It was a gut-wrenching two days. Between March 29 and March 30, the Karwan e Mohabbat team met nine families in Haryana’s Mewat region who had lost loved ones to hate murders of another kind. Felled not by lynch mobs but by police bullets, in fake “encounters” or extra-judicial killings (and in one case, police torture). The anguish of the families, the near-impossibility of justice and their settled despair, all will long linger with us.
Mufaid, Kharkhadi village
The first family we met was that of Mufaid in Kharkhadi village in Nuh district. A driver and farmer in his 20s, he was killed on the night of September 15, 2017. He was in his uncle’s home when he received a call on his cellphone from the police. He called his father and father-in-law, telling them the police had made him an offer. They were willing to clean up his criminal record and wanted to meet him to discuss the conditions for this. Both of them advised Mufaid to go meet the police – he did not have a choice – but not alone. He left soon after in a pick-up truck with two friends for the appointed place, a remote hillside on the highway. It was to be a journey from which he was never to return.
The next morning, his family learnt from villagers that their son had been shot dead by the police on the Aravalli hillside on the road to Tauru town. Mufaid’s two companions had escaped with their lives. They told the family that when they reached the location for the rendezvous, the police did not talk. Instead, they approached their vehicle with their rifles cocked and opened fire, shooting Mufaid at close range through the windscreen.
Family members alleged that when they reached the Nuh Community Health Centre to collect their son’s body, they saw a doctor tampering with the body: they feared it was to destroy evidence about the way he was killed. The family and villagers demanded an independent video-graphed post-mortem by a board of doctors, as required by the guidelines of the National Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court, and the police conceded to this. The report said Mufaid had died of a bullet injury between his right shoulder and neck. The police, in their initial first information report, had tried to portray his death as a killing by an unknown person. But when the family and over a hundred villagers refused to accept the body and blocked traffic, they acceded to their demand to file a complaint of murder against police personnel.
This was an accomplishment in itself, because this is the only one out of the nine extra-judicial killings that we looked into during those two days in which the police have filed murder charges against men in uniform, although this is the mandatory practice prescribed by the National Human Rights Commission. However, even in this case, in the six months that have passed since the murder, the family reports that no action has been taken against the policemen. Instead, whenever they visit the police station and the office of the superintendent of police, they are threatened and turned away.
Our second story is set in a village that we will not name, because it is imperative to keep the identity of the family confidential to protect them from further harassment. But we thought we should share the story anonymously to illustrate the difficult choices families dealing with hate crimes and a partisan, hostile state are forced to make.
In this instance, the driver of a dumper, again in his 20s, was shot in the head by the police in the winter of 2011. The family believes it could have been a case of mistaken identity because he had no criminal record and had never clashed with the police before. The bullet did not kill him, it got lodged in his brain and paralysed him. The police had him treated first in a hospital in the state and then in Delhi, but even after a series of operations, his condition did not improve. In the end, the police handed him over to the family. The family took care of him in the village for three and a half years, spending all their savings on his treatment. They were convinced that he recognised them, but he could not speak or move. He finally developed bedsores and his life then ebbed.
According to the family, middlemen came to them with a proposal from the police, offering them money in exchange for a compromise to not pursue the case against the policemen who had killed their son. They took the matter to the village panchayat, which fixed a sum of Rs 14 lakh for the compromise – Rs 3 lakh to help the family repay the debt they had accumulated in the care of their son, and the remaining amount for his widow to raise her two daughters. While there is no legal provision for such a compromise in criminal matters, it operates in a familiar, unwritten protocol of witnesses turning hostile – in other words, rescinding or not giving statements against the accused in exchange for money. The father is not proud that he took this decision to accept “blood money”, but he felt he had no option to keep his family alive and together in these difficult moments. He did not pursue the criminal case against the policemen, and his daughter-in-law left for her parents’ home with the Rs 11 lakh and her daughters.
Javed, Guwarka village
We also met Afsana, the young wife of Javed, in Guwarka village. In March 2017, he was reportedly transporting cattle with two colleagues when the police shot and gravely injured them, reportedly at close range. In a pattern that has recently become familiar in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, they shot to maim, not to kill. No criminal case has been registered against the police. Instead, the seriously wounded victims have been charged with attempt to murder and cow smuggling. They have since been lodged at the Gurugram Central Jail.
Afsana finds it difficult to visit Javed regularly as there is no money left over after feeding her two children. She wept as she recalled meeting him just two days earlier. The bullet wound between his neck and shoulder has left one of his hands nearly dysfunctional while he limps because of the bullet injury to his leg.
Mohammad Taleem, Salahada village
In Salahadi village in Nuh district, on the night of December 6, 22-year-old truck driver Mohammad Taleem ate dinner with his father Mohammad Sharief. This was his routine whenever he was home. He went out after dinner, never to return. The next morning, a neighbour came to Sharief and told him agitatedly that he had seen a social media message of his son being killed in a police encounter in Alwar district. The police alleged that Taleem was transporting cows and fired at the police when they tried to apprehend him. His two companions managed to escape.
It took the family three days to get his body after a proper post-mortem. Only when hundreds of villagers agitated outside the police station and blocked the highway did the superindentent of police agree to a post-mortem that adhered to the National Human Rights Commission guidelines. No cases were registered against the police, but again, the murdered man and his unidentified companions were charged with attempt to murder and cow smuggling. The villagers said that when they later met the superintendent in Alwar, he declared angrily, “I am not wearing bangles. I will not hesitate to continue to take the same action against all cow smugglers who come into Alwar.”
