Rajasthan – Fact-finding reports on police firing at Gopalgarh

September 29, 2011

1. Press Release by Students for Resistance

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2. Preliminary findings of the PUCL fact finding team

Source – PUCL

This preliminary report of the PUCL team pertains to the incident of the police firing in Gopalgarh, district Bharatpur, Rajasthan. As per the media reports, the police resorted to firing to quell rioting mobs. The government has acknowledged eight deaths and 23 injured in this incident. Following this, the PUCL, Rajasthan constituted a Fact Finding Team to conduct independent inquiry into this incident.

The team comprised Kavita Srivastava, National Secretary, PUCL, Professor Shail Mayaram (Delhi), Professor Yogendra Yadav(Delhi), Ms. Nishat Hussain (Vice President, PUCL, Rajasthan) Mr. Sawai Singh (Organising Secretary PUCL, Rajasthan), Mr. Noor Mohammed (PUCL, Alwar), Mr Virendra Vidrohi (PUCL, Alwar), Adv. Ramjan Chowdhary (PUCL, Mewat district, Haryana), Mr Gaurav Srivastava(PUCL intern). Mr. Neelabh Mishra, Editor, Outlook (Hindi) and a section of progressive members of the Gurjar and Meo community also accompanied and assisted the fact finding team.

The team visited Gopalgarh and nearby villages on the 16th and 17th of September and, spoke to victims and their families, eyewitnesses and locally informed persons. The team also spoke to the District Magistrate, SP on duty (before they were transferred), the SHO of the Gopalgarh Police Station and senior police and administrative officials.

The government version, widely reported in the media, is that this was an outcome of rioting between two communities. It is said that since the mobs had turned violent, the police was left with no option except to open fire.

Our preliminary inquiry, however, raises many serious questions about this official account:

1. All the eight dead bodies identified are of Meo Muslims. Of the 23 persons officially acknowledged to be injured, 19 are Meo Muslims. This preponderance of Muslims among the dead and injured is intriguing, if the police was, as is claimed, acting neutrally and firing on both sides to control rioting mobs. .

2. Every eye-witness we spoke to said that there was no death before the police force intervened. According to senior police authorities as many as 219 rounds were fired by the police, which appears prima facie an excessive use of this measure of the last resort. Other than the use of tear gas shell, we did not hear about other precautionary steps to disperse the crowds such as lathi charge, use of rubber bullets. Since most of the deaths took place inside the Mosque, there is compelling reason to think that the firing targeted one community.

3. Local persons reported that to several dead bodies were burnt. In addition, three dead bodies were discovered from a nearby well. This aspect requires thorough investigation, since it is reasonable to presume that the police was in-charge of the site after firing had taken place and the mobs dispersed.

4. There are many aspects that point to a collusion between the local police, an aggressive section of the Gujjar community and some local RSS, Bajrang Dal and VHP leaders. The composition of the Police Station (eight police personnel were from the Gujjars community, while none was Muslim) and its conduct in the recent past gives rise to the impression that the police was not neutral.

5. The Mosque bore evidence of extensive vandalism, which lends credence to the allegation that after the firing the Mosque was ‘captured’ by a section of the Gujjar community in complicity with the police.

6. The burning and mutilation of at least three or more dead bodies and of those who were alive (some of the patients in the SMS bear witness to this) again gives rise to the suspicion that the local police and a section of the Gujjar community may have colluded in the aftermath of police action. There is a serious apprehension that this could have been done in order to destroy all evidence of bullet and other injuries.

7. The conduct of the administration in handiling the original dispute concerning the graveyard land and during the crisis of 14 September leaves many questions unanswered. There were confirmed reports about violent confrontation between the two communities (thousands from each side) around 11 a.m. But once the initial clash was put down by noon, the crowds were allowed to remain and rearm for five hours, even though the District Magistrate and SP were at the site. There is a strong belief among the Meos that that the District Magistrate was pressured into ordering firing by self-styled Hindu leaders. There are widespread allegations that firearms from the police station’s armory were taken and used by some elements from the Gujjar community. This needs to be investigated.

The state government has announced several steps following this incident. The District Magistrate and SP have been transferred, a judicial inquiry has been announced, the investigation has been handed over to the CBI and compensation announced for the victims. These are steps in the right direction. But these are not sufficient.

