V.A.M. Ashrof, Independent Researcher
The increasing police atrocities, human rights violations, communal riots, wide-spread fear, the deliberate and anti-minority and anti-Dalit activities all make Uttar Pradesh the graveyard of democracy. This dossier depicts a data-based analysis of the intensity of state terrorism in Uttar Pradesh happening day by day post 2017.
Yogi Adityanath- Personification of Hindutva
Since the crowning of Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh on 19th March 2017, the state has been turning into a police state and crime capital of India. Yogi, notorious for his filthy anti-Muslim stand had been the Member of Parliament from the Gorakhpur constituency, Uttar Pradesh, for five consecutive terms since 1998. He scaled the heights of leadership in short span of time because of his controversial views necessary for a right-wing populist Hindutva firebrand.
He became a disciple of the Hindutva nationalist Mahant Avaidyanath, the chief of the Gorakhnath Math. Adityanath belongs to a specific tradition of Hindutva politics in Uttar Pradesh linked to Mahant Digvijay Nath, who led the capture of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya for Hindus on 22nd December 1949. Both Digvijay Nath and his successor Mahant Avaidyanath belonged to the Hindu Mahasabha and were elected to the Parliament on that Hindutva political party’s ticket. After the BJP and the Sangh Parivar joined the Ayodhya movement in the 1980s, the two constituents of Hindu nationalism merged.
Adityanath was the youngest member ever to be elected to the Lok Sabha at the age of 26. He was elected to the Parliament from Gorakhpur for five successive terms in 1998, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014 elections. He strongly criticised BJP for its “moderate” view which he termed as dilution of the Hindutva ideology.
With UP in its pocket, BJP is now confident that it can shed the pretense of being a party for all and go ahead to pursue its sectarian and communal agenda. For that a Yogi in UP and a Modi in Delhi, both polarising figures in different ways, are perfect fit.
Adityanath faced many investigations for instigating anti-Muslim riots, giving hate-speeches, and planning murders and kidnappings. Adityanath had 18 criminal cases registered against him, according to one tally during the 2014 parliamentary elections, including attempted murder, criminal intimidation and rioting.
He, as he became the chief minister, has had journalists arrested by police under sedition laws for publishing reports critical of his administration, including the botched investigation into the gang rape of a lower-caste girl by upper-caste men. In 2017, Adityanath government ordered withdrawal of around 20,000 “politically motivated” cases, including those against himself and other politicians, mostly hate and communal in nature.
Continuing Anti-Muslim Rhetoric and Mayhems
Adityanath has incited violence against Muslims on more than one occasion. At an election rally in Jaunpur in October 2020, Adityanadh warned about the so-called “love jihad”, “Those who do not mend their ways, will be sent to their death journey (agar woh sudhre nahi toh Ram naam satya hai ki yatra nikalne waali hai).”
Adityanath, during a public speech at Azamgarh, has said, “If they take one Hindu girl, we will take 100 Muslim girls,” referring to the religious conversions due to inter-religious marriages. In the same speech, he continued to say, “if they kill one Hindu, there will be 100 those we” as the gathered crowd shouts: “kill”.
On March 24, 2017, Amnesty International released an unusual statement asking the new chief minister of India’s largest state to publicly retract his anti-Muslim statements. In 2015, he said that if he were given a chance, he would install idols of Hindu gods in every mosque, (Given a chance, will put Ganesh idols in all mosques: Yogi Adityanath”. Deccan Chronicle, 10th February 2015).
“This is the century of Hindutva, not just in India but in the entire world,” he said. He once blamed Mother Teresa of being part of a conspiracy to Christianise India and likened the Bollywood star, Shah Rukh Khan, to a terrorist.
Adityanath openly said that he hates Taj Mahal because, in his view, it does not represent Indian culture, since it was built by Mughals, and Muslims in the country are seen as their lineage.
Adityanath has praised the US President Donald Trump’s decision to enact a ban on citizens from 7 Muslim-majority countries entering the United States and has called for India to adopt similar policies to tackle terrorism.
