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India: Family of Muslim teen killed in police custody insist on independent inquiry

27th Aug 2021
India: Family of Muslim teen killed in police custody insist on independent inquiry

Faisal Hussain following the assault.(Photo courtesy of the family)

Sajeda Haider

The family of a Muslim teenager brutally killed in police custody in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) is calling for an independent inquiry.

The injuries on Faisal Husain’s body suggest the 18-year-old vegetable seller was mercilessly kicked and beaten in the skull, after he was arrested for breaking a Covid lockdown curfew by mere minutes.

“The same police that killed my son now have the responsibility to give him justice. How can I trust them now?” asks his grieving mother, Naseema Banoo.

On May 21, Husain had just returned from Friday prayers at his local mosque in Bhatpuri, Bangarmau, when three law enforcers approached him and asked his name. Identifying him as a Muslim, the Hindu policemen began slapping and kicking him, accusing him of flouting ‘lockdown rules’.

The teenager refuted their accusations, arguing that he was only selling vegetables off a cloth spread on the floor outside his tiny home, and that was not violating the law. This angered the policemen even more, who then took him to the local police station on their motorbikes, where they then assaulted him more in full view of the Station House Officer.

After about an hour of ‘torture’, the policemen realised Husain was losing consciousness, and so dumped him at the local Community Health Centre, where Dr Sunil Kumar attested he was “brought by the policemen in a very bad condition.”

“Faisal was complaining of a stomach ache. He was brought to us in a serious condition, and we tried to treat him quickly. We referred him to a hospital in the district headquarters, but before the vehicle could take him, he died in the centre.” said Dr Kumar.

The family complained that they were denied access to Husain at the police station and only got to see him at the health centre after he had died. The police initially claimed Husain fell ill at the police station and died of a heart attack at the health centre. However, the postmortem puts the cause of death as a severe beating above the left ear. Husain’s battered body was finally released to the family at 5 am the next day. He was buried on the same day.

Husain’s biggest crime was not breaking lockdown rules but being a Muslim in a country and state that is ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) where hate crimes against Muslims are committed with impunity. Twitter-happy Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UP’s BJP Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, have yet to comment on the brutal murder.

Husain’s inconsolable family have not only lost their son but also the sole earner. The teenager was one of five children – two daughters and three sons – born to labourer Islam Husain and seamstress Naseema Bano. Islam, now in his late 60s, can no longer work due to poor health and so sells toffees from their tiny house, while 58-year-old Naseema has lost sight in one eye after years of embroidering clothes for a pittance in her dimly lit home.

The eldest son Mohammed Sufiyan is physically and mentally disabled; hence, the onus of supporting the family fell on Husain. At 13, Husain was sent off to Pune, Western India, to train as a mechanic, hoping it would lead to a better life for him and his family.

Husain returned from Pune in early 2020 to attend his elder sister Rehnuma’s wedding, but shortly after the first wave of Covid-19 hit India, a lockdown was imposed by the Modi Government, so Husain could not go back to resume his training.

“Faisal started selling lemons, coriander and chillies from outside the house to keep the family going. He would buy about Rs 500 (£5) worth of herbs from the wholesale vegetable market, bring it back to the village and make a profit of Rs 150-200 (£1.50-£2) daily, and this would be just enough to feed the family,” explained Khushnuma, his 22-year-old sister to The Muslim News on August 8.

His 15-year-old younger brother Mohammad Ayan must now work to support the family. “My son was the apple of our eyes and always took care of us. Where will I look for him? They took my heart away. Who will take care of us now? He was running the house,” cried an inconsolable Bano.

Since the murder almost three months ago, neither charges nor a trial have yet been filed. Two of the policemen involved in the murder – Vijay Chaudhary and Satya Prakash – have been arrested, but the third, Seemavat, has been released for insufficient evidence.

The longer the police delay in filing charges, the more opportunity they have to dilute the charges, tamper with the evidence, and intimidate witnesses, say campaigners. Some of Husain’s extended family has already turned hostile.

Swaran Ram Darapuri, a retired Inspector General of UP police, blamed the murder on a brutalized and anti-Muslim police force in UP, which has become increasingly Islamophobic since the BJP came to power in the state in 2017.

“The highest custodial deaths take place in UP, it is because the police are working on the ‘thok do culture’ (beat/kill them culture), and ‘sabak sikha do’ (teach them a lesson) policy. The police have been given the upper hand to do this and are misusing it,” said Darapuri.

“The constitution or any law does not allow police to torture, but since it is acceptable in our society, most of the time it goes unpunished. There is a culture of impunity,” said Darapuri, agreeing that in Husain’s case it was policemen’s religious prejudice that was at work and not his ‘crime’.

The Chief Justice of India, Nuthalapati Venkata Ramana, has said that the threat to human rights is greatest in police stations because “custodial torture and other police atrocities” continue to be practised and even the privileged are “not spared third-degree treatment”.

He made the comments during a lecture to the National Legal Services Authority on August 8. Husain’s family is are poor and Muslim, and so subsequently has very little expectation that their murdered son will get justice in a country where being Muslim has become a crime now.

In a country where being Muslim has become a crime, the impoverished family has very little hope that their son will get justice. “We are waiting for the wheels of justice to turn, but on the other hand, we do not have any hope left,” said Islam, Husain’s father.

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