‘Police Burnt My Beard’: Painful Details of Violence in UP Emerge

Aishwarya S Iyer
·18 min read

Illustrations: Aroop Mishra

"After a night of being beaten, the policemen woke me up before sunrise at Govind Nagar police station. They tied my hands with a rope, made me sit on the ground in the back of the jeep, a policeman held my head from the back while the other one burnt my beard using a matchstick."

These are the words of 21-year-old Adil, recently released on bail by the Allahabad High Court, who spoke to the media for the first time regarding what happened after he was picked up by Uttar Pradesh Police after clashes erupted between cops and anti-CAA protesters on 20 December 2019.

Adil was amongst the 39 people who were detained by UP Police later that afternoon in Kanpur. By the morning of 21 December, of the 39 people, four men were arrested on charges of attempt to murder, rioting, arson, dacoity, and various sections of the Arms Act. These included Adil, who worked at a salon, 22-year-old Mustaqeem, a mechanic, 60-year-old store keeper Sarfaraz Alam, and 62-year-old Parvez Alam, a tailor. All four live in the Muslim-dominated Babu Purwa area of Kanpur and do not have criminal backgrounds, their lawyer Nasser Khan confirmed.

After their bail was initially rejected by the district court, they were released on bail by the Allahabad High Court after several months in jail. In detailed interviews to The Quint, they revealed for the first time since their release, what transpired on the intervening night of 20 and 21 December 2019.

Beginning from when the four men were picked up, up to the time they were released on bail, this reporter heard harrowing allegations of communal slurs and physical violence against the UP Police. These allegations include burning the beard of one of the accused, making inappropriate comments about Muslim women, calling the men terrorists, threatening them with 'fake' encounters, and forcing them to chant 'Jai Siya Ram.'

Commenting on the allegations raised in the story, Uttar Pradesh’s Additional Director General (Law and Order) Prashant Kumar said, “We have not received any complaint regarding these allegations. They should have been brought to the notice of a senior officer and they would have definitely acted on that. Every law and order problem is dealt like a law and order problem irrespective of caste, creed, or religion. We have nothing to hide. We do not have any misplaced sympathies for any officer who is doing duty beyond the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).”

Inspector General, Kanpur, Mohit Agarwal also denied all allegations and added that it was “a clear attempt to disturb communal harmony” in Kanpur.

“I do not think you should report this story. There was media everywhere then. If these allegations had to come out, they would have come out then itself. This person is someone who is accused of arson and rioting, I completely disagree with this. Nor can the police do this, nor has this happened and nor did anything like this come up even then.”

Going a step ahead from just refuting the allegations, Agarwal asked this reporter to ask the accused the following three questions, answers of which have been covered in the story. The questions were:

1. When your medical happened, did you tell the doctor that your beard was burnt?

2. After arresting someone, the accused is taken in front of a judicial magistrate. Did you make these submissions in court?

3. When you’re in jail, you have the liberty to make complaints yourself or through your family. Did you do so?

Considering the three questions raised by the police, to make the case that the allegations are baseless to begin with, we asked the accused about this in our interviews.

‘Tried to Tell Doctor, Didn’t Know We Could Tell Magistrate & Did Tell DM’

At the hospital: Adil claims that the doctor asked him how his beard got burnt. “He asked me why my beard was burnt. I wanted to answer, but I could not. I did not think I could trust the medical staff there. You get to know, ma’am, if revealing the truth to someone will help you or not. Even when the doctor asked and I looked at the policeman who had burnt my beard, he was intimidating me with his stare.” Mustaqeem adds how the hospital staff was treating them like criminals. “They were telling us we should not have rioted and all that. What was the point in telling them anything. They were all together against us.”

In front of the magistrate: After the hospital visit, all four were presented in front of a magistrate and taken to jail. When asked why they did not tell the judge about the alleged torture, all four said that they were not asked to, nor did they know that they could mention this to the magistrate. “The judge only asked us our names, our fathers’ names and told us to go. We were in front of him for under 60 seconds. All this was new and scary to us. No one was present there, including our lawyers. Our heads were spinning and we were very scared,” Mustaqeem said.

