Near the entrance of Meoli, a Muslim-dominated village in Haryana’s Nuh district, a 15-year-old is on the lookout for police. Three people were picked up an hour ago, making him worried. Several of his friends have either been detained or have fled from the village.
“I will run and hide in the forest behind the village,” the boy told Maktoob. “They are only coming for Muslims”.
Hundreds of Muslim youth are camping in the forest near the border of Rajasthan after a “brutal police crackdown”. On August 01, villagers say about 20 vehicles arrived at around 5 am and detained random people including minors. Police refused to inform the family what was going on and allegedly abused women who tried to stop them.
Nine family members of the village chief Chaudhary Shfaat were detained on that morning. He says the arrested individuals are not being allowed to see their families.
“About 2000 youths have fled from the place,” the 77-year-old told Maktoob. “Some are at their relative’s house, others are camping in the forest behind the village. Some are in the mountains.”
A fact-finding report by Association for Protection of Civil Rights(APCR) titled “Beyond The Surface: Exposing Systemic Violence & Police Complicity” states that “the arrests made by the police were one-sided, targeting Muslims and leaving out any potential involvement by Hindus”.
As many as 393 people have been arrested and 160 First Information Reports (FIRs) registered in connection with the communal clashes in Nuh on July 31, The Hindu reported.
Six people were killed in a week in connection with the violence.
Around 1,208 structures, overwhelmingly owned by Muslims, were subjected to arbitrary demolition over a five-day period by authorities following the violence. On August 07, the Punjab and Haryana High Court questioned whether a demolition drive targeting buildings mostly owned by Muslims was an “exercise in ethnic cleansing” and stayed all demolition.
However, the case was assigned to a new bench, drawing criticism from activists and lawyers.
“If they don’t know who did it, why are they arresting us,” Shfaat said. As the police keep returning to arrest more people, the elders in the village are in agony.
“We are asked to prove that they were not part of the violence. We will show the location of the individuals,” he added.
According to the APCR report, one of Shfaat’s grandsons who was arrested men went to give his LLB exam at Lords University, Alwar, on the day of violence. Two bus tickets, one going to Alwar from Nuh on 31 July at 8:21 am, are with him to prove his claims.
“If the men can’t go to work we will go hungry in no time,” a group of women in the village lamented. “They didn’t let people wear their shirts. We were all sleeping when they came,” one among them who declined to share her name, said.
Speaking to Maktoob, the President of District Bar Association Nuh, Saleem Ahmad said families are not informed about the arrest of their kin, even for minors.
He took the example of a boy from Meoli who was produced in court after a week. “People are still being arrested. They are arresting juveniles are major,” he added.
“Several testimonies pointed to police complicity in the violence. Videos and accounts suggested that police actively participated in the vandalism, destruction, and intimidation during the riots, undermining the trust citizens have in law enforcement,” reads the APCR report.