Gorakhpur: Noor Jehan hasn’t eaten properly in a week. Her son, 24-year-old Salahuddin, was arrested by the Gorakhpur police Sunday when he was stepping out of the Madina Masjid after the afternoon prayers. Even though he was let off Thursday evening, a sword continues to hang over his head and the 19 others released by the police. They were all arrested under Section 151 of the Criminal Procedure Code and were thus, preventive arrests.
According to the police, the men released are still “being investigated” for their role in the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests that took place last Friday.
“All the people arrested were part of the protest. But we weren’t able to establish their role and if they were rioting or not, based on the CCTV footage. So they were let off,” said V.P. Singh, the Chief Officer of the Kotwali police station in Gorakhpur.
“But they might be arrested again if any evidence emerges,” he added.
Salahuddin, however, said he had nothing to do with the protest. “Even a police jeep has never stopped at my home in my entire life. This arrest is a dark spot on my life and could potentially ruin my life forever.”
“It was like a funeral,” Noor Jehan said, talking about the “worst days of her life when even the cooking stove wasn’t turned on”.
As many as 26 people were arrested by the Gorakhpur police in the past week over allegations of rioting and stone pelting during the protests. Seven of them are still under arrest.
Those who were let off are shaken and traumatised with only one name on their lips — Yogi Adityanath.
The Uttar Pradesh CM had sworn “revenge” on the “violent protesters” of the state, and Gorakhpur residents said the police are “obeying” him word by word.
“The police at this point have been given a free hand. They can do literally anything and get away with it,” said Salahuddin. “Especially after the CM’s statement, they have definitely been working with a vengeful mindset.”
Around 3 pm last Friday, several police officers lathicharged protesters at Nakhaas Chowk — a very prominent market in Gorakhpur. The protest had started from the city’s Jama Masjid after the jummah prayer and several other residents joined on the way.
A video of the alleged Nakhaas Chowk lathicharge had gone viral on social media last week, where the police seemed to be beating up anyone coming their way.
“It was like blind rage. They were hitting anyone who crossed their path,” one of the men present at the site told ThePrint.
A 13-year-old boy, who was in the market at that point, was also caned by the police. His sisters said he hasn’t stepped out of the house ever since and is too scared to even talk to anyone.
“He keeps asking us if the police will arrest him. We tell him he has done nothing and has nothing to worry about. But he is only 13, so of course he will be petrified,” his older sister told ThePrint.
“Even if a police car passes by our home, or if he hears a police siren — he starts having anxiety.” another sister added.
The markets around the Jama Masjid mosque have also gone silent. Several men were arrested by the police from the Shah Maruf market, located next to the mosque.
A 35-year-old man, Mohammed Abdullah, who runs a shop in the market, was arrested by the police Saturday. His brother said he had gone to the police station to enquire about the boys who were picked up from the market.
“The police keep telling us that if he isn’t seen pelting stones or rioting in any of the footages, they will release him. But they have booked him under grave sections like IPC 307.”
Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code is the attempt to murder, and the police confirmed to ThePrint that many of those arrested have been booked on this charge.
“Ever since these arrests, the footfall in this area has fallen almost by half. Until last week, this place was so crowded that it would be a task to just walk around,” a shopkeeper at the market said.
Two RSS men were also reportedly seen with the police during the protests. Several residents said they confronted the police about this but Gorakhpur Additional District Magistrate Rakesh Kumar Srivastava denied the allegation.
“The two men were part of the civil defence force. I took their guarantee in front of the crowd, but the crowd wouldn’t listen to me,” Srivastava told ThePrint. The two men were allegedly wearing helmets, like the rest of the police officers.
“So what if they were wearing helmets, anyone can wear a helmet,” the ADM added.
Yogi Adityanath’s bastion — Gorakhpur
Mohammed Ahmed has been working as a hakeem in Shah Maruf for 45 years now. His son, Mohammed Shadab, was arrested by the police Friday afternoon. He was part of the protesting crowd and had also handed over a ‘memorandum’ to the police officers explaining the protesters’ anti-CAA stand.
A few hours after the protest, Ahmed said, Shadab had gone out to buy medicines for his niece — an asthma patient who ended up inhaling some of the tear gas released by the police that day.
“We were worried about her, so he stepped out of the home to buy medicines for her. But there, some policemen caught hold of him and took him away,” said Ahmed.
He added that when the family members later went to ask the police why he had been arrested, they said, “Your son should have been shot. Be grateful that we only arrested him.”
Ahmed said this arrest is likely to hurt the respect he has earned over the last 45 years.
Adityanath resigned as the Gorakhpur MP in 2017 after becoming the chief minister of UP but the fact that he won the Lok Sabha elections from Gorakhpur five times, consecutively from 1998 to 2014, means he continues to enjoy significant influence here. His “revenge” remark thus holds special significance in the region.
However, the police and the administration maintain that all arrests were “based on CCTV footages” and “this isn’t personal revenge”.
“We aren’t being vengeful at all. The police is treating the people with a lot of respect and in a cordial fashion.” Srivastava said. He added that there was no communal or religious discrimination either.
The people of Gorakhpur, however, said they have become extremely conscious of their Muslim identity in the past couple of years.
“The bureaucracy here mostly has upper caste people, some Dalits. Hardly any Muslim makes it to the system. So as Muslims, we know that they will destroy any Muslim who comes in their way.” a shopkeeper told ThePrint. He described the protests as a culmination of the anger pertaining to the “mob lynchings, the Ayodhya verdict and finally the CAA”.