Narendra Modi, Yogi Adityanath, and Mohan Bhagwat unveiled the plaque to lay the foundation stone of Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir, in Ayodhya on 5th August 2020.
Some of the explicit communally-charged anti-Muslim activities of the Yogi government are listed below:
- On Independence Day celebrations in 2017, Yogi Government has singled-out Muslim religious schools to provide video evidence that their students had sung the Indian national anthem. (The Economist, 17 August 2017)
- The UP police forced thousands of scared residents – mostly Muslims – to execute “good-behavior” bonds, amounting to multi-fold of their income, to deter protests against the citizenship law. On 29th February 2020, a private-school teacher Mujahidul Islam was, as he put it, “in a state of shock” because the UP government demanded from him a good-behavior bond of Rs. 50,00,000 which was equivalent to 416 times his monthly income. Similar notices were served on 2,000 people in Aligarh, one of the epicenters of protest against the CAA, that witnessed riots and police action. Such notices are estimated to be in thousands. The majority of those who were compelled to sign were Muslims and poor most of them without any criminal records. Afraid of the police and the legal process, they signed without questioning and they were relieved at not being arrested. The bonds are almost similar to the ones people with criminal cases must sign when they are released on bail. These notices have created a lot of fear in the community and people fear their property may be attached by the government, if they do not obey.
- The UP government used to attach the properties of the alleged rioters or shame them on billboards even if they are acquitted in a criminal case. Drafted within days to bypass adverse court rulings, Ordinance No. 2 permits the state to begin parallel civil proceedings in the same case. The UP government raised hoardings listing 57 alleged “rioters”, along with their names, pictures and addresses. On 12 March 2020, a bench of two justices of the Supreme Court told the UP government that there was no law to support its action of putting up gigantic hoardings with names, and addresses, for persons allegedly involved in the destruction of public property during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. On 15th March 2020 there emerged a law to support the government: Ordinance No. 2 of 2020 was passed, empowering the government to publish personal details of individuals allegedly involved in the destruction of public property.
- As many as 41 minors were detained and tortured in UP in the wake of anti-CAA protests that erupted after the Citizenship (Amendment) Act was enacted on 12th December, 2019, finds a new report by HAQ Centre for Child Rights. The minors interviewed by the fact-finding team said they were beaten with batons. Close to 41 minors are/were detained and subjected to custodial torture. Of these, 22 minors were detained and tortured in Bijnor and 14 minors in Muzaffarnagar. (Brutalizing Innocence, jointly published by: Quill Foundation Citizens Against hate HAQ: Centre for Childs Rights, Delhi. https://www.haqcrc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/brutalizing-innocence-report.pdf). The report contains documentary evidence of the nature of violence, methods of custodial torture and intimidation. India is also a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Child Rights that upholds a child’s right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly and bans any form of custodial torture.
- On December 19, 2019, chief minister Yogi Adityanath swore to take ‘badla’ (revenge) on those who had vandalised public property during the protests. Footage by TV channels including NDTV shows police ransacking homes belonging to minority communities. The full report is available at: https://www.haqcrc.org/new-at-haq/brutalizing-innocence-detention-torture-criminalization-of-minors-by-up-police-to-quell-anti-caa-protests/
- Along with the specter of love jihad, UP Muslims are regularly being hounded, attacked and in some cases even killed on the charges of cow slaughter, which also remains banned in India. Over the last three years more than 50 people, majority of them Muslims, were killed by Hindu vigilante groups, while scores of others were injured.
- During December 2019, the BJP central government slapped the discriminatory citizenship law i.e., Citizenship (Amendment) Act that aims to strip tens of thousands of Muslims of their citizenship. Yogi Adityanath government forcefully tried to block any type of opposition inside the state registering so many cases against those who rose against CAA. Anti-CAA protesters were detained, non-bailable arrests were done, lathi-charge and teargas were applied on protesters; one person was killed in Lucknow in police firing during December 2019.
