Ten days after protesters vandalised a police station and set fire to vehicles in Mau district of Uttar Pradesh, Mirzahadi Chowk market, the scene of the first incident of violence during the ongoing protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and NRC in the state, on Thursday seemed peaceful on the surface, though with an underlying sense of anxiety.
Niyad Ahmad’s house, with several shops, including his two general stores, a Western Union office and a footwear store, is located right on the chowk. Dakshintola police station, which was vandalised, with parts of the boundary wall damaged and computers inside broken, is barely 100 metres away.
Ten days on, with his four sons still in jail, Ahmad, 74, is in no shape to open his shops yet. “They look after business; there is no one who can handle it,” he said.
Recalling the violence, Niyad said, “The whole time we were sitting inside, scared. When it ended around 8 pm, and there was a curfew-like situation, we felt relieved. That night, I woke up around 3 am and found a group of 20-30 policemen in our home. We have heavy iron doors since we keep business material at home, and I don’t know how they entered.”
The policemen, Niyad said, were polite and said they will take his four sons to the police station – only for identification, and then let them go in an hour. “They let them get dressed but did not allow phones. It has been 10 days, and last I checked my sons were still in jail. We are business people – we own five shops in my house itself – and if there is a riot-like situation, will we save our shops and goods or be part of the violence?”
Ishtiyaq, 45, who stays nearby, said five members of his family — his two sons, younger brother and two nephews — were arrested in the early hours of December 16 in almost a repeat of what happened at Niyad’s home.
He alleged that policemen “broke into our house” and took the five male members, including his sons Hassam (15) and Maadh (18). “I was not home, else I would also have been arrested. For two days they did not even tell where my sons are. I learnt only recently that Maadh is in jail and Hassam at a juvenile home,” he said.
Ishtiyaq said his work of colouring fabrics is shut because he cannot handle it without other family members.
Another resident, Badruzzma, said 11 people, including a minor, were arrested that night, and eight more the following day.
Dakshintola SHO Nihar Nandan Kumar told The Indian Express that 19 people have been arrested from his police station area. The 11 arrested the first day include a minor and came from three households, he said.
Mohammad Kamaal, whose son and elder brothers were arrested on December 16, said the gathering that day was unplanned. Local residents said violence began after a mob attacked a passenger bus and the police subsequently used force. The crowd then allegedly became violent and vandalised the police station.
Mau SP Anurag Arya told The Indian Express that three FIRs were registered in connection with the incident, and 21 people have been arrested so far. “We have identified 110 other miscreants involved in the violence. Since we have no information about them, we have released posters with their photographs,” Arya said.
On Wednesday night, posters carrying images of these 110 people were put up at Mirzahadi Chowk. On Thursday, the area was under a heavy cover of police and riot forces.
Recounting how it unfolded, a local medical shop owner (name withheld on request) said: “It began peacefully. Around 3 pm, close to a hundred youths gathered to give a memorandum to the administration to show their support to students of Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia. A senior police officer came and took the memorandum. However, when people were returning, a passenger bus coming from Azamgarh was attacked by someone in the crowd. There was panic among the passengers, and the police tried to disperse the crowd. Soon, rumours started spreading on WhatsApp groups that police have started a lathicharge, and within minutes a mob of around 600 gathered.
“It soon took a violent turn and they all entered the police station.”