deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly), 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot), 307 (attempt to murder), 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt, 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace) and 506 (criminal intimidation).

The second FIR, registered against a mob of 1,000 unidentified people on 4 June at the Becon Ganj police station, was based on the complaint of a man named Mukesh of Chandeshwar Hata, a Hindu middle-class neighbourhood where there was violence, This FIR invoked sections 147, 148, 149, 153, 307, 504, and 506 of the IPC.

The third FIR, registered on 4 June at the Becon Ganj police station, on the complaint of sub-inspector Asif Raza, named 19 accused including Hayat Zafar Hashmi, and 350 unidentified people, all booked under sections 148, 149, 153, 307, 323, 336, 504 and 506 of the IPC.

The 19 people named in the third FIR, including Hashmi,  are also among the 36 in the first FIR—all Muslim.

On 11 June, the Kanpur Development Authority (KDA) used bulldozers to demolish two properties linked to Hashmi, and demolished an under-construction petrol pump owned by Riyaz Ahmed, who is also booked for the communal violence.

In response to a petition by an Islamic organisation called Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, the Supreme Court on 16 June did not order a stay on the UP government’s demolitions, but said they had to be carried out in accordance with the law.

Parvez Ali, a 60-year-old daily wage labourer living in Becon Ganj, whose 21-year-old son, Bilal, a tailor’s assistant, was arrested and remains in police custody, told Article 14, “If Muslim youth were involved, so were Hindu youth. If you have forgiven Hindu youth, forgive Muslim youth as well.” 


Communal Violence In Kanpur 

The violence occurred at Parade, the city’s main market, bursting with shops and restaurants owned by both Hindus and Muslims, and surrounding areas such as Chandeshwar Hata, Nai Sadak and Yateem Khana, which lead to poorer Muslim-dominated localities such as Chamanganj, Anwarganj and Moolganj.

Eyewitnesses said that after Friday prayers on 3 June, 300 to 400 Muslim men marched from Parade to Chandeshwar Hata, where violence erupted between groups of either community. Both sides accused each other of triggering the fighting by pelting stones. 

At least 40 people, including 20 police personnel, were injured in the clashes.

According to the three FIRs, Muslim shopkeepers were forcefully trying to shut down shops on 3 June. The rioters used guns and weapons such as iron rods and sticks, and also hurled petrol bombs, while the Hindus acted in self-defence, it added.

Speaking with Scroll, Mukesh, the only civilian complainant in the three FIRs registered that day, said he did not even know that he had been named as a complainant in the FIR. Mukesh, gravely injured himself, said he had no knowledge of its contents.

The UP police on 6 June erected hoardings with photographs of more than 40 Muslims, who were identified, they claimed, on the basis of CCTV footage of the 3 June violence. The hoardings asked the public to share information about the men in the photos.

The UP police said they had arrested three people—Saifullah, Mohammad Naseem and Mohammad Umar, linked to the Popular Front of India (PFI), a Kerala-based fundamentalist Islamic organisation routinely blamed by BJP governments for unrest leading to a state crackdown against Muslims—who they said  were in touch with Hashmi.

Speaking with Article 14 on 10 June, police commissioner Meena said the police were analysing the footage and videos and “anyone that is coming under the radar is being arrested”.

On allegations of a biased investigation, Meena declined to comment.

On bulldozers being used on Muslim houses in UP, Delhi University professor of Hindi and a critic of the BJP, Apoorvanand, said it was a “purely political act”, and part of the current government’s ideological project.

“The project is to break the lives of Muslims, to make it impossible for them to live their lives with a sense of certainty and dignity,” he said. “If Muslims feel that by some act of the government, injustice is being done to them and they react, then the punishment is severe.”

Amit Batham, BJP’s general secretary in Kanpur, blamed Muslims for instigating the violence. “Muslim protestors got into an argument with us over closing of our (Hindu) shops.” He said a signal was given to a larger crowd that then attacked the compound.

Naveen Singh, 35, who sells coolers in the Parade chowk market, echoed Batham’s views, saying, “It was one-sided, they (Muslims) started stone-pelting and violence. Nothing happened from the Hindu side.”

On whether business had been affected, Singh said, “All my workers and labourers are Muslims.”


‘We Are Very Poor And Cannot Even Afford A Lawyer’

Insisting that the calls and text messages on his phone would prove that Sajid was home that day, worrying about his sister’s whereabouts, Parveen said, “His mobile phone was also seized by the police. They can check all his messages and call recordings and they will not find anything related to what happened on Friday. There is nothing to incriminate him.”

Following his arrest, his mother said, Sajid has missed three college exams, on 8, 10 and 13 June.

Parveen said the police did not tell them about Sajid’s arrest and they saw it on the television news after a video of him pleading his innocence was circulated on WhatsApp.

“When I have not done anything then why are you catching me?” Sajid is heard saying.

Her husband is a labourer who is unable to work due to ill health, Parveen said, adding, “We are very poor and cannot afford a lawyer. We still haven’t got one.”

Sajid’s aunt, Hina Yasmeen, 35, who came from Mumbai to Kanpur after her nephew was arrested, told Article 14 that when they went to meet Sajid on 3 June at the Kotwali police station, he was crying.

“There were 10 people in one small room and there was urine all over (the floor). He was not given water for 8-10 hours,” she said.

On 15 June,  his family said Sajid had been transferred to Kanpur central jail. 


‘I Want My Child Back, He Did No Wrong’

Not far from Parveen’s house, in another one-room house with an attached kitchen in Becon Ganj, A*, a 45-year-old homemaker, had just returned from the Kotwali police station where she had been asking about her son, 19-year-old Mohammed Azad, a tailor’s assistant, for three days.

On 8 June, five days after the violence, she still didn’t know where he was being held.