Before the then DM of Kanpur: They stayed together for about ten days in the same barrack of the jail, and were then moved to separate barracks. But before being moved, they allege that the then DM of Kanpur, Vijay Vishwas Pant, met them. “We were all made to stand in a line and the four of us were particularly pulled out.” Adil and Mustaqeem said that they told the district magistrate what happened. “We told him, showed him how we were beaten. I also told him about my burnt beard in particularly. He seemed nice and had sympathy for us. But that’s it. Nothing happened after that.”
The Quint has reached out to the former Kanpur DM, who is now Azamgarh divisional commissioner, for comment. This copy will be updated if and when he responds.

Going back to how the four men found themselves in this position, let’s backtrack to the afternoon of 20 December.

The Moment UP Police Picked Up the 4 Men

Adil and Mustaqeem, both neighbours and friends, claimed they were getting work done for Mustaqeem's cousin's wedding in the Nayi Basti area of Babu Purwa on the afternoon of 20 October. "Kareeb 1:00 baj rahe the din ke, jab main aur Adil mere bade abba ki beti ki shaadi ke liye kaam kar rahe the. Bahar jo truck khadi thi, hum vahaan se chulha, paani ki pipe, vagera, basti ki taraf la rahe the. Ghar ke bagal hi ek karkhana hai jahan hum sab rakh rahe the. (It was around 1:00 pm when Adil and I were getting work done for my uncle's daughter's wedding. From the truck standing outside on the road, we were picking up the stove, water pipes, etc, and bringing them towards the house. There is a workshop adjacent to home, where we were keeping these things.)”

Both men had got calls from home. Clear directions by their family members to stay exactly where they were. “Toh hum ussi room mein thehar gaye the. Ki yahaan thodi der rahenge aur uske baad, jam maamla thanda ho jayega, tab niklenge. (So, we stopped in that room itself. We thought that we will stay there for a while, and when the situation cools down, we will get out.)”

This was when Sarfaraz Alam and Parvez Alam, both in their sixties, came into the room. Parvez, who says he is a heart patient, could reportedly not breathe properly. He had heard about what was happening, including the bullet shots and the sloganeering, and became stressed and anxious. As he was unable to walk properly, Sarfaraz helped him out. They stopped at the karkhana where Adil and Mustaqeem were stashing wedding supplies. Adil brought some water for Parvez.

“All of a sudden, the police came inside this small room we were in. There were four to five of them. They kept saying, ‘Catch hold of him, he is wearing a yellow jacket!’ They abused and hit us repeatedly,” Mustaqeem claimed. The yellow jacket reference here is relevant, as in a viral video of the violence in the area, a man with a yellow jacket can be seen pelting stones on the police and whom the police in turn is abusing and firing towards. Mustaqeem and his lawyer maintain that he is not the same person.

Adil claims he tried to explain to the police that they had not done anything. The policeman turned around and pointed a pistol at his friend Mustaqeem's waist. “Encounter kar denge tumhaara agar isi waqt bahar nahi nikloge. (We will kill you in an encounter if you do not get out right now.),” all four men corroborated that the police said this repeatedly.

‘The Walk of Shame’

"Bohut marein the humko, bohut (They hit us a lot, repeatedly)," Adil kept saying.

The four men were dragged and paraded outside on the Chaar Raat road. "As we were taken out, policemen standing everywhere took turns to hit us one after the other," Mustaqeem said.

Parvez Alam broke down several times while recalling what happened in front of this reporter. His unblinking eyes offering a window into his despair. “Dil aur dimaag ye bardash nahi kar pa raha, ki aisa kuch hua hai humaare saath. Jo humaari beizzati hui hai us din. (My heart and mind are not able to process the fact that this has happened to me. That I was so humiliated thus that day.)”

They hit Parvez so hard on his right ear, that it had a deep gash and blood started oozing out, he says. "There was blood all over my clothes.” While walking out, Parvez claims he could not look up once. "Nazren jhukaaye hue the, sharmindagi mehsoos ho rahi thi. Majma ho gaya tha logo ka. (I had lowered my eyes as I felt humiliated. People had gathered and were staring at me.)

