Two senior officials of Uttar Pradesh Police have admitted that a policeman fired the bullet that killed a protester participating in anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests on December 20 in Bijnor district, the first time any law enforcement official in the state has admitted to the police firing on protesters.
Eighteen people have died because of the violent protests against the law in the state, of which at least 14 have died of bullet injuries. Thus far, senior police officials have insisted that all the firing was done by the protesters and that the police did not shoot at them.
Soon after the Bijnor protests, UP director general of police OP Singh had said the police did not fire on protesters.
However, Bijnor superintendent of police Sanjeev Tyagi said on Tuesday that Singh might not have been updated about events in all locations when he said this. Admitting that one of the persons killed in Bijnor was hit by a bullet fired by a policeman, he said senior police officials had now been updated about facts related to the districts.
“130 bullets fired by the public were found. The police fired a far lesser number, and in self-defence,” he said.
When asked about the death of 20-year-old Mohammad Suleiman, he said the policeman who had fired the bullet was also shot in the stomach. “There were mobs at eight different places…22 other policemen were injured,” he added.
On Friday, December 20, a wave of violent protests started across several UP towns and cities following afternoon prayers in mosques.
On Tuesday, Kanpur’s senior superintendent of police Anant Deo said the police fired five rounds in the air during the anti-CAA protests. Records at the Lala Lajpat Rai hospital in Kanpur show that six people were admitted with bullet injuries. Three of them subsequently died.
Interestingly, Tyagi himself was caught on video on December 21, saying Suleiman was hit by a bullet fired by a policeman in self-defence and that another, Anas, died after being hit by a bullet fired by one of the protesters.
Soon after the video went viral, Tyagi said, “I have not issued any such statement. My remarks were twisted in media reports.”
He changed his mind again and said: “The gunshots were fired only in self-defence. Some of the protesters attacked, police opened fire.”
According to superintendent of police (rural) Vishwajeet Srivastava, on December 20, after Friday prayers, a mob attacked a police station in the Nehtaur area and snatched the pistol of sub-inspector Ashish Tomar. “When a constable opened fire in self-defence, it hit upadravi (troublemaker) Suleiman and he died.”
To quell simmering anger in Bijnor district, police undertook confidence-building measures with the community and senior officials visited the houses of the two victims – Suleiman and Anas Hussain – and sought to reassure the families that their complaints shall be looked into. “I ask anyone who has information to come forward and file an FIR,” said Tyagi.
But the families said they were not impressed.
Suleiman’s father Zahir Hussain said his son – who was preparing for the civil services exam — was not a part of the protest, and that police picked him up from the street around 2pm on December 20.
“We found his body some distance away, on the road, and with a gunshot wound in his chest,” said his brother Shoaib Malik. He insisted that the family will move court to seek justice.
“Earlier, they (police) said Suleiman was killed by protesters. Now, they admit that the bullet was fired by a constable. We have little faith in the police, and we want justice,” said Hussain.
Arshad Hussain, the father of 22-year-old Anas, said his son was out fetching milk near the local mosque when he was shot near his left eye and died. “The police didn’t let us bury our boy in our neighbourhood. We don’t know why he was targeted, or whether the policemen who shot him will ever be prosecuted,” he added.
A third victim, Omraj Singh Saini, was also hit by a bullet on December 20. “He was walking back home when he ran into a crowd. Before he could understand anything, he was shot in his stomach,” said his brother Rajvir.
Kanpur’s SSP Deo denied that his men fired on protesters on December 20.
“Four rounds from 9 mm pistols were fired in air and purely in self defence; 40 policemen, including two sub-inspectors were injured too.”
Soon after the protests, inspector-general of police, Kanpur, Mohit Agarwal, went on record to claim that all ammunition issued to policemen was accounted for and not a single round was missing.
Two of the protesters hit by bullets, minors Mohammad Awez and Mohammad Shadab, claim they were hurt in police firing.