Lucknow: In a development reminiscent of the Kairana exodus, over two hundred Muslim families of Taprana village in Shamli town in Muzzafarnagar district, Uttar Pradesh, have alleged that they were being persecuted for being a religious minority by the local police at the behest of the Yogi Adityanath government. They have threatened to leave the area where they were born, grew up and built their homes.
Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) formed the government in the state in 2017, and Yogi Adityanath assumed the office of Chief Minister, there has been a history of allegations of police discrimination. This is not the first time when Muslims have threatened an exodus due to alleged police persecution in the state.
Muslims Flee Houses After Police Vandalism
According to local Muslim residents, Shamli has seen repeated incidents of harassment and alleged one-sided action by the police, inciting communal tensions, in clashes between Hindus and Muslims. The local Muslims have put up 'for sale’ signs outside their houses, requesting people to buy the properties so that they could vacate them. “Yeh makan bikau hai. Hum police aur uske mukhbir dwara ki gayi tod-fod se pidhit ho kar gaon se palayan par majboor hai! Hamare bacchey aur aurtein mansik taur par pidhit ho kar gaon chodne par majboor hain. (This house is for sale. We are suffering due to vandalism by the police and its informers and are forced to flee. Our children and women are mentally disturbed and forced to leave the village)," read posters and banners that have appeared on several dozen houses in the Taprana area, part of Shamli city.
"On May 25, a team of Uttar Pradesh police came here to arrest a person called Afzal, who had been accused of cow slaughter, and was in jail for a year in 2019. When he stepped out from jail, he was banished from the city and district for six months. When the period was over, he returned home to celebrate Eid with his family. An informer told the police about Afzal. The very next day, the police landed up at his home and wanted to arrest him again since the six-month period was not over and a few days were left. When villagers opposed the arrest, a scuffle broke out between cops and local residents," Nasir, a resident of the area, told NewsClick.
"The next day, at around 3 a.m., a heavy contingent of police entered the village to arrest Afzal. When the villagers confronted the police and tried to stop the detention, the cops deliberately ransacked Muslim homes, misbehaved with women, looted cash and jewellery. Those who opposed them were beaten mercilessly by the police," he added.
According to the residents, the washbasin, bathroom, bed, furniture, fridge, utensils and other items were broken and strewn all over. “We assured the police that we will hand over Afzal and they can take whatever action they please, but the police did not pay any heed as they had already planned to target us, using Afzal as a pretext," another resident of the area, who wished to remain anonymous, said. He added that they were being targeted because “we are Muslims. A group of policemen came to our homes, they abused us, harassed the women and threatened the children.”
Hamid Miftani, another resident of Taprana, had a similar story to tell. “At least 150 Muslim families have migrated to other places due to police high-handedness, a day after the police went on a rampage. Ever since the lockdown was announced by the Prime Minister, police raids in our village have become routine. This is the fourth such incident in two months. Before this incident, three people were taken into custody in a different case," he added.
A woman, whose home was looted, and her household items smashed, told NewsClick on the condition of anonymity that they did not know who Afzal was and what crime he had committed. “But the way policemen were furious and beat us up, it seemed they came with a target, which was to kill us. There were no female police officers in sight and they were brutalising women," she said.
Fear and anxiety have gripped the Muslim community in Taprana, a Muslim-majority area of western Uttar Pradesh. Tensions have mounted after over 28 people were sent to jail.
"The police do not act like a neutral agency, they tend to prosecute Muslims only. Many members of the community migrated to other places due to police high-handedness. This is not the first time that Muslims have been targeted either. Earlier, when nationwide protests against the CAA/NRC were ongoing, there were similar instances of harassment by the UP police," said Faiyaz Khan, another local from Taprana. “People are scared after the recent conduct shown by the police – the way policemen have treated women, children and vandalised our homes," he added.
A case has been registered against 100 people under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and 30 people from among them have been arrested so far, Superintendent of Police, Vineet Jaiswal, confirmed to NewsClick.
"On May 26, a police team had gone to arrest two people who had been accused of cow slaughter, when some villagers started pelting stones and managed to free him," Jaiswal told NewsClick. He said that 26 people had been arrested and two had surrendered in court.
When questioned about the residents’ claims that the police barged into their houses and smashed their belongings, the SP rejected the accusation of police brutality. “The police were conducting a raid. They wanted to arrest those accused of cow slaughter who had been banished and returned home before the six-month period was over. We only wanted to take him into custody," he said.
This is not the first time that such an incident has been reported from western Uttar Pradesh. In 2017, a Muslim family in Meerut was forced to leave their house after the Hindu population in the hamlet objected to their presence.