Niaz Mohammad, Dalawas village
On September 13, 2011, Niaz Mohammad, a 17-year-old school dropout and day labourer, sat pillion on his friend Saddam’s motorcycle as they rode a few kilometres from their village, Dalawas, into neighbouring Rajasthan. They were stretched out on a highway bridge eating sugarcane that pleasant afternoon when a police team caught them, claiming the motorcycle was stolen. The police dragged them into their jeep, ignoring their pleas that the bike belonged to Saddam and that both had no criminal records. The police drove the boys to the Jurhada police station. Before long, the people of that village heard screams from inside the police station. Some villagers had recognised the boys when they were being taken into the police station, and had called their families. The families rushed to the police station, begged the police to let them go or, at least, to let them meet the boys. But the police refused. The families then blocked the road.
Some hours later, the police hurriedly carried out a man wrapped in a blanket and drove away with him. A while later, the police released Saddam. From him, Mohammad’s family learned that the police had tortured them both and had then slit Mohammad’s throat with a blade. It was Mohammad whom the police had carried out wrapped in a blanket, and taken to hospital.
Hundreds of enraged villagers from surrounding areas gathered quickly and demanded that the police tell them where they had taken Mohammad. The police held out, used force to disperse the agitators. Two days later, they informed the family that the teenager was at the SMS Hospital in Jaipur. Mohammad’s family found him with his throat slit, surrounded by plastic wires and bottles, unable to speak. He died two months later.
The police finally consented to file complaints against two policemen for Mohammad’s murder, but they also filed criminal charges against his relatives and other villagers for blocking the road and agitating. The matter went to the National Human Rights Commission. The commission, in its report, held the police guilty not of torture but of carelessness, saying they could be faulted only for not properly frisking the 17-year-old, who had smuggled in a blade. The report also said the boy had slit his own throat. It did not explain why a boy would be carrying a blade, indeed hiding it in his clothes, and even less what could have pushed him to slit his own throat. The commission awarded the family Rs 2 lakh in compensation, not for torture or custodial killing but for the alleged carelessness of the police in not searching Mohammad’s clothes carefully enough.
Jamal, Goraskar village
The next family we met was in Goraksar village in Haryana’s Palwal dstrict. Jasmal, a truck driver, fell to police bullets in Hodal on July 6, 2012. He was in a truck with two companions that evening when they were chased by a police jeep, from which the police fired at them. Jasmal was hit by a bullet. The driver did not stop the truck and instead drove to Goraksar village. This saved their lives. But by the time they reached the village, Jasmal was dead. His family buried Jasmal quietly. They were too frightened to pursue the matter against the police, and had no faith that the police would act fairly. They feared that the police would instead embroil other men of the family in criminal cases. Some villagers whispered to us that the police had bought their silence for Rs 5 lakh, but we have no way of confirming this.
The last story we heard was of Arif, a 20-year-old final-year undergraduate commerce student studying in a college in Alwar. He came from a wealthy business family, lived in an ostentatious three-storeyed house not far from the Alwar highway. On the night of October 20, 2014, Arif was home from college, visiting his family. There were just 20 days left for his wedding. He shut his brother’s shop that night and was driving home in his jeep when he found a police van chasing after him. A police posse surrounded his jeep at the gate of his home. It seems likely the police were following a tip-off but had ended up chasing the wrong jeep. Arif had no criminal antecedents, and even the police do not claim he was guilty in any way. Four armed policepersons surrounded Arif’s jeep. And before he could pull down his window, one of the policemen, Kailash Yadav, fire with his AK-47 assault rifle. Two bullets pierced Arif’s body, probably killing him instantly, while a third penetrated the jeep and hit a policeman, Shahduram. Shahduram survived after months in hospital.
Arif’s murder was investigated first by the criminal investigation branch of the Rajasthan Police. It indicted Kailash Yadav for murder, but absolved the other three policepersons of any crime. The family moved the High Court, which accepted their demand for an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation. But the family was shocked when the Bureau concluded its investigation. It not only ratified the innocence of the other three policepersons, it also absolved Kailash Yadav of murder, reducing the charge against him to causing death by negligence, punishable with a maximum two years in prison. They maintained that Yadav had pulled the trigger by accident and had no intention to kill Arif.
Over the two days, meeting the nine families and listening to their stories of loss and injustice left us increasingly stunned and dazed. (There are two stories that we withhold here for reasons of confidentiality, to protect the families from potential persecution.) In our journeys across India, the Karwan has observed how ordinary people have in effect outsourced hate violence to lynch mobs. But in the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana, the hate project has made further strides. Now, hate violence targeting religious minorities seems to have been further outsourced to men in khaki. The torment of the families we met was of not knowing precisely how their loved ones died, mindful that their killing was at the hands of men whose paramount responsibility is to protect citizens from violence and injustice, and realising that justice is utterly improbable in the times we live in.
Their agony was singular, beyond any healing.
Mohd Arif is State Coordinator (Mewat Region) of Aman Biradari.
Harsh Mander is a human rights and peace worker who also works with Aman Biradari.