Encounter or Murder? The Onus of Proving Innocence is on the Yogi Government!

A report by finding team of the United Against Hate , a collective of activists based in Delhi on the Aligarh ‘Fake Encounter’.

A few days back, an encounter killing had made headlines when the Yogi Adityanath led government invited media personnel to film an encounter in Hardauli at Aligarh district of Uttar Pradesh. The invitation to the media was an effort by the government to showcase its transparency with regard to the encounter killings, which has almost assumed the status of a state policy in UP presently. The opposition parties as well as civil society groups have severely criticized and questioned the authenticity of the spate of encounter killings in the state, ever since Yogi Adityanath took charge.

The government by telecasting the encounter on television also wanted to showcase his government and police’s prowess in curbing crime. There have been over thousand encounter killings in the state since Yogi Adityanath became the CM, and the Aligarh encounter has taken the death toll in these encounter killings to 67. In each instance, the dead have been projected as dreaded criminals who had to neutralized in the interest of the greater common good of the people of the state. In this case as well, Mustakeem and Naushad, after being shot dead, were termed as runaway criminals, who were wanted for a murder and had to be neutralized when they opened fire on the police party that was chasing them.

If the intention behind inviting media to cover the encounter killing was to show transparency, it has only ended up raising more questions. In the light of the previous encounter killings in the state, many of which have been severely contested by the relatives of the deceased, United Against Hate decided to conduct a fact finding into the incident. On the 27th of September a team of United Against Hate along with journalists and lawyers visited Atroli village in Aligarh We spoke to the family members of the deceased and their neighbours. We also wanted to speak to the police officials, but unfortunately they not only refused to engage in any meaningful dialogue but intimidated us in connivance with goons of the Bajrang Dal.

The observations by the team on the day of the Fact Finding:

1) We met Mustaqeem’s mother Rafeeqan, his wife Heena. Shabana’s second son Salman (17) was also picked up by the police on the same day as the slain boys and is currently in jail. We met Naushad’s mother Shaheen. Another mentally challenged boy Nafis (23) was also picked up and he is in police custody since then. We met his mother Rauqueena too. Mushtaqeem’s father is also missing since the day these arrests had taken place. He has not come back home ever since. He does not have a phone and is untraceable.

2) The family members told us all three boys used to work in nearby shops or home based workshops  Mustaqeem worked in a cloth shop, while Salman and Naushad worked under Haji Imran, a local entrepreneur who makes clothes. Nafis did not work. All these boys were picked up on the 16th of September. Neighbours and family testified how police took them away, when they had come home to have lunch. They were beaten up on their way. The police told them that they are being arrested in connection to the murders of Sadhu Ramdas and one more couple that happened few days back in in Safedarpur a nearby village. The police after a day informed the family that Mustaqeen and Naushad have “escaped” from police custody.

3) After 4 days police told Mustaqeem’s family that both the boys are injured and admitted in Malkhan Singh hospital. The family was asked to go and visit them. The police even paid their bus fares. Shabana and Heena went there to find the dead bodies of the two boys. They said the dead bodies were bruised and battered with injury marks on their faces and heads. Their jaws were also broken and the blood on their bodies had turned black after clotting.

4) The police had taken thumb impression of the mothers on blank papers to release the bodies. They also took away all their id cards, including their Aadhar cards, PAN cards and Mushtaqeem’s Nikahnama. The families right now are without any identity proofs.

5) The bodies of Naushad and Mustaqeen were buried without any rituals or namaz. The families have not got copy of FIR or post-mortem report yet.

6) All the neighbours testified these boys were innocent and there were no previous crime record. We spoke to a large number of neighbours, both men and women. They spoke on record that these boys were working in the nearby shops and workshops. They saw them going to work and coming back home every day. They have never seen them being engaged in any criminal activities.

7) The neighbours and family also told us that since the so-called encounters took place, police has been posted in front of their house and no one has been allowed to meet them. In fact the family starved for few days in between because the neighbours were not even allowed to take food to their homes. An elderly woman from the neighbourhood wanted to go inside to read the Quran to the bereaved mothers but even she was not allowed. The police has taken these women to the police station and has repeatedly asked them not to open their mouths to the media. The police have used intimidation tactics that Salman and Naushad who are still in their custody will also be killed if they interact with mediapersons.

8) We met Raees, whose brother Dr. Yasin has also been picked up in relation to the murder case on the 16th September at 8.45pm. The SO of Artoli police station called him and said he needs to talk. Dr. Irfan went to the police station in his own bike and constable Raghuraj Singh accompanied him pillion riding on the same bike. When he did not return after an hour, Raees went to the Kotwali to look for him. The SO squarely denied having received anyone there. After 2-3 days Raees was informed that his brother is under Judicial Custody in Aligarh jail and has been booked under section 302 of IPC in connection to the murder of Sadhu Ramdas of Safedarpur. Asked why his brother was targeted, Raees said that they also have a home based workshop of making clothes like Haji Imran in their house. On that day he had called Mushtaqeem about order of some clothes from their shop. May be because of that phone call made to Mustaqeem’s phone he was also implicated in the case.

