GUJARAT: The Gujarat police are under fire for their alleged high-handedness during a violent clash in a Muslim-dominated locality in Ahmedabad on May 8.
The 120,000-strong Gujarat police, who have been on toes by strictly enforcing lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, are facing criticism over their use of force in Shahpur area of Ahmedabad.
Reacting to the incident, the National Commission for Women (NCW) has written a letter to the Director-General of Police Shivanand Jha demanding strict legal action against the uniformed men who assaulted a young pregnant woman after the violence.
A Public interest litigation has sought Gujarat High Court’s directions to restrain the cops from beating up citizens found on streets during the shutdown.
The NCW, which has asked the state police chief to probe the attack on the expectant mother, had come across a viral YouTube video showing sobbing women complaining how men in uniform gate-crashed into their homes, smashed doors, beat up the occupants and collared the menfolk.
Gyasuddin Shaikh, a lawmaker representing and living in the communally sensitive area, confirmed the Iftar-eve incident believed to have been sparked by a heated exchange between patrolling policemen and three men sitting outside their homes in the containment zone.
Soon, the scuffle attracted others and the mob accused the law-enforcers of harassing the minority community in the holy month of Ramadan blaming them for enforcing a stricter lockdown than elsewhere in the city – where a sudden ban on the sale of fruits and vegetables was announced two days ago with only milk and medicines available.
According to the FIR lodged by the Shahpur police, in no time heavy stone-pelting erupted from nearby Mohallas in which three policemen and four locals were injured. When the situation worsened, teargas shells were lobbed to disperse the crowds and more policemen were called in to cordon off the area that has witnessed a large number of coronavirus positive cases.
However, the next day on May 9, the police went berserk in the narrow by-lanes of Shahpur before arresting some 20 people, but the sorry plight of the cash-starved occupants was shown in a YouTube video and reported only in Muslim-owned Gujarat Today daily.
According to the newspaper, the stone-pelting incident was triggered by harassment of two Muslim women who had come out on road in search of fruits and vegetables but were forced by the police to return to their homes.
Narrating his tale of woe to the paper, Atik Kagdi, a Shahpur resident, said that policemen broke open the strongly-built powerful door of his home and baton-charged his mother reading a religious book as well as his wife, who was breastfeeding a kid, was also injured in the assault.
“They also picked up my innocent brother. Instead of behaving in a friendly manner with peaceful citizens, they rode roughshod over us,” said Kagdi.
In another incident reported in Gujarat Today, Jenul Shaikh said his infirm 65-year-old father was beaten up and dragged out of the house after accusing of being involved in stone-pelting.
“My old mother tried to stop the cops but she was also caned. Children in our areas are now so scared that they just don’t step out,” he said.
Gujarat High Court advocate Iqbal Masud Khan, whose kin stay in Shahpur, told TwoCircle.net that the police atrocity had not surprised him as “the cops are under orders from above to use brutal force”.
A YouTube video that went viral shows, Muslim women, in tears while recalling the police atrocities on their families during Iftar time—breaking open doors, locks and cupboards, crushing fruits under their feet and threatening to kill them.
One housewife is seen pointing at a young woman saying she is three-months-pregnant but was hit twice with a baton by a policeman but she snatched the baton when he tried to wield the heavy stick for the third time.
“I was beaten when I tried to prevent the police from arresting my brother and father. I was even slapped,” she says showing the scar on the right cheek in the video which also has two old women claiming they were also thrashed by the police.
While the video captures a crying seven-year-old boy who says his father was beaten black and blue, a woman complains that her fasting husband was not allowed to drink even water before being hauled up.
“The government wants us to stay indoors. We are starving at home but it has not bothered to provide us with food or cash,” laments a middle-aged woman, venting her anger.
On their part, the police seem to have launched damage-control measures.
Dharmendra Sharma, the deputy commissioner of police, told TwoCircles.net that he had already made a long list of dedicated volunteers from each and every lane who will visit homes to find out the grievances and requirements of each family and the police would do the needful.
“The eager volunteers will not only explain the importance of obeying lockdown rules but will also brief them on the important and difficult role played by policemen for citizen safety and fulfil their needs of food and medicines as also guide them even on employment,” he said.
According to Congress legislator Shaikh, who has drawn the attention of the Ahmedabad police commissioner about police excesses in Shahpur, the authorities can use the CCTV camera data to nab the culprits who pelted the police with stones but innocent citizens, especially women, cannot be harassed as had happened.
Some 30 people have been arrested for the Shahpur stone-pelting under the Disaster Management Act as well as the Epidemic Act and IPC sections have been invoked against a 2,000-strong mob even as the death roll in the coronavirus pandemic in Ahmedabad district rose to 421 with 21 deaths in the city alone on May 12, and the number of COVID-19 cases rising to 6,353.
Though the Ahmedabad police have so far helped distribute 1.1 million food packets and 11,000 ration kits to the poor, the state police chief Jha’s latest warning that those who attack policemen will be jailed under PASA will certainly keep Gujarat’s six million terrified, innocent Muslims on tenterhooks.