Ghaziabad: The Ghaziabad police shot and wounded three men — Saddam, Kaseem, and Zeeshan — in the legs and arrested them on suspicion of cattle smuggling in an alleged “encounter” that took place around 4.30am Thursday. A cow that the three men were purportedly transporting was unharmed.
According to Ghaziabad (City) superintendent of police Nipun Agrawal, the suspects had opened fire first and injured a constable, and the three were then shot in self-defence.
“The police had received information at Vijay Nagar Police Station that some cow smugglers were transferring a cow in a silver Scorpio. When the police were chasing them, [the suspects’] car hit a tree. When the police asked the accused to surrender, they opened fire on the team and injured a constable. In retaliation, they were injured,” the SP said.
Four FIRs have been lodged under Indian Penal Code sections for attempt to murder and theft, as well as under sections of the Arms Act, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, and the UP Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act.
According to police sources, all three accused were also involved in previous cases of cow slaughter. FIRs have been lodged in these cases, the sources said, adding that they were linked to the accused after their arrest in the present matter.
Meanwhile, speaking to ThePrint, the families of two of the men — Saddam and Kaseem—cried foul over the operation and expressed fears that they may be harmed further in police custody.
Over the past few months, there have been several cases of cow smuggling/slaughter suspects being wounded in “encounters” with the Uttar Pradesh Police.
In November last year, for instance, the Ghaziabad police came under criticism for shooting seven men in their legs in an alleged case of cow slaughter. In two separate cases this March and April, too, alleged cattle smugglers were shot and wounded in Bareilly and Gonda, respectively.
In most cases, police have justified their actions as self-defence.
What the FIRs and police say
According to the FIRs, which ThePrint has accessed, the suspects were travelling in an SUV with a cow when the police started chasing them. When the police team tried to get the men to stop their vehicle, they did not comply and instead detoured into a mud road where they lost control and hit a tree, the FIRs say.
“The three were asked to surrender by the police, but instead they ran towards the fields and opened fire, one bullet hit a constable’s arm. According to our police training, we opened fire on them in self-defence,” the police account quoted in the FIRs says, adding that six bullets were fired at the three suspects.
In a statement, Ghaziabad police said three pistols, live cartridges, sedatives, rope, axe and syringes were recovered from the accused. The cow, the FIRs note, was found in the back of the SUV.
“They planned to take cows to isolated locations, and, after giving them sedatives, intended to kill them and then sell them in Delhi,” a senior police officer told ThePrint.
The FIRs also mention that, during interrogation, the three revealed that they and two other associates had smuggled cow meat previously — in March and May.
Speaking about the alleged earlier crimes in which the accused have been implicated, the senior police officer said: “Zeeshan has a case for electricity theft lodged in 2018 and also under sections of the Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, lodged in 2015. Additionally, he was also charged with attempt to murder and fraud.”
Saddam, he added, also has cases against him under the Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, lodged against him in 2016 as well as “others under IPC sections for punishment for using a false property mark and dishonestly receiving stolen property, and under the NDPS Act”.
‘Why did they have to shoot the boys?’
Both Kaseem and Saddam live in the same Ghaziabad locality, which is home to lower-middle-class households and is dominated by Muslims.
Their family members and neighbours told ThePrint that both men had left their respective homes Wednesday night after getting “drunk”, and that they got news of the arrest only the next day. Some people in this locality also raised questions about the police’s version of events.
In Saddam’s dingy, brick-walled house, members of his family were distraught over the shooting.
“Why did they have to shoot the boys? We are poor, uneducated, but the police should have known better than to shoot all of them. Saddam is also wounded in the forehead,” his aunt Phool Mujra said. “The police force outnumbered them, and the car had had an accident. If the bullet had hit somewhere else, who would have been responsible?”
According to the family, Saddam worked as a construction labourer and was not in the habit of carrying firearms.
“On Wednesday night, he had a fight with his second wife, who is five months pregnant. He left the house drunk and angry, but we know for a fact that he would never have a gun with him,” his sister-in-law said.
Rizwana, Saddam’s wife, also claimed “he would never fire a gun” and alleged that the police had framed him. “The police have planted the guns. We don’t know about the cow… but the cow was safe right? Then why this brutality?”
When asked about the previous cases reportedly lodged against him, his family members professed ignorance.
Just 80 metres or so from Saddam’s house is Kaseem’s residence. His wife Gulafsha said that he left home around 9.30pm Wednesday “for a stroll”, telling her that he would be back by midnight.
She denied knowing anything about cow smuggling, and said she believed that the police had staged the encounter. “They tied the cow to the tree, made a video, leaked it to the media, and shot my husband,” she alleged.
Kaseem’s aunt Kher-un-Nisa told ThePrint that he was a factory worker and stayed out of trouble.
“Ask the entire mohalla how Kaseem is. He has never replied back to elders or been rude to anyone. When he didn’t go to work the next day, his factory employer called and enquired about him… that’s when I saw the news and images of him lying on the ground, with blood spilling out of his legs,” she said.
Both families said they feared that the men would not get adequate medical treatment in custody.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)