If the video footage of the Faizabad violence shows the city police force “just standing and watching” the rioters instead of taking action, many victims of the violence in nearby Bhadarsa alleged that the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) not only “gave” the mobs a free hand, but actively engaged in looting and arson also. In some cases, people reportedly returned to their gutted houses only to be arrested on charges of rioting, attempt to murder and even murder.
When contacted, newly-appointed Faizabad district magistrate Ajay Shukla said they had also recovered several hours of footage from privately-shot videos and CCTVs. Asked about charges of police involvement in the violence in Bhadarsa, he said: “We are looking into that aspect as well. It is part of the overall investigation.”
Following the violence on October 24, the Faizabad police had recovered videos from citizens and CCTV footage in a bid to identify rioters. While police officials maintained that at least 30 rioters have been identified, some of the footage implicates the security personnel as well.
For instance, in one such video footage, police officials outfitted in riot gear are clearly seen on one side of the road — some even sitting — while a mob grows larger by the minute on the opposite side.
A senior police official said the videos played an important role in the first round of suspensions and transfers of officers and personnel from the district. Stating that the standard procedure would have been to either order a lathicharge or at least remove the trouble-makers from the spot, he said: “But instead, some were trying to argue with the crowd and others were standing there watching... nobody seemed to be in charge.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a district administration official said: “The footage shows police personnel of the rank of inspector and above just standing there watching the rioters screaming. Moreover, after analysing hours of footage, we believe the mob in Faizabad included not more than 30 or 40 people, and we know there were at least the same number of police personnel deployed at the time.”
Eyewitnesses confirmed what the cameras recorded. A shopkeeper said rioters had set fire to at least five shops before the fire tenders arrived. “When the fire tenders were a few hundred metres away, a group of vandals stopped them even as the police watched. The rioters did not set fire to all the shops, but the fire spread since each building is located so close to the next,” he said.
It was worse in Bhadarsa, where violence was not limited to October 24, but recurred on October 26, after police forces had been deployed. While in the main town of Bhadarsa, rioters set ablaze a row of shops and pelted stones at places of worship, the outer villages of Fatehpur, Takewa and Islamabad saw at least 100 shops and houses being gutted.
Additional District Magistrate Rajesh Kumar said the administration has given Rs 20 lakh as interim compensation to at least 144 people so far. Of these, only nine are for shops, while the remaining are for houses.
Kasirunissa, who was at her home in Takewa with her four-year-old daughter when the violence started, said a mob entered her house, took away everything and torched the thatched roof. “I could do nothing. I just sat there crying, begging them not to hurt my daughter or me. After they left I went outside and saw policemen standing just a few hundred metres away,” she claimed.
In nearby Islamabad, Aquil Ahmed said: “We had an animal shelter with buffaloes, goats and chicken. When we heard the men coming we hid behind the trees and watched as the mob, which included some policemen, looted all the utensils, clothes and food and set fire to the house. They took away the buffaloes, but threw the chicken and goats into the burning house,” he said.
“We heard them coming and ran away to a relative’s house. When we returned, our house had been burnt. We were rebuilding the roof last week, when policemen arrested my father Abdul Khalique. He has been charged with rioting,” said Ahmed’s neighbour Sadaam. He added that when they returned to their house, the rubble had been cleared and the metal scrap had been piled in a corner. “An official said the scrap was kept there so I could sell it and earn some money,” said Saddam.
Mohammed Haneef, a resident of Bhadarsa whose house was also torched, said the mob comprised people from surrounding villages. “None of them were from here because they all came from across the fields, from the neighbouring gram panchayat. But I did see several men in khaki uniforms with lathis and helmets entering houses and robbing valuables. The police robbed the houses and the mob torched them,” he said.
“Though the Muslims in the area were targeted, we were always a peaceful town. But after this incident I have lost hope. My two sons were arrested for rioting, when they were actually helping to put out the fires. When I went to the police station, an officer took Rs 10,000 for the release of my younger son but asked for more for the older one,” said a local shopkeeper, who insisted on being identified only as Kumar.