The clampdown of the Uttar Pradesh police against the Muslim community has now extended to those who have not taken part in the ongoing protests. In three villages located less than 30 km from Lucknow, at least 100 Muslim men have been made to furnish a bond of Rs 50,000 each under Section 107/116 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which virtually serves as an assurance that they will not participate in any protest. They will have to appear in court every fortnight or so for at least the next six months.

The section is meant to be a preventive measure: it is invoked by an Executive Magistrate against anyone under his jurisdiction who could pose a reasonable threat to the peace. He is supposed to do this after receiving information and forming an opinion that there is substantial ground for proceeding against the individual. Its invocation on a mass scale against those who have never violated the law in the past has come as a shock to the residents of these villages.

“Please don’t reveal our names but can you find out why the Muslims of this village are being treated like criminals,” asked a man in his early twenties, a resident of Kamlabad Badhauli vllage, who has been made to furnish a bond. He is preparing for the state public service commission exams. He pointed to a picture of the former governor of Uttar Pradesh, Ram Naik, awarding honours to his elder brother, a university topper – the brother too has been charged.

It is yet unclear how widespread the application of this section has been against the rural Muslim population of the state.

No one spared, from old to young

In the village of Kamlabad Badhauli, 20 km from Lucknow, it was bitterly cold at 7 pm on Thursday. A group of men sat huddled around the fire, too scared to speak to a journalist, yet desperate to be heard.

Among them were daily wagers, educated youth preparing for various entrance exams, a man employed in a shoe shop, two old men nearing seventy, and a young boy. All of them had been served notices under Section 107/116 of the CrPC. Thirty-seven men from 20 of the 25 Muslim families in the village had been issued these notices, in some cases all the male members of a family.

The residents of Kamlabad Badhauli told that on December 19, even as protests broke out in Lucknow to be followed by a brutal police crackdown, the day passed off normally in the village. No one from the village had gone for the protests, at least none of the 37 who have been served notices.

According to them, the first they heard of these notices was when on December 23, Vishnu Kumar, a chowkidar, was ordered by the local police station to go door to door with a list of names and addresses of the men charged under Section 107/116 of CrPC. They were asked to sign against their names but none of them realised what had transpired until December 26 when they were told they had to appear in court. It is then that they consulted a lawyer.

To make matters worse, it is not clear whether these charges will result in a criminal record being entered against their name. For many of the young men preparing for examinations and looking for government jobs, this has become an additional source of anxiety.

While charges under preventive sections do not amount to a conviction, and ordinarily should not amount to a criminal record, there are conflicting legal opinions about this. A judgement of the Chhattisgarh High Court has held that proceedings under Section 107 of CrPC make a person unfit for government employment.

Even without a criminal record, the men who have been served notices as potential troublemakers could become easy suspects, even fodder, for the next time the police wanted to pick up anyone for any perceived crime or breach of peace, said a lawyer.

Worse, notices under Section 107 of the Criminal Procedure Code allow a magistrate to order the arrest of an individual if he is convinced that only an arrest could avoid breach of peace. In the past, the Supreme Court and several High Courts have admonished the police for keeping people in jail for months using Section 107 and without registering any criminal case.

Muslim men gather in Kamlabad Badhauli village. They say they have been made to sign bonds even though they have no previous criminal record, nor have they taken part in the recent protests. Photo: Radhika Bordia

‘Marked for life’

At Chatta Meel Chauraha, a market at a crossroad near the village, most of the hand-cart vendors and shopkeepers had also been served the same notice. Two brothers who for the past 20 years have been selling peanuts from their make-shift stall broke down as they recounted how they had to spend the whole day in court. “We barely earn enough to feed our families, how will we fight cases?” they asked.

The young man who was preparing for the state public service commission exams said other than him and his elder brother, two other men from their family have also been charged. The youngest of them will turn eighteen next month.

“They haven’t arrested us or beaten us, and they couldn’t recover damages from us, but they have marked us for life,” he said. “All of us will have a criminal record for no other reason than being Muslim.”

The fear in this village is compounded by bewilderment. The villagers repeatedly pointed out that Kamlabad Badhauli, with its 30% Muslim population, has never seen communal tension.

The group of Muslim men speaking to this reporter were subsequently joined by two other residents – Himanshu Shukla and Harsh Mishra – who had no fear of their names being cited. They were equally unsure about why this village had been targeted.

Shukla said: “Our history is different. There was no trouble over Ayodhya [dispute] and very close to our village at Bakshi ka Talab, the Ramlila always makes news because in it Ram is always played by a Muslim.”

Kamlabad Badhauli, though, is not the only village to be targeted. A kilometre away similar stories emerged at Muslim Nagar, a larger Muslim-dominated village. Here, 20 men have been charged under Section 107/116 of the CrPC. Many of them had gathered at a barber shop run by a man in his early thirties. Two of his brothers are also facing the same charges.

“There is no case against any of us,” he said. “On the day of the protests, there is CCTV footage of my brother and I at the electricity board office paying our bills, then we were at the Vodaphone store to sort out our mobile issues. There is a camera there too which would have recorded our visit.”

He went on to detail the whereabouts of the others in the village who have also been charged: one man who was at the hospital, accompanying his brother for his chemotherapy, another man who was in Bombay, a third who was on duty at the Trauma Centre at KGMC hospital in Lucknow.

“We are innocent, but that’s not the point. We are Muslims and that’s the real issue,” he said in conclusion.

A primary school in Muslim Nagar. The residents here did not want to be photographed. Photo: Radhika Bordia

‘Is this revenge?’

The lawyer representing many of the men in Muslim Nagar, Mayank Shukla, a man in his thirties, said he had grown up with them. “This is the work of mukhbirs (police informants). They have been encouraged by the administration to name Muslims they don’t like,” he said.

Shukla did not have any other explanation for the notices but said he would do all he can to defend his childhood friends. Unfortunately, he added, many of them may not be able to save themselves from a “black mark against their name”, which could haunt them all their lives, making it difficult for them to get employment.

Another four kilometers from Muslim Nagar, at Madhion village, residents said as many as 150 Muslim men had been charged under Section 107/116 of the CrPC. Three Muslim men told that at first they were so terrified that they thought of fleeing the village but then a lawyer in the village told them this would aggravate the charges against them.

“We have no choice but to live with this torture,” one of them, employed as a tailor, said. was able to confirm that the Muslim men in two other villages – Shervani Nagar and Bholapura – had also been charged under the section. However, with both the local police and administration unwilling to provide details of the number of people charged under this section, it was not possible to ascertain how many other villages and residents have been impacted.

As this reporter turned to leave for Lucknow, one of the men in Muslim Nagar said: “This could destroy our lives forever. Is this the badla [revenge] that the chief minister was talking about?”