- Despite section 144, people came out to protests in Lucknow and Sambhal against CAA. These areas also saw violent protests. Around 200 peaceful protesters were arrested in Lucknow. In Varanasi, 69 people were arrested under non-bailable sections. Anti-CAA protests were seen in 24 districts of UP. Police action against the protestors caused in 24 deaths, 1,200 charge-sheets and filing of 5,000 unnamed FIRs in the state.
- The Aligarh Muslim University Students Union (AMUSU) made a report after conducting its own inquiry into the violence that took place on the campus on the night of December 15, 2019. The report showed the unwarranted use of violence by the police on the students. Police used tear gas shells, sound blasts and lathi-charge against students. Videos have recorded the use of stun grenades, rifles, stone pelting, abusive language and communal slurs, ruthless beating by the police and other forces.
- United States Commission for International Religious Freedom, 2017 Annual Report – India reported that Yogi Adityanath has called for laws to regulate the Muslim population: https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/USCIRF_Tier2_India.pdf
Violence against Christians
A recent report titled Hate and Targeted Violence against Christians in India has shed fresh light on a series of instances of lynching and violence faced by the members of India’s minority Christian community that accounts for just over 2 per cent of the population of the country. The report prepared by the Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) says: “The absolute sense of impunity generated in the administrative apparatus of India by the Corona pandemic lockdown, and the consequent absence of civil society on the streets and in the courts, has aggravated the environment of targeted hate and violence against Christians in major states and the National Capital territory, as seen in the data available till June 2020.”
Releasing half-yearly report on violence against minority Christian community in India, the Religious Liberty Commission of Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFIRLC) said it registered 135 cases of lynching, community repudiation and concerted efforts to stop worship and gospel-sharing in the first six momentous and eventful months of 2020. The 33-page Report titled “Hate and Targeted Violence against Christians in India” stated that the situation has worsened as even in normal times, the police were loath to register cases while communally motivated crime is either unreported, or under reported. It said UP has the dubious distinction of topping the persecution scale with 32 cases of hate crimes while Tamil Nadu also witnessed the spurt in violence against Christians.” Uttar Pradesh, ruled by the Bhartia Janta Party with Mr. Ajay Singh Bisht alias Yogi Adityanath, a religious abbot or head of the Gorakhnath sect’s main temple in the eponymous eastern city of Gorakhpur, has the dubious distinction of topping the persecution scale with 32 cases of hate crimes.” 366 incidents of hate and targeted violence against #Christians in #India were recorded by EFIRLC in 2019. PDF of the Report is available from: https://bit.ly/2Wa1oov
Atrocities against Dalits: Hathras gang rape case is an Indication of a deeper malady:
On 14th September 2020, a 19-year-old Dalit woman was gang-raped in Hathras district, Uttar Pradesh, allegedly by four upper caste men. The violence left her paralysed with a severe spinal cord injury. Her tongue was cut off. She was at first taken to the Chand Pa police station, where the police rejected her claims and, according to the family, humiliated them.
After fighting for her life for two weeks, she died in a Delhi hospital. Initially, it was reported that one accused had tried to kill her, though later in her statement to the magistrate, the victim named four accused as having raped her. The police registered a complaint only on 20th September 2020.The police were able to record the victim’s statement only on 22nd September 2020. She finally died on 29th September 2020.