"Every single policeman who crossed us, hit us and abused us as we walked for about a kilometre," Adil said.

"There were also some media persons, with big cameras in their hands, one of the men rammed it into my face", Mustaqeem said moving his hand to his right cheek. "The beating by the policemen continued till we reached the jeep on which we were taken to the Babu Purwa police station," Parvez said.

This is where the four men met others who were detained. They say they were made to sit on one side next to the door. Every time we would see policemen come in we would get scared, policemen in civil dress were abusing us and hitting us with anything they could lay their hands on. This is where the four men were separated from each other.

While Adil and Mustaqeem were amongst the 19 who were taken to the Govind Nagar police station around 8:00 pm, the other 20 were taken to the Amrapur police station.

‘Forced to Chant Jai Siya Ram’

Adil and Mustaqeem were put into trucks and taken to the Govind Nagar police station. "As soon as we were taken off the truck, they again started hitting us with lathis, they continued this till we reached the police station."

“The room was reverberating with our shrieks and cries and the UP Police was screaming at us to say ‘Jai Siya Ram’ again and again. If we took a second longer to repeat the chant, or if we even took a moment processing that we had the choice not to repeat the chant, they would hit us. The cries grew louder and so did the chants," Adil alleged. "Felt like....," Adil stopped talking, his eyes staring piercingly at the floor. We moved on.

Both of them told us how while one policeman was asking for their names, parents’ name, addresses etc, another kept hitting them with lathis. "Sometimes the one writing it down would stop to have masala, water or to take a leak. Every time he took a break and would ask again, we would be beaten up again," they said. They also told us that the policemen were not wearing name badges and that some were even wearing masks.

At this point, Mustaqeem claimed:

After taking everyone's names down, the policemen asked the boys to go off to sleep. "If you don't sleep, we will kill you in an encounter," Adil and Mustaqeem claimed the police said again. Adil dozed off for a few minutes only, while Mustaqeem did not sleep at all. Few hours later, the boys were woken up when someone came and asked, who Adil and Mustaqeem were. Again, they were allegedly threatened to be killed: "'Chalo tumhaara encounter karte hai (Come, let's kill you in an encounter)." Adil and Mustaqeem said they were petrified as they walked towards the jeep with no idea about where they were being taken to.

It was still dark and the jeep was closed from all sides. Adil and Mustaqeem allege that their hands were tied by a rope and they were made to sit on the floor. This is when and where Adil’s beard was allegedly burnt. “While burning my beard they were saying things like, ‘Your women, sisters are very lovely... What kind of people are you? To have four wives?... You're terrorists’,” Adil claimed.

The allegations of being beaten up and Adil’s beard being burnt were further confirmed by Maulana Ansar Ahmed and Qari Adbul Moid from the UP division of the Jamiat Ulema E Hind, who had met the four men soon after on the afternoon of 22 December.

Maulana Ansar Ahmed said:

Qari Abdul Moid Chaudhary, who is the UP secretary of the Jamiat, added. “They were beaten horribly. Adil’s beard had been burnt, his skin was burnt. Parvez’s ear was cut and still bleeding. They were begging us to get them out as soon as possible.”

Finally, the cops got a call and turned the jeep in another direction. At this point Adil claims that the driver asked the policemen to not hit the two boys any more. "Driver acha aadmi tha, usne bola inko aur nahi maarna. (The driver was a good man, he told them not to hit us any more.),” Adil said. They later got to know that they were on their way to the Amrapur police station where they would soon meet Sarfaraz and Parvez.

Before we get into what happened after, let's hear the testimonies of Sarfaraz and Parvez after they were taken away from the Babu Purwa police station on 20 December.

Amrapur Police Station: Sarfaraz and Parvez

While Adil and Mustaqeem were taken to the Govind Nagar police station, Sarfaraz and Parvez were taken to the Amrapur police station.

Recalling what happened, Sarfaraz said:

Both confirmed that they were not beaten up inside. "We got to know later after going to jail, that the boys at the Govind Nagar police station were beaten up terribly. We were spared all of that."

