The Uttar Pradesh police on Wednesday moved a court seeking the release of four men it had arrested earlier this month in connection with an alleged cow slaughter case that had led to violence in the state’s Bulandshahr district in which two people, including a police officer, were killed.

“The four suspects now seem innocent and that is why we have moved the court to release them,” said Superintendent of Police (Bulandshahr city) Praveen Ranjan Singh. “Three prime accused in the case have been arrested and during their interrogation, it came to light that the four arrested earlier had no role in the incident.”

The four men have spent around 16 days in jail.

While human right activists say the police should be held accountable for falsely arresting the four men, the men’s families are concerned about only one thing: finishing the paperwork that will lead to their release at the earliest. This is a big challenge, as most of them are not literate.

The December 3 violence

Their arrests were the result of events on December 3, when mobs led by members of Hindutva groups, especially the Bajrang Dal, clashed with police officials and set fire to a police post in Chingrawathi village of Bulandshahr. The violence involved rioting, burning of vehicles and later gunfire that killed police inspector Subodh Kumar Singh and a student named Sumit Kumar. The violence started after the residents of a neighbouring village, Mahaw, claimed that they had found the carcasses of three cows in a sugarcane field.

The mob brought the carcasses in a tractor trolley to the Bulandshahr-Garhmukteshwar state highway and blocked the road. There, they got into a heated argument with the police, who tried to remove the trolley as a Muslim procession was to pass down the road later that day. The police later registered two cases in connection with the incident – one related to the alleged cow slaughter and another related to the violence and deaths.

Yogesh Raj, a Bajrang Dal leader, who is the complainant in the first case, is the prime accused in the second. He has still not been arrested.

On December 4, the police had arrested the four men it now wants released. At that time, the same officer, Praveen Ranjan Singh, who is part of a Special Investigation Team set up by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government to investigate the violence, claimed that the men had killed three cows in Mahaw village, consumed all the meat and left the carcasses in the field. But the police had not received any complaints related to missing cows, neither had they traced the vehicle in which the men allegedly transported the cows to the field where they were allegedly slaughtered, nor had they recovered any instruments that they might have used to kill the animals.

Bogus arrests

On December 9, reported that families of two of the men said that at the time the cows were allegedly slaughtered, the accused had been attending an Islamic religious meeting on the outskirts of Bulandshahr, around 40 km away from their homes.

The third man was a labourer who was registered as a miscreant in a local police station more than 60 km away from the spot the cows were allegedly slaughtered, for having caused a nilgai’s death around three years ago.

The fourth man was detained raid in Aurangabad township, around 20 km from Mahaw.

The first two men were named as suspects by Yogesh Raj of the Bajrang Dal. The others, the police had claimed, were arrested on the basis of official investigations.

‘Human rights violation’

On Tuesday, Uttar Pradesh Police arrested three more peoeple in connection with the cow slaughter case and identified another as the prime accused. They recovered a vehicle, a gun and two butcher knives from them, claiming those were used in two instances of cow slaughter by the group, including one in Mahaw village. The police subsequently said that the four arrested earlier were innocent.

Lawyer and human rights activist Prashant Bhushan said the police must be held accountable for the false arrests of the four men. “It is violation of human rights and all police officials who were involved in arresting the four persons should be held accountable,” he said. “The four of them can take up the matter in the court or later approach the National Human Rights Commission to pursue the matter on their behalf.”

This is a classic example of police-raj under the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government, said N Narayana Rao, general secretary of human rights group Civil Liberties Committee. Such bogus arrests and eventual release of men, he added, had also taken place frequently in the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Praveen Ranjan Singh and other senior police officials did not respond to questions whether police officials had committed violations and if any action would be taken against any of them.

“Right now, we are just waiting for my brother to come back home,” said Mohammad Hussain, the brother of Sarfuddin, one of the arrested men.

According to Mohammad Aslam, the brother of another arrested man identified as Asif, even if the arrest was a human rights violation, the family was too poor to pursue any such matter against the police and state administration in court.

Relatives of the other two arrested men had similar views.