9) When we went to speak to the Atroli P.S. the SO Parvesh Rana denied to engage with any dialogue. He was extremely hostile and refused to talk about the encounter. He maintained these families are outsiders without any address proof and have criminal history. However, he said these boys had no criminal cases in that P.S. He said there are cases against them in other police station but did not specify where. He also said there are criminals lodged in various jails of UP and these boys are related to them. He actually demanded that let there be DNA test of criminals and these boys and that for sure will establish their ‘criminal connection.’

10) Ten minutes into the conversation around twenty people from Bajrang Dal barged into the P.S. and started intimidating and heckling us. Their numbers kept swelling and the police remained silent before these goons. They started hurling abuses and proclaimed “those guys were terrorists and therefore were killed, those who are supporting them should also be killed”. It was very clear that police had called these goons to intimidate us. Sensing insecurity we left the PS. But we saw on our way more people in tractors and trucks wearing saffron robes going towards the police station. Some people later told us that almost 200 people had gathered in the P.S and were giving slogans like “Jai Shri Ram”, “Vande Mataram” and “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”.

11 ) A few days back a social activist Maria Salim was heckled in the same P.S. Through such intimidation tactics, the police are not letting anyone come and probe into the facts of this case which seems like a brazen cold blooded murder of these two boys. Her statement on the ordeal she faced is attached with this report.

The Police and Media Propaganda next day:

The next day we were shocked to see in the newspapers that our Fact Finding team has been accused by Bajrang Dal of ‘abducting’ mothers of Naushad and Mustaqeem. An FIR has also been filed which has named current AMUSU President Maksur and former AMUSU President Fauzil. The media picked this story up via PTI and started propagating brazen and misreporting lies. ABP News and Navodaya Times went to the extent of planting fake news that ten activists of United Against Hate have been arrested by the UP police. Other media houses were not to be left behind in planting sensational fake stories. Jansatta and Jagran went a step further to say that Umar Khalid, one of the members of the fact finding team, along with two AMUSU leaders has been accused of kidnapping the slain criminals’ mothers. And Zee News has now found a ‘JNU and AMU Connection’ to Aligarh encounter. Why did our friends from the media not crosscheck with us once about the facts of the matter before publishing such baseless stories? This is our first hand experience of the manner in which the state machinery plants false news to target those critical of its actions. It also shows how a section of the media, rather than doing its journalistic duty of questioning the establishment, actively works to vitiate the atmosphere. A section of the pliant media have long stopped asking questions, now they are intimidating others from asking question by planting such fake news against them.

We would like to inform the media that Shabana and Shaheen have both already filed a petition in the court denying these baseless allegations about them being abducted by us.

In a Fact Finding Report released by the Rihaai Manch, it has been stated that Sadhu Ramdas’s family have denied any remote possibilities of these boys being involved in the murder and even they have maintained that they were innocent.

Questions for the UP Police:

1) Were these boys involved in the murder of Sadhu Ramdas? Were they history sheeters who had stolen a motorcycle and were fleeing when they got killed? Why so many different narratives?

2) If the police had fired in self-defense how come they called the media and did a live encounter? How were select media houses apprised of the encounter killing before hand, when the police claims that they were forced to open fire only in self-defense, as they were shot at? Did the police know already from before that these boys will open fire and police will fire in self-defense? The media footage of the encounter also does not reveal the encounter as either genuine or fake, as it only shows policemen taking aim from a distance and nowhere does it show any crossfire.

3) Why have the police not given the PM report and copy of FIR to the family yet?

4) Why did the police raid the houses of the Naushad and Mustakeem after killing them, and why did they take the Aadhar Card and PAN card of even their family members?

5) How could Mushtaqeen and Naushad ‘escape’ from police custody as the police had claimed to their families? Were the media alerted after two ‘dreaded criminals’ had escaped? Was there any look out notice issued from the police for them after they escaped and before they were killed?

6) Whose motorbike was stolen? Has there been any complaint registered with the police station about this stolen motorbike in which these boys escaped?

7) In the live video of the ‘encounter’ one can only see police men shooting. There is no sound or visual of any cross firing. How can then we assume that there had been encounter at all.

8) Why are the police in Atroli P.S. repeatedly trying to intimidate fact finding teams and social activists who have come to uncover the facts of this case? What was the Bajrang Dal activists doing inside the police station? Does the UP police bear its loyalty to the Constitution of India, or to the right wing Hindutva organizations?

We appeal to the media to follow up on this case and get the facts out in the open, rather than only repeating the police version. We also demand that an independent investigation under a sitting judge of a High Court be constituted to probe into the encounter. The dead cannot come back to prove their innocence. The onus of proving itself lies squarely on the UP police and the Yogi government. We from United Against Hate will fight a legal battle for justice for Naushad and Mustaqeen.

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