The Hathras victim’s brother’s words are heart-rending: “We did not even get to see her face once. We don’t even know if the person they cremated was my sister.” What do these words say about the police actions that provoked them? This narrative suggests the denial of the ethical right to stand with the parents of the victim and express their sympathies with the near and dear ones of the deceased teenager. It entails the demand for justice to the victim and her family. At the other end, the narrative by the state seems to dwell on self-serving expressions, such as “incitement to caste hatred” “conspiracies,” “sedition,” and filing of first information reports (FIRs) to deal with protests. Increasingly, the latter kind of narrative is becoming widespread and the police are lending themselves as its handiest creators even elsewhere. (Gopal Guru, Editorial, EPW October 10, 2020)
As was evident from the television reporting, some of the upper-caste members went ahead with conducting a mass meeting in support of the accused in the case, thus violating the law and order situation in the location. In this regard, what is more astonishing is the discriminatory response that the members of the upper-caste community seem to have offered not in favour of the victim but in defense of the accused. The response is more shocking on two counts: ethical and legal. Ethical conviction, if not compulsion, is necessary particularly for a sentient human being to at least refrain from siding with the accused if not expressing grief over the loss of a human being. It is not the benumbing brutal rape that has emotionalising impact on the upper-caste consciousness, but what rules such consciousness is the caste-consciousness that suddenly jumps out of the upper-caste- skin. What is at issue here is the caste consciousness that trumps both moral and legal consciousness. Caste consciousness weighs heavily on the moral judgment of some members of the upper-caste community, thus making the latter both indifferent and insensitive to the tragedy inflicted on the victim. (Gopal Guru, Editorial, EPW October 17, 2020, p. 7)
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data of 2019, all States barring the Union Territories recorded 3,91,601 cases of crimes against women and Uttar Pradesh alone accounted for 59,853 cases. From 2015 to 2017, UP had the greatest number of atrocities registered against Dalits, with an accelerating trend of 8,357 in 2015, 10,426 in 2016 and 11,444 in 2017.
In terms of atrocities against Dalits, Uttar Pradesh is in the prime position, accounting for 17% of the crimes against the 20% of India’s Dalit population that it houses. The enormity of this number reveals a mindset that is deeply entrenched in the caste system; a mindset revels in a sense of superiority arbitrarily granted by birth. Although UP was fifth by crime rate against Dalits in 2019, registered crimes against Dalits—many are not recorded—in UP rose 47% over four years to 2018, according to the latest available data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). In 2019, India’s most-populous state, with about 16% of the country’s population, also accounted for more than 25% of crimes against women and girls and gang rapes, according to the NCRB. At least three more rapes were reported the day after the death of the Hathras teen; who the police claim was not raped.
Police Atrocities and Human Rights Violations
Uttar Pradesh is the state where police suppression has been the worst. In UP, chief minister Yogi Adityanath gave a free hand to the police to bump off perceived criminals without any due process. The state police carried out over 5000 encounters, killing more than 100 people and injuring others. Not surprisingly, the highest number happened to be Muslims followed by Dalits and those from the most backward class. (National Herald, SR Darapuri IPS (Rtd), 18 Sep 2020, https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/opinion/is-there-any-doubt-that-india-is-now-a-police-state-koi-shaq)
During the February 2021 Budget Session, the Minister of State for Home Affairs, G. Kishan Reddy provided the Rajya Sabha with statistics on registered cases against police personnel regarding violation of human rights and atrocities against people in the country. His written statement stated that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) registers cases for the alleged violation of human rights under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. During the last three years, the Minister said that NHRC has recommended monetary relief of over twenty crores in 784 cases, disciplinary action in 48 cases and prosecution in one case, across all States/Union Territories.
Interestingly, the number of registered cases against police officials shows a declining trend from 2017 to January 15, 2021 as under:
2017 to 2018: 26,391 cases
2018 to 2019: 28,342 cases
2019 to 2020: 17,229 cases
2020 to 15.01.2021: 11,130 cases
The figures from Uttar Pradesh exhibit the horrifying state of affairs with a staggering 15,426 cases registered in the year 2017 to 2018 followed by 16,414 cases in the year 2018 to 2019. The numbers see a dip in the next two years, but stand at a whopping 9,417 and 5,388 cases respectively. It has also been consistent in topping the list of cases registered by the NHRC.
A police state is a government that exercises power through the power of the police force. The inhabitants of a police state may experience restrictions on their mobility, or on their freedom to express or communicate political or other views, which are subject to police monitoring or enforcement. Political control may be exerted by means of a secret police force that operates outside the boundaries normally imposed by a constitutional state.
