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'Police brutality' at the heart of Dhule riots
Just a day after a national TV channel aired a video clip showing policemen destroying private property following 'riots' in Dhule on January 6, a six-member team of Democratic Students Union (DSU) comprising students from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Delhi University (DU) that visited Dhule on January 19 and 20 has released a report that disparages the police 'brutality', 'biased' media reportage and the attempts of state machinery to 'shield the policemen and cover up the incident'.

The communal violence, as reported in the national media, broke out allegedly after an altercation between Hindus and Muslims over the payment of a hotel bill. Six people - all Muslims – died after police “had to resort to firing to restore order” since the situation was spiraling “out of hand”.

Maintaining that the incident couldn’t be even called “communal riot”, the DSU report, quoting locals, says that the quarrel was “so minor that it could have (been) easily controlled within 10 minutes”.

“Locals pointed out that police would openly warn them of an impending revenge since 2008 riots. Resultantly, on the 6th January, using the altercation as an excuse, the police opened fire within less than 10 minutes of the altercation. More than 200 rounds of bullets were fired by the police. All the locals we spoke to corroborated the one-sided nature of the police firing,” the report alleges.

It even alleges that Muslims started pelting stones only after “Hindu mobs, aided and abetted by the police started burning houses”. “A certain preparedness for the incident was also evident in the amount of acid bombs and dasti bombs (a kind of a grenade not regularly used by the police) that was at hand,” the DSU report claims.

Lending credence to the DSU report, Maharashtra Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has said that there were some "communal elements" in the police too. "Unfortunately, there are some communal elements lurking around in the police too. We have to handle this issue sensitively," Chouhan told the Sunday Express after he watched the clips showing policemen looting and destroying property in the area.

“Shot to kill”

22-year-old Rizwan, who was sent by his father to the market to buy carry bags for his garment shop was shot on his back and leg and succumbed to the injuries on 8th January. Rizwan spoke to his family on the 7th January and told them that the police shot him when he was trying to hide in a house.

24-year-old Imran Ali who worked at a local garage was shot in his chest when he had gone to the market to buy grocery.

22-year-old Asim (known only by first name) whose family runs a small egg business was ferrying eggs when he was shot twice – on the chest and stomach.

22-year-old Yunus (who used only his first name) was shot on the neck and died on 9th January.

30-year-old Asif (only first name used in the report) used to run a small shop and had gone to the area in connection with his business when he was shot below the under-arm.

The youngest person to die in the police firing was 17-year-old Saud who was a class 12th student. He was shot near the heart.

"Complete license to loot and burn"

Sheikh Azad, a small businessman in the Machi Bazar area told the DSU team how the rioters were “waving a saffron flag and dancing” while the police was “shooting” at the Muslims. His two-storey house, with a chicken shop on the ground floor was completely gutted down after being looted.

Jameel, a local meat seller suffered losses worth approximately Rs. 10 lakhs. Cylinders were blasted in the houses, resulting in the collapse of entire ceiling. Another resident of the area, Yusuf who had been "reduced from owning a small leather business to a hawker after the 2008 riots" suffered losses worth approximately Rs. 20 lakhs during this time.

The report says that the police didn't let the local fire brigade to reach the area. "The fire brigade of the town was stopped mid-way by the police. It was only late at night that the first attempts to douse the fire started when the fire brigades from Malegaon (55 kms away), Jalgaon (90 kms) and Sherpur (50 kms) arrived," the report claims.

Madina bi, a local resident who also suffered losses worth lakhs of rupees revealed to the DSU team how the fire was only slightly doused by 3am in the morning and smoke could be seen coming out of many houses till the next day. "Not just this, the police even made sure that locals could not douse the burning houses. Ansari Mussadiq, pointed out how a volley of stones and bullets came his way through the window when he was pouring water on to the adjacent house which was set on fire. He showed us bullet marks on the wall opposite his window," the report says.

The large number of injured shows the “police brutality"

Over 90% per cent of the injured sustained bullet injuries above the waist. When we spoke to the injured, it came out how most of them were running for their lives, trying to hide, or had just stepped out to bring their children inside when they were shot at, the report says.

16-year-old Abul Qasim, a daily wage labourer whose right arm was bruised by a bullet, was parking his cycle after coming back from work when a group of policemen came out of a house they had vandalised and shot at him. 23-year-old Arshad received three bullets – one on the ribs, another under the armpit and one more on the hand - but miraculously survived. He said that he was shot from behind.

Not only men and children, the DSU alleges that police didn't even spare the womenfolk. "Saira Bano received a bullet on her left arm when she just stepped out of the house to bring in her children. The police terror was so immense that despite being in immense pain she did not step out of the house to go to the hospital till the next day. Even in the adjoining colonies, which had no connection with any quarrel, police fired bullets. At Ramzanbaba Nagar, where not even curfew was imposed since the area was not at all affected, Sairabi, a housemaid was shot from behind. Many women were also beaten up by the police during the curfew," it alleges.

Role of the state machinery to “shield the policemen and cover up the incident"

According to the report, the police filed cases against people who were themselves victims of their barbarity. "As a result, people who tried to file cases against the police were returned saying that they cannot file a case as there is already a case against them. Some others were made to go from station to station and all kinds of excuses were given not to let them lodge an FIR. Many were simply scared to walk up to the police station to file a complaint, lest the police pick them up," the report alleges.

The father of the 17-year-old Saud told the DSU team that nothing was going to come out of this system. He gave the example of the treatment meted out to his family when they merely tried to procure the death certificate of his son from the nagarpalika. "The Dhule Mahanagar Palika Corporation asked his brother who went there for two days to first get a report from the civil hospital to confirm that Saud was actually dead! They were unwilling to categorise him as dead because of the police firing, despite the fact that his post-mortem was done at the Civil Hospital and even the graveyard records showed that he died of bullet injuries," Saud’s father revealed.

Taking a dig at the policemen and the local administration for their "complicity", the report points out that "to minimise the financial losses suffered by the people while filling up the panchnama the police would record the loss of a fridge at Rs. 700, that of a TV at Rs. 100 and so on!”

“The very fact that no official has yet taken the responsibility for the carnage till now exemplifies this complicity and the impunity that the entire state machinery grants to maintain this systemic oppression. The Collector, Deputy Collector and the SP were all mysteriously ‘absent’ from duty on 6th January, while the DySP reached the area half an hour after the police firing had started, and has officially denied ordering the firing. But as is clear from the heavy firing, that it could not have been possible without permission from some senior official," the report concludes.

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