The next morning they were chosen out of the lot of detainees at the police station, made to sit in a car where Adil and Mustaqeem were already seated, and all four were taken to the Kanpur Medical College on Barhana road for their medical examination.

Adil's head was torn open in two areas – on his forehead above his right eye and on the back of his head. Other than that he was also hit on his right hand and right calf.

Mustaqeem claims that his right thumb was severely injured, his fingers were fractured, and his head and legs had turned blue due to the constant beatings.

From when they were beaten up before being taken to the station, Parvez's right ear was torn, apart from injuries on his legs, while Sarfaraz had blood clots on his arms and legs. Allegations they would have wanted to raise in front of the doctor, magistrate and administration, but were too afraid to, or did not know how to, they said.

Bail From Allahabad HC & Coming Out During Lockdown

After months in jail, all four got bail from the Allahabad High Court. Starting with Parvez on 26 February, Sarfaraz on 12 March, Adil on 15 April, and Mustaqeem on 30 April.

Lawyer for all four, Kanpur-based advocate Nasser Khan, explained that their bail was denied by the local court, forcing him to move the high court. "In short, in Parvez's case, who was granted bail first, we argued in court that during the time of the incident he had gone out to find work in the Jajmau area of Kanpur. He was at a leather tannery at the time of the incident and CCTV footage showed that. Also, it would take him an hour to reach the spot from there. He was picked up by the police after the incident was over. In Sarfraz's case, we were able to show through testimonies that he was sitting in his shop working as a tailor. This was confirmed by his landlord who says he saw him sitting there. In the case of Adil and Mustaqeem, we showed them the wedding invite etc, and considering the time they had already spent in jail, the high court gave them bail."

Khan says that the police has no direct evidence to arrest any of them. A 1,200-page charge sheet has been filed in the case and the arguments on charge are yet to begin.

While Parvez and Sarfaraz got to know about their bail through an article an inmate read in the local newspaper, the cop on duty came and asked Adil and Mustaqeem to pack.

Adil was offering his Maghrib namaaz and Mustaqeem was offering his Asr ki namaaz in jail when the nambardaar came to them and said that their bail had come through. As Adil left the jail, the jailor told him he never wants to see him again.

"He was very considerate. Was giving me advice and telling me not to do things like this again. That he would never want for me to return to jail. That I should study sincerely." Parvez broke down when he heard the news in jail, "The man who gave me the news, I left with him my blankets, utensils and everything in jail," he says.

They might be out but life is far from normal for all four. Parvez's wife told us how he is on medication for his mental health. "When he was released on bail he could not recognise people initially. Or he would mutter incomprehensible things. Mainly, he would just sit in one side of the home and keep saying how his life has been destroyed. He had become paranoid. We are meeting with a mental health doctor and there seems to be some progress lately."

When asked if he has found work, he says, “Koshish toh kar rahe hai lekin baat nahi ban rahi hai. (I am trying to find work, but it is not working out.)” His wife calls this reporter inside the house and explains, "He does not want to work. His body was aching for months after, he could not walk at all either. If you met him before the incident, he would crack so many jokes that you would be laughing non-stop. Now his eyes are always popping out of his head and he is constantly over thinking. We are doing whatever we can."

Adil, who used to work at a salon, has changed his jobs. He is worried that someone may come and try and pick him up again from his old workplace. Mustaqeem lost his job as a mechanic. "They told me they won't keep me any more because of the case on me. I have found a job some distance away." Sarfaraz has not worked since coming out of jail. He says it is because there is no work due to COVID-19, and that where he worked earlier, they employed someone else.

Their families do not let them out of their sight for too long, but the most disconcerted they feel is when they see a UP Police official. "Whenever I see a policeman I lower my eyes, do not look their way, prefer to turn the other way around and leave as my heart races. What if they follow me? What if they recognise me? What if they want to mess with me again? You never know what could happen with us," they said.

. Read more on India by The Quint.‘Police Burnt My Beard’: Painful Details of Violence in UP EmergePunjab CM to Meet Amit Shah Ahead of Centre’s Talks With Farmers . Read more on India by The Quint.