Freedom of expression may be a fundamental right of every citizen and more so of the fourth estate. But that does not seem to be the order of the day in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, where a government with a thumping mandate appears to be becoming increasingly intolerant towards any kind of criticism in the media. Criticism – which is one of the basic tenets of any democratic system – is most unwelcome to UP cops, who not only take affront to any criticism, but also turn vengeful. Targeting journalists seems to have become a daily occurrence for the khaki-clad force in some UP districts. Remember that Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan was arrested while on his way to Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras in October 2020.
The Noida police have been particularly notorious for its apathy against media persons. Even senior cops are not hesitant when it comes to displaying their indifference or antipathy against those who do not toe the line of the cops. The manner in which members of the fourth estate are being targetted reflects the same mindset visible in the indiscriminate police encounters that have left some 67 alleged criminals dead. While the police officially described each one of them as “hardened criminals”, mostly carrying some bounty over their heads, insiders alleged that at least half of them were petty offenders who were gunned down in cold blood after being made to look big-timers by declaring a bounty on their heads. Interestingly, the encounters are listed among the government’s “achievements”. (Sharat Pradhan, Is Uttar Pradesh Turning Into a Police State? The Wire, 28/OCT/2019 https://thewire.in/government/uttar-pradesh-police-journalists-safety)
Several patterns were repeated in many of the crimes, primarily the role of the police. A clear religion-based pattern emerged as we found many instances where cases against members of the BJP–currently in power in UP as well as at the Centre–or activists from Hindu right-wing organisations were watered down or prematurely closed. Cases involving Muslims were followed up with mass arrests, with many of the accused alleging they had been falsely implicated. In two of these major incidents, the police invoked the stringent National Security Act (NSA) against Muslim accused. The NSA allows for preventive detention for up to 12 months. The person detained has to be informed of the charges within 10 days, but if the authorities consider this disclosure against public interest, they can withhold this information. Effectively, this means a person can be detained for up to a year without being told why.
In an interview to a TV channel in 2017, Adityanath proclaimed, “Agar apradh karenge, toh thok diye jaayenge. If “they” commit crimes “they” will be shot dead.” It was the start of what is now known as the thok do (shoot down) policy of police extra-judicial killings. Over three years to 2020, 124 alleged criminals were shot dead in 6,476 “encounters”, according to data compiled based on caste and religion and released by the UP police to the media. Up to 37% of those killed in these encounters till August 2020 were Muslims, almost double their proportion (19%) in the state’s population. This means a police “encounter” every five hours every day during the course of Adityanath’s tenure. In a January 2019 letter to district magistrates, the chief secretary listed these “encounters” among the prominent “achievements” of the Adityanath administration.
UP, as per the 2011 Census, accounts for 16.5% of the country’s population. However, almost a third of the hate crimes recorded in 2018, 26, were reported from one state, UP, India’s most populous state. Since 2009, 61 of the 278 attacks recorded in Hate Crime Watch have been reported from UP.
The dangerous failing in human rights violations occurring inside UP is illustrated by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) statement released on March 1, 2021 on the on-going investigation of the Moradabad gang rape case. The Commission has asked the UP government to submit proof of payment to the victim as relief alongside a compliance review of its recommendations to protect the fundamental rights of victims of heinous crimes. NHRC has instructed the UP government to submit proof of payment to the victim of gang rape in district Moradabad, which the Commission had sanctioned but apparently not released.
The recommendations of the Commission include disciplinary action against officers accused of negligence, deployment of lady police officers in all stations alongside a list of the police stations where there is no female police officer and registering a case against officials who refused to file the FIR alleging rape. Earlier, the investigating division of the Commission had discovered that police personnel did not register the case until the court intervened. This caused 1.5 months delay in the registration of the case by the Police. The actual incident occurred on 18th November 2018, when several men barged into the woman’s house and raped her in broad daylight. According to the statement, when she was discovered and released, the officials at the Civil Lines police station, Moradabad refused to register the complaint for over a month. The delay in the investigation led to the destruction of crucial evidence, according to the Commission. NHRC alleged that this was a grievous violation of the victim’s human rights. The state government had found significant negligence on the part of the authorities in their handling of the case and had therefore accepted the recommendation of the Commission announcing a compensatory relief of Rs. 2 lakh to the victim. However, the NHRC found that there was no conclusive action on the other recommendations of its report and has therefore forced to ask the UP government to confirm compliance.
