New Delhi: Till August 2020, the National Security Act — a law that allows preventive detention on grounds of defence, security and public order — was invoked against 139 people in Uttar Pradesh. Of these, 76 cases involved people accused of cow slaughter.
One such case was registered against three brothers from the Imaliya village in the Sitapur district of UP in July last year. Parvez (33) and Irfan (21) were arrested on 12 July 2020 after the police allegedly caught them with 60 kg cow meat along with tools for slaughtering cattle while 40-year-old Rahmatullah was arrested the next day.
A month later, they were slapped with the UP Gangsters and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act, 1986, and the National Security Act, 1980, while they were in judicial custody.
They were in jail for over a year before the Allahabad High Court quashed the NSA detention on 5 August this year, on a petition filed by them. However, their petition ended up being futile as the HC order came after they had already served almost a year in detention — which is the maximum period a person can be detained for under the NSA.
While state authorities have defended the decision to slap NSA charges by alleging that the three brothers “annoyed the Hindu community” in the UP village, the accused claim that they were “victims of politics”.
5.30 am arrest
According to the FIR filed against the three brothers, which was accessed by ThePrint, some police officers were informed by an informant about two butchers who had brought beef to Rahmatullah’s house and were planning to sell it.
The police then arrested Irfan and Parvez, allegedly red-handed, from their home at 5.30 am on 12 July 2020. While Rahamatullah managed to escape arrest then, he was nabbed a day later. The FIR was filed under provisions of the UP Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act 1955 and the Criminal law Amendment Act.
While they were in custody under the first FIR, another FIR was filed against them under the provisions of the UP Gangsters and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act on 25 July for the same allegations.
The Gangsters Act is a controversial law in the state and has been invoked rather indiscriminately against land mafias and journalists among others. On 19 November 2020, the Allahabad HC also criticised the UP Police for invoking the law in “trivial matters” and said that it was being “misused by the police”.
Twenty days after the second FIR, on 14 August, the then Sitapur District Magistrate Akhilesh Tiwari passed an order allowing their detention under Section 3 of the National Security Act 1980, which allows central or state governments to pass orders of detention.
Their detention was subsequently confirmed by the Uttar Pradesh Advisory Board as well as the UP government in October last year.
The detention was periodically extended after that. Under NSA, a person can be detained for a maximum of 12 months and an extension needs to be sought every three months after the detention begins.
According to the brothers’ lawyer, Ateeq Khan, their detention was extended periodically and they served a total of 12 months in prison.
Loopholes identified by court
While under NSA detention, the three men were granted bail in the FIR under the cow slaughter law on 27 August 2020 and in the FIR under the Gangsters Act on 11 November 2020.
The August order, passed by an additional district and sessions judge in Sitapur, had pointed out a few loopholes in the prosecution case, especially the absence of any public independent witnesses.
The court also pointed out that the veterinary officer had identified the meat as beef by just looking at it but no forensic report had been filed to prove it.
The FIR also stated that the veterinary officer looked into the sack and confirmed that the seized meat was cow meat adding that “the recovered beef was buried after making a pit in the ground” the same day.
‘Annoyed Hindu community’: NSA detention order
Meanwhile, the NSA detention order against the brothers cited Article 48 of the Constitution, which directs the government to “endeavour to…take steps for…prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle”.
The order went on to say that the accused were making “all efforts” to get bail, noting that if the accused are granted bail they will indulge in similar activities.
The order also said that their activities will adversely affect the maintenance of public order and damage the communal harmony of the village.
The Sitapur DM Vishal Bhardwaj also defended the NSA order in an affidavit submitted to the HC in January this year, noting that the accused had “committed a heinous crime and annoyed the Hindu community because they had involved in slaughter of cow”.
The affidavit added that after the news of beef being recovered and their arrest spread, “the law and order situation became tense, communal harmony was disturbed”.
The brothers also filed a representation against the NSA order on 24 August last year before the DM. The letter, a copy of which was perused by ThePrint, claimed that all the allegations and the weapons allegedly seized from them were “false and fake”. They also accused the police of fabricating the entire story.
The brothers also cited “political malice” as a reason behind their arrest in their letter. “The case has been falsely registered out of political malice so that the applicant or any member of his family cannot contest any of the upcoming elections,” it said.
An allegation that they still believe in. “Hum bas rajneeti ka shikar huye hain (We have just become victims of politics),” Parvez told ThePrint.
He also alleged that the whole case is fabricated, claiming that when the police knocked on their door that night, Rahmatullah wasn’t even in the house and was at his in-laws instead.
Parvez now calls for compensation after being detained for an entire year despite the High Court eventually quashing the detention and also blamed the state government for “targeting Muslims”.
“We were in jail for a year, we should get compensation for our loss, our wife and children were bereaved,” he said.
Advocate Narendra Gupta, who represented the brothers in the high court, also said, “Their petition was virtually infructuous because they had already spent a year in detention when the judgment came. Now they are entitled for compensation because they were detained at the behest of the State.”
Released a year later
The three brothers had filed habeas corpus petitions before the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court on 5 January this year. Exactly 8 months later, on 5 August, the high court’s 26-page judgment quashed their NSA detention.
The bench comprising Justices Ramesh Sinha and Saroj Yadav drew a distinction between a cow being slaughtered in the privacy of one’s house and one being slaughtered in public view.
It also noted that the detention order did not mention the second FIR under the Gangsters Act, and went on to opine that “there was no material for reaching the conclusion that the petitioners/detenues would repeat the activity in future”.
Parvez told ThePrint that they were finally released on 13 August, over a year after they were first arrested.
However, the legal fight for the three brothers is not over yet. They still have to face trial under the two FIRs that were filed against them under the cow slaughter law and Gangsters Act.
Their lawyer, Ateeq Khan told ThePrint that charge sheets have been filed in both the FIRs and the brothers will now have to face trial in the case.
He, however, maintains that the probe in the case has been “unfair”.
“The way in which people are being arrested in the name of cow slaughter is not right. In the absence of a fair investigation, if an innocent person goes to jail, I feel terrible as a human. Police investigation itself in UP is not fair,” he said.
(Edited by Rachel John)