Lucknow: The women of Old Lucknow are petrified, shaken and furious at the lack of safety even within the four walls of their homes.
Amid the violence and subsequent arrests that swept this part of the Uttar Pradesh capital during anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests last week, several women claim to have been lathicharged by male police officers, their homes vandalised and cars smashed.
Speaking to ThePrint, 65-year-old Razia Khatoon said she was inside her Daulatganj home on the afternoon of 19 December when two men — part of the crowd protesting against the allegedly communal law that has spurned protests across the country — barged in.
The men ran up to the terrace when the police came following them. Instead of searching for the two, the police started beating up Khatoon, she said.
“They hit me on my knee, in my stomach. They abused me relentlessly. I kept asking them why they are doing this — but the more I asked, the more they abused me… The more they hit me,” Khatoon told ThePrint showing her swollen knee.
Khatoon’s decades-old home now lies in a shambles — a broken television set here, some dismantled toys there. She claimed the four policemen eventually arrested the two men they were looking for, but not before ransacking the entire house.
“We kept telling them we have nothing to do with the two men, and that they can go and arrest them. But they just kept breaking things mindlessly,” said Khatoon’s younger daughter-in-law Ikhtara.
The allegations come amid widespread criticism of the Uttar Pradesh Police for its action during the anti-CAA protests. Some public figures have sought an independent judicial probe against the force for its “excesses”. Over 1,100 people are under arrest and 5,558 kept in preventive detention in the state, officials have said in a statement.
The official death toll in UP is 19.
‘What was the point of this?’
On 19 December, the Lucknow police entered the home of Sheeba Ali in Hussainabad locality of the city and arrested her 15-year-old son Ikhlaq, husband Imtiaz Ali (42) and brother Imran (45). The haunting memories pushed the 40-year-old to move back to her mother’s house in the city along with her children.
“There is no point staying here anymore. They have taken away my husband, my child and my brother. I am worried the police will come there again, so I have moved back to my mother’s place,” she told ThePrint.
But it isn’t just the arrest of male members or the lathicharge that is hurting the women in old Lucknow — the vandalism of their properties has also relegated them to the inner corners of their homes.
Najma Begum, a 65-year-old who has been teaching Arabic to children at her Daulatganj house for many years, couldn’t hold back tears as she recalled the evening when multiple policemen allegedly smashed her car.
“They destroyed my car in front of my eyes but I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t stop them. They didn’t even want to arrest anyone from my home — they didn’t even enter my home. I don’t understand what the point was of doing this,” Begum told ThePrint.
Asked about the alleged vandalism, the UP Police said an “investigation is under way.”
“Whatever the police did was in retaliation to the stone-pelting. But whatever cases there are, we are investigating them,” Vikas Chandra Tripathi, Additional Superintendent of Police (SP), West Lucknow, told ThePrint.
At least 250 people have been arrested in Lucknow since the anti-CAA protests broke out. Of these, 54 have been from the old Lucknow region, Tripathi said. Asked about the alleged arrest of minors, he added that these are “matters under investigation”.
Lucknow saw the death of one person in the violence — Mohammad Wakeel (32), who died of bullet injuries. Two others in the city are being treated for alleged bullet injuries — 15-year-old Mohammed Jeelani and 17-year-old Mohammed Shameem.
With big banners of “wanted” men emerging across various parts of Lucknow, many passersby have been clicking pictures and taking note of the faces. But some local residents have their reservations.
“How can we be sure that all the faces on this poster are that of rioters? They can be peaceful protesters too or simply people who were walking by and don’t have anything to do with the protest. These banners can have a damaging effect on their lives,” said a 23-year-old woman, who didn’t wish to be named.
“And why aren’t there any banners of the policemen who vandalised properties?” asked another woman.
Meanwhile, several shop owners in the Daulatganj area said they have started to shut shop at 6 pm since violence broke out in the city. Earlier, the shops would be open until 11 pm.
“These are mostly shops that sell items for women. Even otherwise, it’s mostly ladies who would do the shopping for their homes. Now if no woman is venturing out, there is no point in keeping these shops open past 6 pm,” said Mohammad Danish, who sells home decor items.