Encounter Killing and Maiming
Since Adityanath became the Chief Minister in 2017, 49 people were killed and 370 injured.
Quoting figures from the PUCL findings on encounters taking place in Uttar Pradesh: Since March 2017, in over 1100 encounters, 49 people have been killed, more than 370 have been injured and over 3300 arrested across the State.
In a bid to quell the uproar around these encounters, the police later switched over to a policy of half-encounters, in which alleged criminals are being shot below their abdomen, preferably on the legs. Such measures have been adopted by the police to quell criticism over a spate of alleged extra-judicial killings of alleged criminals since 2017. Shooting below the abdomen is part of the standard operating procedure adopted in situations wherein people may be shooting at the police. Retired IG Police SR Darapuri of the Uttar Pradesh cadre, who is now the national spokesperson for the All India People’s Front (Radical), strongly criticised such encounters. Darapuri has filed an RTI to find out the names and family details of all those who have been killed or disabled. “In my application, I have also asked to be provided a list of policemen who have been injured, how much time they have spent in the hospital, their names and ranks. It is possible that many of them get admitted to hospital in the morning and are discharged by the afternoon. The hospital admission is done only to add gravity to the encounter,” said Darapuri.
Rihai Manch, an NGO based in Uttar Pradesh, examined 17 FIRs in detail and concluded that these were all cases of extra-judicial killings. The Rihai Manch took up the matter before the NHRC and asked it to investigate the cases.
It was only when the NHRC began to investigate the 17 killings that the Uttar Pradesh Police went on the defensive. The PUCL also filed a PIL in this regard on 14th January, 2019 before the Supreme Court. A bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Ashok Bhushan and SK Kaul have also perused the material on record in detail and stated that the issues raised in the PUCL petition require serious consideration. (Rashme Sehgal, First Post , February 11, 2019).
A statement issued by PUCL on March 3, 2018, demanded justice for all the extra-judicial killings in Uttar Pradesh as inscribed in specific laws and rulings. In another statement issued by National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), NAPM condemned the systematic targeting and repression unleashed by the state of UP on the Adivasis. The State and the police forces have acted in an unconstitutional manner and continue to target Adivasi communities, so that they can be driven out of their lands. Those series of arrests and harassment against Adivasi women is a retaliation of the State against its people who have been struggling to gain their rights under the Forest Rights Act, 2006. Despite the law, the State refuses to acknowledge their rights and has systematically targeted Adivasi women time and again, assuming them to be soft targets. This is extremely condemnable and those responsible for the violence and state repression deserve strict action and punishment for manhandling women and minor girls as well as senior citizens.
The case against Dr. Kafeel Khan
Kafeel Khan, a lecturer at the Department of Paediatrics, Baba Raghav Das Medical College (BRD Medical College), Gorakhpur, got permanent commission on 8th August 2016 as a lecturer in BRD medical college. Nearly 70 children’s death occurred after the hospital’s oxygen supply was cut on 10th August, 2017, because of non-payment of dues. Khan was hailed as a hero after media outlets reported that he had spent his money to buy oxygen cylinders after the piped supply had been cut, and worked overtime to remedy the situation.
However, the UP government denied that any deaths had occurred due to oxygen shortage. On 13th August 2017, Khan was removed on charges of dereliction of duty and carrying out private practice. On 2nd September 2017, Khan was arrested after a court issued a non-bailable warrant. The resident doctors association of AIIMS also condemned his arrest.
