The Uttar Pradesh Police dealt with the protests in the State against the CAA and the NRC with a heavy hand. In Lucknow, a number of human rights activists, lawyers and retired policemen were arrested for allegedly participating in the protests. Among them were the retired Indian Police Service officer S.R. Darapuri, the noted human rights activist and advocate Mohammed Shoaib and activist-politician-artiste Sadaf Jafar. Also arrested were Pawan Ambedkar, Robin Verma and Deepak Kabir.
While Sadaf Jafar was arrested when she was returning from the protest venue, where she made videos of the event, Shoaib and Darapuri were picked up from their homes. In early January, the court granted bail to all of them, with 76-year-old Shoaib being the last to be released. Shoaib came into the limelight in the wake of the serial blasts that rocked many courts in Lucknow, Varanasi, Faizabad and Gorakhpur in 2007. At a time when no lawyer was ready to appear in a terror-related case, Shoaib chose to appear for the accused. Aftab Alam Ansari, who was initially named the key accused in the case, was released 20 days after his arrest, after the police admitted that it was a case of mistaken identity.
Since then, Shoaib’s organisation, Rihai Manch, has been working for the cause of justice.
Shoaib was released almost a month after his arrest. A couple of days after his release, Shoaib came to Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, where women are sitting in protest since December 15 against the CAA. He took time to speak to Frontline about his arrest and the attitude of the police when women came out to protest at the Ghantaghar (clock tower) in Lucknow on January 18. Excerpts:
How do you look at the police repression of the peaceful protest at the Ghantaghar?
During the protest, common citizens remain peaceful. It is members of the Sangh Parivar and the police who enter the crowd to turn it violent. They indulge in arson and take to violence.
But such a thing as the police walking away with protesters’ blankets has not been seen before.
The circumstances are worse than it was during the Emergency. The Ghantaghar protest is more recent. The earlier protest at Parivartan Chowk was disturbed in a much worse manner. Buses were set on fire and there was stone throwing. All this was done by supporters of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh [RSS]. They were arrested and taken to the police station, but, the police treated them to tea and let them go.
The police’s behaviour towards you, Darapuri, Sadaf Jafar, and others was in direct contrast to this.
Yes. Different yardsticks are used for different people. But we have to fight on.
How did they arrest you? Were you at the protest site?
I was under house arrest from 5 p.m. on December 18. Darapuri was under arrest the entire day. At 11.30 p.m., they came to my house and told me the CO [Circle Office] is calling. On that pretext, they took me to Hazratganj Kotwali. They kept me in the lock-up there, and abused me. In the first information report, the police said that I was arrested on December 20, at 8.45 a.m., from Parivartan Chowk.
Were you given immediate access to your lawyers?
They did not give any access. A habeas corpus petition was filed in the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court. I was given bail only on the High Court’s direction.
Were you too subjected to torture by the police?
In jail, there was no bad treatment but at the Hazratganj police station, they abused me. When I objected, they threatened to ruin my family, arrest my sons, register fake cases against them, and let them rot in jail for the rest of their lives. They kept threatening me.
Did they use any communal slur?
No, but they gave a speech in favour of the CAA and wondered how anybody could oppose it. I was luckier than others as violence was not used on me. But Deepak Kabir and Pawan Rao Ambedkar were beaten badly. Robin Verma was thrashed. I have seen their injuries. Ambedkar and Kabir were with me in the jail.
Kabir and Ambedkar were also stripped in jail in front of Sadaf Jafar.
Yes, that is true.
Are you going to court to seek damages?
Darapuri sahib and I have made our plans. We will approach the Lucknow bench of the High Court. We will not keep quiet.
Do you think all these arrests and heavy-handedness of the police took place because of the Chief Minister?
It is not only because of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. Wherever the Bharatiya Janata Party is in power, the police come down heavily on protesters. For them, protesting against the CAA is equivalent to treachery. In Uttar Pradesh, it is worse though. Maximum casualties and arrests have been reported from the State.
At the end of the day, they seem to be carrying forward the RSS vision of “we” and “they” and also reinforcing the caste order. Do you agree?
Yes, they are carrying forward the agenda of V.D. Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar. See, in these arrests also, there was a pattern. Darapuri and Ambedkar are Dalits. They were arrested. Sadaf Jafar and I are Muslims. We were arrested. Verma belongs to the other backward classes. He was arrested. Deepak Kabir was thought to be Kabir, and held. Our co-protester Ramesh Dikshit was not arrested. I asked the CO, Hazratganj, why he was not arrested. He said Dikshit was his teacher; but the answer was obvious.
So, what is the way forward?
No way other than going down fighting. We do not have to step back. They will keep coming hard. We have to keep fighting hard. It is a question of justice.