As the evening sun went down, the body of Areef was lowered into a grave in the Ahmednagar area. Nearby was an empty grave, waiting for its occupant, who, the locals said, had also been killed in police firing during the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests in the city on Friday. His body, they said, was being brought in.
As hundreds of locals walked down the narrow lanes of the neighbourhood to bury their youth, the mood was taut.
Police confirmed that five people had been killed in the violence that erupted on Friday afternoon — apart from Areef, in his early 20s, were 33-year-old Zaheer, 30-year-old Asif and 28-year-old Mohsin, all local youths, and Asif, a 20-year-old resident of Jhilmil Colony in Delhi.
Though both police and residents blamed each other for starting the violence, the protesters said no shots were fired from their side, a claim the police contests.
At a spot near what is locally called Tiranga Chowk, in front of the City Hospital, the earth was ashen, a reminder of the previous day’s violence. Opposite is a lane that leads to a mosque. Locals there told The Indian Express that this was where the police opened fire on the youth who had come to participate in a rally.
Mohammad Salim Ansari, a 57-year old local, said several people from different parts of the city had congregated in the area for the rally, which proceeded to the Gola Kuan Suit Market. It was on the way back, he claimed, that “members of the RSS started the violence”. He claimed they had come from the neighbouring Hindu localities and “were wearing jeans and had pistols in their hands”.
Ansari asserted that the protesters did not fire any shots, a claim that was supported by about a dozen men standing near him. The men said they want peace and accused the government of trying to create a rift between Hindus and Muslims.
Gajender, standing in the crowd, said, “Yeh Hindu-Muslim karwana chahte hain.”
Others said they were against the CAA since it went against the Constitution, and were also scared that with the NRC, they would have to prove their citizenship. Ansari said, “Samvidhan ko bacha lo, is desh ko bacha lo (Save the Constitution, save this country).”
Akhilesh Narayan Singh, SP (City), said that on Friday, while addressing the gathering, which, locals said, had a couple of thousand people, he told the crowd that they should share their points in writing which would then be taken to the relevant authorities. After his address, the crowd had started to disperse, when firing started near City Hospital and in Nisarigate. Locals, however, said there was no firing or even stone pelting at the Gola Kuan Suit Market.
The SP went on to say that “the protestors had fired” and that 18 shells of 32 bore, 37 of 315 bore and 14 of 12 bore had been recovered from the sites. While he said that “several” police and RAF personnel have bullet injuries, SP Singh did not acknowledge that police too had fired live rounds and mentioned only tear gas and pellets.
However, Inspector General (Meerut Range) Alok Singh said regarding the number of bullets fired by the police, “that’s something we need to count”. He told The Sunday Express that “there was some covering fire from our side because 16 of our young constables and RAF personnel were holed up in a hospital building”. He said they “were almost held hostage for some time, so a covering fire was given”. But yes, he added, “shots were fired”.
Though the residents said that all the victims had died in police firing, claiming one was shot straight in the head, Singh said there “was an exchange of fire” between police and people in the area, and “fire was coming from all sides, from rooftops, from bylanes”. He said, “it is yet to be established, whose bullet hit whom”.
However, the post-mortem report was yet to be finalised, sources in the police and the local health administration said.
Singh also said outsiders were part of the crowd that attacked the police. “There were some people who were new to the city, they were seen with their masked faces and they incited things.”
He pointed out that of the five who died on Friday was a youth from Delhi. “We cannot completely rule out that it was an entirely local thing,” but, he said, “certainly, there were people who were not from Meerut”.
On Saturday, the city wore a near-deserted look. With Section 144 still in place, there was minimal traffic on the streets and most of the shops in the area were shuttered.
The stretch on Hapur Road, one of the sites of the violence on Friday, was barricaded on both sides. On one side were police and personnel of the Civil Defence force, on the other, police and the Rapid Action Force. The stretch in the middle was dark; even the street lights had not been switched on. An unsteady calm in the dark.
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