While in prison, Khan wrote a 10-page letter, of what actually have occurred at BRD Hospital due to the oxygen supply being cut. He claimed that he contacted the head of department, the principal and acting principal of BRD, the district magistrate of Gorakhpur, the chief medical superintendent of Gorakhpur and BRD Medical College, and his other colleagues to alert them about the gravity of the situation. He narrated that he went out to purchase oxygen cylinders himself. He was able to scrape 250 cylinders together, paying for them himself. He carried some in his car and arranged with the Deputy Inspector General of Police for a truck and manpower from the Armed Border Force to deliver the others. In April 2018, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) released a statement in defense of Khan, arguing that he had been framed. The secretary of the IMA blamed the state government officials and demanded a high level inquiry. Over 200 health professionals and allied activists wrote a letter to UP chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, demanding justice for Khan, his immediate release and the dropping of “false charges” against him. On 25th April 2018, Khan was released on bail after 9 months imprisonment. The court ruled that there was no evidence of medical negligence on his part.
On 10th June 2018, Khan’s brother, Kashif Jameel, was shot by unidentified assailants who were on motorbikes. On 27th September 2019, Khan was acquitted of all charges in relation to the 2017 Gorakhpur Hospital deaths.
Khan was arrested in Mumbai on 13th December 2019 by a special task force of the UP police for offences under the National Security Act 1980, in relation to a speech made by him at Aligarh Muslim University earlier that month during the Citizenship Amendment Act protests. The Uttar Pradesh Police filed an FIR accusing Khan with committing an offence under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code, which relates to “Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony”. The FIR alleged that Khan’s speech amounted to a criminal offence because it “sowed the seeds of discord and disharmony” amongst students, and included disparaging remarks against the RSS and Union Home Minister Amit Shah. He was granted bail on 10th February 2020 by an Aligarh court, but was re-arrested on 13th February 2020 and charged with offences under the National Security Act, before his actual release from jail. Allahabad High Court, on 1st September 2020, acquitted him from all charges. The Court found that the speech “gives a call for national integrity and unity among the citizens. The speech also deprecates any kind of violence.” The High Court noted that the evidence provided by the prosecution was insufficient to warrant charges under the National Security Act, and that Khan had been denied the chance to examine the evidence led against him. The Court observed that this constituted a violation of Khan’s constitutional rights, and accordingly set aside his detention.
The release from imprisonment ordered by Allahabad High Court of Dr Kafeel Khan, the paediatrician of BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur, is a momentous event dealing a blow to state terrorism that revels in invoking draconian laws against targetted individuals – even those with record of selfless public service – prompted by racial hatred and false prestige. The actions initiated against Dr Kafeel are indicative of the Aditynadh government’s vindictive approach against those who are real fighters of justice.
The Case of Faizal Khan Reveals the Dark mind-set of Yogi
Section 153A has been repeatedly and wrongly invoked by the UP police to implicate protestors and minorities, even against those as peace and interfaith activist Faisal Khan, during December 2020. For over two decades Faisal Khan used religion to combat hatred. As part of his effort, he visited 15 Hindu temples and recited Hindu scripture. At one temple, he offered namaz. He ended up in jail for 45 days and faces wrongfully applied criminal charges of ‘encouraging enmity’.
Actually Faisal Khan believes that the antidote to religious hatred is religion itself by loving all people irrespective of boundaries. Over two decades, Faisal Khan invited Hindu sadhus to eat at a madrasa during a journey to save the Ganga. He mobilised Muslim students to run a food bank named after Swami Vivekananda during the lockdown. Most people feel the way to fight communalism is to criticise the orthodox. But he differs—he said “you have to learn to live with such people and soften them up and in the process, soften up yourself,” said Khan’s colleague and Khudai Khidmatgar (“servants of God”) spokesman Pawan Yadav.
