Wednesday, May 22, 2024

In Sambhal, UP Police accused of voter suppression

The third phase of Lok Sabha Election 2024 was completed in Uttar Pradesh with multiple allegations levelled by the voters of Sambhal constituency of being driven away, lathi-charged, and identity cards confiscated by the men in uniform when they had gone to cast their votes on Tuesday, May 7.

In the videos that surfaced on the internet, the voters are recounting how they were assaulted, thrashed, abused, and sent back without voting and showing the injuries sustained on their body parts as a result of what is being called police brutality to prevent voters from exercising their right to vote.

“To influence the vote count and the entire election, the police assaulted the voters, to intimidate them into either voting for BJP or not voting at all, which will ultimately benefit the BJP. They have no chance to win from Sambhal constituency, as all the voters were predetermined to vote for the Samajwadi Party”, said Zia Ur Rahman Barq, an INDIA Alliance candidate running for the SP seat in the constituency, to the media.

One of the surfaced videos on the social media sites shows Zia-ur-Rahman being pushed by police officials after protesting about Muslims being prevented from voting.

Rahman is fielded by the Samajwadi Party with INDIA Alliance after his grandfather incumbent Shafiqur Rahman died aged 93 this year on February 27th. Barq was the oldest MP in terms of age and had served two Lok Sabha terms from Sambhal and three from Moradabad representing the Samajwadi Party.

Feroz Khan (52), former state president of SP and state committee member told Maktoob, “In the first two phases the BJP got an idea that they were losing, so they decided that they could only win Sambhal seat by lowering the vote count as Muslims make up a majority of the electorate in the constituency and had been represented majorly by the SP. People had made up their minds to defeat the BJP this time too, so they chose police and crooks to suppress the Muslim vote.”

At around 9:50 in the morning on Tuesday, Khan was informed by his observer in the town that a Sub-inspector was harassing a Booth Level Officer (BLO) and snatched all the documents she had that were required for the voters to cast their votes, who did not get the voter’s slip at home.

By the time Khan reached MGM Degree College in Chaudhary Sarai of Sambhal he could only meet the BLO who alleged that police officers deployed to maintain law and order during the voting process took away all the voter’s lists she had by force.

Khan said, “The woman was crying as she was appointed by the District Magistrate, and all her documents were gone. When we inquired with the police inspector he threatened us with a police case.”

He claimed that the administration did this with full planning and the police launched similar attacks in dozens of villages, including, Ratupur, Raib Nagla, Mawai, Narauli, Obri, Shahbazpur Kala, Racheta, Mansoorpur, Alampur, and Mubarakpur.

Maktoob spoke with at least 5 BLOs appointed at 5 different polling booths, out of which 3 were Muslims and 2 were Hindus, with 2 females and three males. All 5 of them shared a similar ordeal of being harassed, having documents snatched and threatened by the police officers. They all requested not to disclose their names citing the “Police action”.

“Why Provincial Armed Constabulary?”

Nayla Khwaja, an independent Journalist based in New Delhi travelled more than 150 km all the way to cast her vote in Sambhal as she is the resident but she witnessed what she never did in her lifetime. 

Khwaja said, “As I along with other family members went to cast my vote and as we were lining up to vote, I saw that police were turning voters away from our and other polling booths on baseless grounds. They were telling people that they don’t have valid ID cards, or their names were not on the list even though they had been voting there for years or they were not showing the list at all.”

“I then met and talked with some women who were manhandled by the police at the polling booths. They were harassed and some got seriously injured in the process. Some women said that administrators were unnecessarily disrespectful and strict towards them. I had to return to work in Delhi so came back, but this is something unfair and needs to be reported majorly by all news organisations. Many people are severely injured by police brutality and there is no media outrage about this. The situation on the ground is more grim than it looks on social media.”

She added, “Apart from the police force, the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) was deployed, I have voted in the past too but never witnessed PAC in the elections. Had it been a Hindu-dominant area, I am sure they would not have deployed this much force. Since it was a Muslim region, there were all kinds of forces. It’s time that the Election Commission of India should intervene.”

“What was the PAC doing in the elections?”, Khwaja asked.

Shabnam Bano (40), a resident of Sambhal went to cast her vote at HNM Public School but alleged that the Police were beating and threatening voters and forcing them to go back without casting their votes. She also accused police of dragging and thrashing women with force.

Bano said, “Many elderly women couldn’t go out to vote due to the prevailing situation and fear. They were tearing the documents of people mandatorily required to vote. What is left to be called an election? This is open police thuggery.” 

Kehkashan (33), another resident who went to cast her vote at polling booth station 216 alleged that there the voters were told that EVM machines were not working and they couldn’t cast their vote.

“Whatever identity proofs people were coming with, the polling officers were terming it as invalid, whether it was Aadhar, voter’s ID or PAN Card, she said.

She alleged, “Many voters were also detained in front of my eyes. The police were trying to block every kind of information and media intervention, so nobody got to know what they were doing.”

A repeat of 2022 Rampur By-Elections, with Reversed Roles

What transpired in Sambhal however is not a lone incident, this can be called more or less a report of the 2022 by-election for the Rampur assembly seat but with the roles of officers reversed this time.

In December 2022, a by-election for the Rampur assembly seat was also marred by police brutality with Muslim voters allegedly being beaten up and denied the right to vote, lowering the voting turnout in that election to only 27.8 per cent.

This “police brutality” resulted in the loss of the SP leader Azam Khan’s family which held the seat for two decades, granting victory to the BJP candidate. The Police circle officer for Rampur at that time was Anuj Kumar Chaudhary, who transferred 6 months ago to Sambhal as the senior police officer in the subdivision and the circle officer of Sambhal has been transferred to Rampur.

“It seems that the shuffling of officers was deliberately done to achieve what they had achieved in Rampur by-elections in 2022”, said Khan.

However, Sambhal recorded a better official turnout of 62.8 per cent. However, the voting percentage is lower than the 2019 figure of 64.7 per cent. Moreover, Sambhal also became the fourth-highest among the 26 Uttar Pradesh seats to have voted so far in the three phases of Lok Sabha Polls.

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