Lucknow/Sambhal: Private-school teacher Mujahidul Islam was, as he put it, “in a state of shock” because the Uttar Pradesh (UP) government has demanded from him a good-behaviour bond of Rs 50,00,000, or 416 times his monthly income.
When notice of the bond first reached Islam in the town of Sambhal on 29 February 2020, he thought it was a mistake. Women protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) sat outside his house, but no one from his family joined in, said Islam.
Even if they did, they would be within their constitutional rights to do so.
”There are high chances that both accused (the notice is issued against a Farrukh Jama too) can breach the peace of the city, so please do the favour of imposing the highest possible bond,” said the notice, issued by Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Rajesh Kumar to the local police.
“I realised the notice was not a mistake,” said Islam, a clean-shaven, well-built and bespectacled man, who tried and failed to meet local police officials. A local lawyer told Islam he had been served the notice for participating in an anti-CAA protest.
“I do not know how my name came up,” said Islam. “I am a small teacher struggling to meet the daily needs of my family. I do not know what will happen next.”
Islam is one of 70 in the western UP town of Sambhal ordered to sign the bonds. Similar notices have been served on 2,000 people in Aligarh, 100 km southwest of Sambhal—one of the epicentres of protest against the CAA, witnessing riots and police action—and more than 100 in the state capital Lucknow, among other cities. No clear statewide figure is available, but such notices are expected to be in the thousands.
Although some Hindus were made to sign bonds, the majority of those signing are Muslim and poor, we found, afraid of the police and the legal process, largely without criminal records and signing without question because they were relieved at not being arrested. The bonds are similar to the ones people will criminal cases must sign when they are released on bail.
“I want to end this matter here because I know what the police are capable of doing,” said Waqar Ahmed, a Lucknow barber, who has hired a lawyer for Rs 5,000. “I am a family man, and I do not want any legal trouble.”
Those served notice have to deposit a one-time fee of Rs 300 after signing the bond and appear before a sub-divisional magistrate or police commissioner. If they do not, an arrest warrant can be issued. Paying the bond amount or attaching property if they fail to do so is the next step, although lawyers said they knew of only a few cases where the payment was made.
What the notices do create is anxiety, humiliation and tension: for being shamed, for appearing before an officer of the law, for living with the prospect of arrest and property taken over by the government.
“These notices have created a lot of fear in the community and people fear their property may be attached by the government, if they do not obey,” said R Hasmi, a Lucknow tradesman (we are withholding his profession for fear of identification by neighbours). “My family is scared, and my Hindu neighbours have started believing that I am some sort of mafia slapped with a criminal charge. This has dented my image in society.”
The notices have been served under Sections 107 and 116 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). These sections allow “executive magistrates” to demand bonds, with or without sureties, from people for “keeping the peace or maintaining good behaviour”.
“These sections are mostly used as a preventive measure against a person who could pose a threat to the peace of the society,” said K A Pandey, a lecturer at the Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Law University in Lucknow. “But this can only be done only after receiving information and formal opinion that there are substantial grounds against that person.” There is no evidence this process was followed.
Sambal Superintendent of Police (SP) Yamuna Prasad said his department issued notices only after “proper identification” by intelligence officers. Despite several requests over many days, he declined further comment on questions of legality and grounds on which the notices were served. In general, since the crackdown on anti-CAA protests began, police and other government officials have largely stopped responding to journalists
A Day’s Leave Every 14 Days To Report To The Police
As Islam and the few thousands served good-behaviour notices present themselves to an SDM every 14 days, they are resigned to the consequences.
“I will have to take a day’s leave from school, and my pay will be cut,” said Islam, who earns Rs 12,000 a month.
He can challenge the notice in court, but Islam said he cannot afford a lawyer’s fees, so he will continue to present himself before the SDM.
SP Prasad said the notices were meant to stop people so identified from “participating in further protests” and to “maintain communal harmony, law and order” in Sambhal, a district headquarters and town of more than 221,000, many centuries old, known for menthol and artisans who produce buffalo-hide and mother-of-pearl handicrafts.
Islam is one of 13 in Sambhal made to sign a bond of Rs 50,00,000 while the other 57, including seven women, were made to sign bonds of Rs 100,000, said Prasad.
While the CrPC allows “executive magistrates” to issue such bonds and notices, criticism abounds around UP police and government failures to adhere to the law in stifling protests.
For instance, among those issued notices—asking why they should not be acted against for anti-CAA violence—in January 2020 in Firozabad district were 90-year-olds and a man dead for six years; juveniles wrongly taken into police custody alleged torture in December 2019; local courts released protestors citing a lack of police evidence; on 17 February 2020, the Allahabad High Court stayed a restitution demand, or “recovery notice” in legal parlance, issued by the Kanpur administration; and on 9 March 2020, the Allahabad High Court ordered the removal of government billboards naming alleged protestors, from whom demands of restitution were made, as “highly unfair” and an “unwarrranted interference in privacy”.
On 19 December 2019, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath threatened “badla (revenge)” against those who caught, on closed-circuit cameras and police videos, in violent protests.
‘If The Police Have Proof, They Should File FIRs’
If the police have proof, then they should file first information reports (FIRs) and make arrests, said Ali Zaidi, a Delhi lawyer who practices in the Supreme Court and is fighting cases of alleged police excesses during anti-CAA protests in UP.
“Issuing notices to people without criminal records is equal to mental torture,” said Zaidi. “If the police have particular evidence against people, why don’t they register an FIR? Do the magistrates record the voices of those to whom a notice is issued? Do the police have satisfactory evidence? These notices are nothing but a bogus threat to suppress protests...they will be nullified by the courts once challenged.”
But there are few challenges. All those we spoke to were only anxious to have the notices dropped.
“I do not want to drag myself into any legal matter with the police, which is why I have obeyed the notice and have been marking my attendance,” said Mohammad Israel, cleric at a mosque in Lucknow’s Muslim Nagar neighbourhood.
“The working of police is very controversial in Uttar Pradesh,” said Mohammad Shoaib, a lawyer with the legal advocacy Rihai Manch. He was placed under house arrest in Lucknow on 18 December 2019 and the next night sent to jail. He was charged under 18 sections of the Indian Penal Code—ranging from rioting to attempt to murder to criminal conspiracy.
Shaoib accepted that he called for protests on social media and other platforms but said he did not participate in anti-CAA protests. He was in jail for a month before he got bail, after the police failed to provide evidence of the crimes he was charged with.
“I have also been issued notices, and (I have) had not one but many FIRs lodged against me,” said Shoaib. “But the police failed to prove any of the charges in court.”
“Issuing such mass notices (as in Sambhal and Aligarh) is not going to help,” said Shoaib. “This particular section (107 and 116) of the CrPC is becoming a tool to silence voices of dissent, which is against the very concept of democracy.”
To those signing good-behaviour bonds, there is no succor in the legal system and democracy. “I do not know why I have received the notice, and I my advocate informs me that it has been done so I do not participate in any protest,” said Israel the Lucknow cleric.
“I do not want to drag myself into any legal matter with the police,” said Israel. “I am thankful to Allah that police only sent me this notice and not jailed me falsely or attached my property, as they have done with so many others.”
(The writers are freelance journalists and members of 101Reporters.com.)