Saharanpur: Thirty days after she was married, Farheen Malik’s eyes tear up, as she sits inside her new home in Ali ka Mohalla, watching videos of her husband on her cellphone. As lathi blows fall on his body with metronomic precision, Rahat Ali screams in pain. Then, Rahat folds his hands in supplication, begging the uniformed officers to stop beating him. The torture doesn’t stop, though.
“Everything is dark now,” the new bride says. “Tell us, will my husband come back alive?”
Days after a video surfaced showing several men apparently being tortured in police custody, the police — who had earlier denied any knowledge of the video — have now backtracked and said that they are conducting an enquiry to ascertain its authenticity. After this is established, action will be taken “if need be”, Saharanpur’s Senior Superintendent of Police Akash Tomar tells ThePrint.
No First Information Report has been filed in the torture case so far, though. Nor have officers seen in the video beating suspects been suspended pending enquiry.
Protests broke out in several parts of the country, including in Saharanpur on 10 June, against a former Bharatiya Janata Party leader who had made controversial remarks about the Prophet Muhammad. In subsequent police action, 86 men were arrested in Saharanpur on the basis of three First Information Reports.
Families insist men were innocent
Families of five of the victims told ThePrint that their sons did not attend the protests, and were arrested simply because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Mohammad Imran’s mother, Raisa, says he had gone for Friday prayers at the local Peerwala Gali mosque, not the larger Jama Masjid where the protests took place. Imran, seen in one of the torture videos dressed in a blue kurta, works as a welder in Kerala, and had come home for his engagement. Following the ceremony, he was scheduled to travel back to work on 12 June.
Mohammad Ali, seen in the video saying his hands had swollen and seized because of the beating, had only gone to the local market to pick up a two-wheeler, his family says. His elder cousin, Amreen, identified him after seeing the torture video. “Are they animals,” she says, “or do they think our brothers and sons are?”
Asif Ali, the brother of Peerwali Gali resident Mohammad Subhan, says his sibling left home Friday for the police station, seeking to help a friend who had been arrested. “The police called him inside their office and then detained him as well,” Asif says.
For days afterwards, alleges Subhan’s mother, Fehmida, authorities denied her son was in custody. “Sometimes they said they knew nothing about the video, and sometimes they said it was from Moradabad, but we knew the truth all along,” she says.
Mohammed Tareek’s father, Taufeek Ahmed, also insists that his son had no role in the protests, and had only gone to attend Friday prayers. “The one in the dark-coloured shirt is my son,” he says.
The demonstrations took place right after the afternoon prayers on 10 June when a crowd of around a thousand people gathered and marched from Jama Masjid to Ghanta Ghar.
Even though there have been claims the violence was planned, local authorities told ThePrint the protests appeared spontaneous. Saharanpur’s Superintendent of Police, City, Rajesh Kumar said, “There was no mobilisation.” “Four or five boys gathered and started shouting slogans, and other people who had come out from the afternoon prayers joined them.”
The police say arrests were made on the basis of footage taken from closed-circuit video cameras. The First Information Reports record the names of all the arrested individuals.
Fearing that other men in the family might also be arrested, only Rahat’s eldest brother-in-law visited him in prison. “He can’t stand or sit or lie down,” says Rahat’s mother, Mehr-un-Nisa. “They have thrashed him everywhere — his hands, legs, back.”
“The videos are the most painful thing any mother can have to see,” she adds. “If he or the other boys actually did anything wrong, which I highly doubt, they should be tried in a court of law. Instead, they made a video of the beatings, to terrorise other Muslims.”
Families of the alleged torture victims are also afraid that that their house will be demolished, as have the homes of some alleged to have had a role in other protests in Uttar Pradesh. Last week, Bharatiya Janata Party legislator Shalabh Mani Tripathi posted a video of men being beaten in police custody : “A return gift,” he wrote.