A, a thin woman who was sitting next to her husband whose health is failing, wept as she described her visit to Kanpur central jail. She had heard that most of the young men were incarcerated there, but at the jail she could get no information about her son.

“The police officials are not letting me meet my son. I just want my son back. He has done nothing wrong and I would request the government authorities to send my son back,” she said.

Later that day, B*, a 42-year-old homemaker and mother to three children who lives in Becon Ganj, said she was trying to meeting her 21-year-old son Ghulam Ghose at the Kotwali police station. The youngster’s 70-year-old grandmother was crying hysterically, repeating his name over and over again.

B said the police arrested her son, a garment salesman, when he went to pick up a bag of undergarments from a manufacturer in Parade chowk. The goods were meant for sale in neighbouring Lucknow.

“There are no photos or videos of him. The police have no evidence. He was randomly picked up,” she said. “I want my child back, he did no wrong. His routine is work, home and then back to work.” 


Allegations Of Police Brutality 

Three families in Kanpur that Article 14 spoke to alleged police brutality inside jail.

C, who lives in Karnal Ganj, said her son, Mohammed Faraz, 18, was returning from reading namaz when he was arrested by the police on 7 June, along with other boys who worked at a tailoring shop nearby. She said he was assaulted inside the police station.

“My son was beaten up brutally at Kotwali station. They hit his ears so hard, he could hear echoes temporarily,” said C, who briefly met him on 8 June.

“Faraz was told to reveal two more names and told that they would let him off then. Faraz told them he doesn't know, the policeman  took out his revolver and forced him to speak, saying ‘tell us else we’ll kill you here,’” said C, adding that Faraz told her about the police threatening to arrest his family if he did not give them names.

“Why are they only arresting young Muslim boys?  We don't want to say anything else, just give our sons back to us,” the mothers of Azad and Faraz said.

Police commissioner Meena did not respond to Article 14’s messages and calls seeking a response on allegations of police brutality. 


The Main Accused Postponed The Protest 

Hayat Zafar Hashmi, who the police have called the “key conspirator” behind the violence, is a well-known activist in Kanpur. His wife

Zara Hayat Hashmi, a 40-year-old homemaker and mother to a three-year-old girl, said that he topped in class 12 at the Tenderfoot Model School and went on to pursue a BCom at Christ Church College, Kanpur, but was drawn to activism, starting out by organising medical camps for economically weak families.

At 3.50 p.m. on 3 June, when the  violence erupted at Parade Chowk, Zara said that Hashmi was at their home in Becon Ganj.

In a live video posted on Facebook on 2 June, Hashmi can be seen requesting people to postpone the protest.

“We had planned a silent protest by closing our shops on 3 June, but the administration is busy because the prime minister, president and governor and other VIPs are coming. Hence, the administration has requested us to postpone the protest of 3 June and we will fully cooperate,” he is heard saying in the video.

On 3 June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, UP governor Anandiben Patel, and chief minister Yogi Adityanath, accompanied President Ram Nath Kovind to his native village in rural Kanpur.


In two WhatsApp messages sent to assistant commissioner of police (ACP) (Anwarganj) Akmal Khan on 2 June, Hashmi wrote that the protest had been rescheduled for 5 June, and conveyed his cooperation with the police.

At 2:03 am on 3 June, he wrote to the ACP, “If you like, you can stop us tomorrow. If you say, we can stay in the office so you can keep an eye on us. We will switch off our phone if you want us to. Whatever you say, the whole team is with you.”

At a press conference on 4 June, where a reporter asked how violence erupted when Hashmi had postponed the protest, and whether he sent his people to aggravate the situation, police commissioner Meena said, “This is a point of investigation. One cannot deny that this was planned, the way events took place.”

He said “some people” had planned to damage the city’s “sanctity”,  and that they had been foiled by the police’s quick intervention. 

On 6 June, the Hindustan Times reported that one officer claiming anonymity had said content available on a WhatsApp group suggested that Hashmi was encouraging the protest on 3 June. HT said that it had seen the messages.

Denying that Hashmi encouraged the protest on 3 June, Hashmi’s lawyer, Shakeel Ahmad Khan, said the police have been unable to find evidence against the social activist, but the media has been distorting the truth and maligning his image.

“Media has been playing hide and seek with the truth. They should show the truth. If someone is innocent, he should not be made a scapegoat by the media,” he said.

On the HT report citing an anonymous police official alleging that Hashmi encouraged the protest on 3 June in a Whatsapp group, Khan said, “The police have not released any authentic paper to confirm this allegation. Whatever is coming forth through the media, how true it is or is not, there is no basis to it.” He added that until the police investigation is complete, the police cannot show any of its paperwork to the media.

The police have not released any authentic paper to confirm this allegation. Whatever is coming forth through the media, how true it is or is not, there is no basis to it.


Father To A Daughter 

Overwhelmed and on the verge of a breakdown, Hashmi’s wife, Zara, is worried about her family’s future.

In  a conversation with Article 14 on 11 June, Hashmi said there had never been a day when Hayat did not come home. His absence had left their daughter Tabinda Hashmi asking a lot of questions.

“Our little daughter has not smiled in the last three days. She has been asking about the whereabouts of her abbu (father),” she said. “We have told her that he has gone to Delhi.”

Zara said she experienced panic attacks for a few days after her husband was arrested. While she was preparing for a long legal battle, she said she was anxious about fighting alone.

“There is no proof of any crime against him. I can guarantee this,” said Zara. “He was at home all day. He was not even present at the site of the violence.”

“I am not used to these things and have no idea how to handle it and yet I am doing it all alone,” she said. 

(Aliza Noor is an Independent journalist from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.  Nikita Jain is an Independent journalist from Delhi).

(*Some names have been changed to protect identity).