Civilians who had no connection with the protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act were subjected to indiscriminate lathicharge and police firing in Mangaluru on December 19, said a report by a People’s Tribunal. The tribunal has recommended a probe by a judicial commission of inquiry into the “extra-judicial killings” during the firing. Two people – 49-year-old Jaleel Kudroli, and 23-year-old Nausheen – were killed.
The People’s Tribunal was organised by Bengaluru-based Listening Post to report on the police firings. The tribunal, comprising retired Supreme Court judge V Gopala Gowda, advocate BT Venkatesh and journalist Sugata Srinivasaraju, conducted public hearings for those affected in the incident.
Their report said that victims and other eyewitnesses have alleged that the police used communal slurs and deplorable language to provoke the protestors. “The testimonies of the victims presented before the tribunal display a complete abdication of responsibility by police personnel present at the site of violence,” said the tribunal. It added that indiscriminate lathicharge and police firing was carried out because of a complete breakdown of communication.
The report said the police used excessive force and fired tear gas inside hospital premises as confirmed by administrators at Highland Hospital. “From the footage available, it is not discernable why the police authorities entered the hospital premises and proceeded to use tear gas,” the tribunal said. “No reasons have been suggested by Police authorities to justify such an excessive use of force.”
The tribunal also observed that the imposition of prohibitory orders under Section 144 of Code of Criminal Procedure were unwarranted, not was the order effectively communicated to residents of the area. “After the imposition of the prohibitory orders under Section 144 CrPC, permission that was earlier granted was subsequently revoked/cancelled but the same was not effectively communicated,” the tribunal said.
On December 19, more than 100 protestors had gathered near a bus stop close to the office of the deputy commissioner in Mangaluru. The police beat them with batons and pushed them back after an argument broke out. The police claimed that they charged the demonstrators with batons after they started hurling stones.
Stone pelting was reported in the city’s Hamilton Circle, Central Market and State Bank areas. Protestors also allegedly hurled stones at the police in the Mukyaprana Temple and Bunder areas. Shops in these areas were closed amid prohibitory orders. In the evening, the police fired shots in the air and a curfew was imposed in areas under the jurisdiction of five police stations. Large gatherings were also banned.
The first information reports mentioned an attack on a rifle shop and Bander police station. “However, CCTV footage regarding either of these events has not been furnished by the police authorities despite repeated requests by the families of the victims,” said the People’s Tribunal.
Force was used against journalists as well, said the report. “This represents a mala fide use of the coercive power of the state to intimidate the press,” it added.
The tribunal also accused the police of violating the Karnataka Police Manual. “Article 2 of The Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials states that law enforcement officials must respect human rights norms and uphold human dignity at all times,” said the report. “Such words ring hollow in the context of the events of 19th December and the manner in which extreme force was used against civilians. Proportionality is an important aspect of the use of force in the context of policing unlawful assemblies.”