On 3rd November 2020, the UP police arrested Khan from his Jamia Nagar residence in Delhi on charges of “promoting enmity between groups”, “injuring or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult the religion” and “public mischief”, under sections 153A, 295 and 505, respectively, of the Indian Penal Code, 1870. These charges, as our analysis explains, have been wrongly applied because Indian courts have always reminded investigators and lawyers that they can only be used if criminal intent is involved, which was definitely absent in Khan’s case.
Khan’s initial 14-day judicial custody was extended continually, despite the fact that he tested positive for Covid-19 right after arrest. He was jailed for 45 days before his release on 19th December 2020 by the Allahabad High Court, after two lower courts rejected him bail. A trial awaits him, as the police allege a conspiracy, backed by “foreign funding” and links with Popular Front of India (PFI), an Islamist organisation, on the basis of a WhatsApp forward. Khan’s crime was what he regarded an act of reversal—he offered namaaz at the Nand Baba temple of Mathura, while he was on 84-kilometres of circumambulation (parikrama), a Hindu pilgrimage around sites associated with god Krishna. Khan visited more than 15 temples in the region, listening to aartis and bhajans, staying the nights in temples, talking to priests and devotees. Through these visits Khan intended to reinforce his message of communal amity and that different religions professed the same belief—love for all, hatred for none.
Khan was attracted to Vinoba Bhave and Mahatma Gandhi, especially because of their belief in non-violence and communal harmony. He used their philosophy and organised campaigns extensively against female foeticide in Haryana.
In videos now accessible across the Internet, Khan, surrounded by the priests and caretakers of the Nand Baba temple, recites from the Ramcharitmanas a verse on how Ram valued only those who spread love. Khan goes on to quote from the Quran a similar verse, then linking it with the Sufi poet and philosopher Bulle Shah’s words. “Just like a hospital is meant to help people get better, the true essence of religion is to understand each other’s pain and compassion,” Khan tells his listeners, all men whose foreheads sport tilaks with prayer beads in their hands. “Like Bulle Shah said, destroy those mosques and temples that make you more narrow-minded.” In his fight against communalism, religion was his biggest weapon. “When I go to mandirs (temples), I quote the Quran and in Masjids, I quote the Bhagavad Gita,” he told in late 2018. “That’s when they realise how strikingly similar both religions are, when it comes to love, harmony and sadbhavna.”
Tushar Gandhi, the great grandson of the Mahatma Gandhi, who has known Khan for over a decade, said that such tokenism was “very essential” at a time when communal polarisation was increasing. “Token gestures are a visible fight against the politics of hate,” said Tushar. “So, each such gesture, be it just a picture of a Hindu and Muslim feeding each other or going to church during Christmas when the Bajrang Dal asks Hindus not to, has become very important today.” Khan has worked as a Gandhian activist for over 20 years. Yet, the only thing that got highlighted is his Muslim identity which the BJP derides.
What must the democratic Secularists do?
The death of a 19-year-old Dalit girl in Hathras—after she was gang-raped by four Thakur men, strangled, broke her spine, and limbs paralysed—followed by the 3 am cremation of her body by the police, without allowing her parents, is only the latest reminder of how unsafe UP has become for its Dalit citizens. This pattern is regularly repeating and continuing.
The whole system of governance has been deeply maligned with sectarianism and hard-core communalism. The incompetence to control crime in UP, runs alongside a suppression by its chief minister Yogi Adityanath on cow-slaughter and the small-scale beef trade—run largely by Muslims and Dalits—his misuse of preventive-detention and other laws against dissenters, the encouragement of extra-judicial killings, a campaign against the so-called “love jihad” of Muslim men marrying Hindu women and an indifference to court orders.
India’s democratic secularists should raise their voice against the continuing injustices and brutalities. The global peace lovers also should raise to the emergency situation to curb the fascisisation of the UP state which might be then be spread all over India.
Now India faces the prospect of Adityanath succeeding Modi — and we have abundant reason to fear what he will do to prove that he can accelerate the process of turning India into a Hindutva nationalist nation similar to Nazi Germany or fascist Italy. That should be of serious concern not just for Indians but also for the international community. As Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”