UTTAR PRADESH, India
Fear has gripped the Muslim-majority town of Rampur, 250 kilometers (150 miles) northwest of Indian capital New Delhi, as police have booked 141 people and are hunting thousands of others, for participating in protests against the new citizenship law.
The Citizenship Amendment Act adopted recently by the Indian parliament is seen discriminatory against Muslims.
Most of the Muslim youth have escaped or gone underground, fearing arrest and repression from the provincial government led by Hindu nationalist leader Yogi Adityanath.
An eerie calm prevails in, otherwise, the city’s bursting shopping centers of Shabad market and Meston Ganj. Artisans have fled from the famous knife market, in the heart of the city. The city is known for offering the best variety of knives and manufacturing unique glazed handmade pots.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, near the famous city fort, Abida Khan said her husband Parvez Ahmed, secretary of the Madina Mosque was arrested from his home. “He was not even part of protests,” she said.
People living in Muslim dominated localities such as Bajori Tola, Thane Ganj, Pendewalan, and Nasrulal Khan Market, are living under constant fear. Hardly any young man is visible in these localities.
A wailing Hina Ali told Anadolu Agency that her 23-year old son Syed Saif Ali was picked by police from his home. “My son works at a skill development center set up by the central government to impart skills to college dropouts,” she said.
“He was with me all day at home, on the day of protests. But the police came to pick him up,” said Hina. She has no idea how to contest his arrest. “We do not even have the money to fight the case. My son is innocent,” she added.
Such stories of arrests and police knocking doors at midnight to search for youth from Muslims households are heard everywhere in the district, which comprises the erstwhile state of Rampur, that existed under British rule till 1947. Last ruler Nawab Raza Ali Khan acceded to India at the time of Partition in 1947, leading the state’s merger in Uttar Pradesh province.
With a population of 2.33 million as per the census conducted in 2011, Muslims constitute 50.57% of the population of the district. The city, known for its grandeur and architecture, however, houses 70% Muslim population.
On Dec. 20, when people had gone out to protest against the citizenship law at the Hathikhana Chauraha (square) -- the city center -- police stopped the procession, leading the clashes. One person died in the ensuing in the firing.
Police have put up posters at the intersections of the city, with pictures of youth allegedly involved in the violence.
“We had been insisting from the beginning that the administration should not target innocent people. I do not know how this happened. Many people have been framed by the police who are so poor that they cannot fight their case. Our team is working to help such people,” said Shoab Semnani, a lawyer.
Police have registered a case against Semnani as well. A video of some policemen damaging his family shop has gone viral.
Talking to Anadolu Agency, he said that he has been contesting cases on behalf of many families, whose breadwinners have been arrested.
District Magistrate Anjaney Kumar Singh, however, said that the police were targeting only those who damaged public property.
“This violence was pre-planned and part of a conspiracy. About a dozen people from outside had come to indulge in arson and violence. Authorities will soon reveal the entire conspiracy and names of people who incited violence,” he said.
He, however, assured that after investigations those found innocent will be released. "The accused persons and their families can submit evidence of their innocence,” he told Anadolu Agency.
But till then bursting Rampur is looking like a ghost city, with most of its Muslim male youth population either hiding or having fled from the city.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.