We suggest the following steps on an urgent basis to restore peace and public confidence.
1. There are still many reports of missing persons which need to be verified immediately.
2. There is a need for credible post-mortem of the dead to be done by a high level and independent panel of doctors.
3. The official list of injured needs to be revised so as to include those who did not report out of fear or those who went over to Haryana to get private treatment. There is a need for a fresh MLC for all the injured.
4. Arrangements should be made to bring back the Muslim families of Gopalgarh who have fled in order to save their lives.
5. The entire local police should be transferred and be replaced by a multi-community police force with adequate representation of minority community.
6. The local community needs to be taken into confidence in carrying out repairs and restoration of the Mosque.
7. The case files should be handed over to the CBI within the next seven days.
8. Confidence building measures in this region to reduce the possibility of communities coming to a flashpoint and to restore trust among the minority community need to be undertaken.
9. As a longterm measure all disputes pertaining to community spaces such as temples, mosques, graveyards, cremation grounds, etc should immediately be identified and special courts set up to resolve the legal disputes. Simultaneously, steps should be taken to amicably settle such disputes by bringing the communities in question together through proactive measures.
10. The terms of reference of the Judicial Enquiry must specifically include:

* The conduct of the District Collector and SP of Bharatpur, the Additional SP on the site, the SHO of Gopal Garh police station, The Circle Officer of the area and the Tehsildar who issued notices under sec 91 of LRA, which precipitated the situation.
* The role of outsiders on the 14th of September during the inconclusive mediation meeting between the leaders of both communities held to further intercommunal resolution at the police station, which compelled the Collector to give written orders for firing.
* The persons responsible for vandalising the Mosque, scorching the dead, putting the dead bodies in the well and those who allowed these persons to enter the mosque when it was in complete control of the police
* Conduct of police and administration in the five hours from noon to 5 pm so as to find out why the weapons were not seized from both the communities during the course of day and why section 144 CrPC was not imposed when several thousand people had gathered
* The handling of the original revenue dispute to find out why the concerned Tehsildar issue notices of eviction under section 91 of the Land Revenue Act when the SDM Pahari was already dealing with the Kabristan Land issue underr section 136 of the Land Revenue Act
* The fire in the stacks of cowdung cakes (the Baterwas-hut shaped structures made for the storage and safety of cow dung cakes) around the site of firing that raged for two days and why were the fires not doused despite the local availability of the fire engine.
* The exact circumstances in which the orders of firing were issued and the possibility that some police arms were used by private persons.

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3. Report based on fact-finding visit by a team from ANHAD

Source – TwoCircles.net

by Md. Ali

New Delhi: Two days after a communal clash between Meos and Gujjars in Gopalgarh area of Bharatpur district in Rajasthan was reported, the situation continues to be tense and disturbing. Muslims of the area are scared as they find themselves in a situation where they can’t trust any body, neither police nor any other government agency. Several members of the minority community, Meos Muslims, got killed in the firing between Gujjars, local police and Meos on Wednesday (14th September).

There are strong evidences to suggest, that police and the local administration in Gopalgarh acted in a completely partisan and biased manner while dealing with the clash between Meos and Gujjars. The clash started with a controversy over an Eidgah land, but soon it took the form of gun firing between the two communities.

Police reportedly not only joined Gujjars in gunning Meos down, when the firing started but also they didn’t take action against Gujjars when they were allegedly burning Muslims alive on Wednesday evening. There are enough instances to prove that at present, police is trying to suppress and destroy evidences related to the horrible, human rights violations of the members of the minority community by the local police and Gujjars.

“We were completely helpless as police joined Gujjars in firing. We saved our lives by running from the spot and jumping into the pond. But I could clearly see police and Gujjars firing at people in the mosque, killing most of them on the spot. They were also burning people,” this was how one of the survivors who was present on the spot, recounted his experience to the fact finding team from ANHAD which included Shabnam Hashmi, Navaid Hamid and this correspondent. The team visited Bharatpur on Thursday (15th September).

We saw two completely charred bodies in the well, located within the premise of the Eidgah mosque. There was nothing inside the mosque which was not broken. We found more than 6 spots on the floor and roof of the mosque which were bloodied, and which suggested killing/ serious injuries of people who were present there.

There were several spots which suggested how the bloodied bodies must have been dragged from one end of the roof, and floor of the mosque to another extreme of the mosque roof. Some of them leading to dead wall ends from which obviously bodies/ injured must have been thrown down. The outside wall had more than 15-20 bullet marks and so did the inside walls. There were torn pages of Quran scattered in two places, broken glasses, bricks, blood soaked clothes , utensils etc.

When the police realized that the fact finding team had seen the truth of the gross human rights violations and killing of Muslims by the police, it arrested the entire team. Police prevented us from seeing the horrible facts on the ground which, it had till that time, successfully managed to suppress and hide from the outside world, and from the national and local media as well.

The police arrested us, right at the moment when we were going towards the direction from where smoke could be seen coming out from several places. Local Meos suggested that there, in order to destroy all the evidences of its complicity in the human rights violations, the administration was burning the dead bodies. A very strong smell of human bodies being burnt had pervaded the atmosphere.

There were several charred bodies, which had been suppressed by the time ANHAD team had visited the spot. The local Muslims said that several members of the community are missing. It’s only after we dared to go near the well within the campus of the mosque only to be horrified at the complete acts of suppression of evidences by the police, that the news came out in public. The bodies are yet to be identified.

There seems to be some truth in the version of the Meos that there were also attempts to burn members of the Meo community. According to the District Magistrate, Kumal Krishna, one survivor, who is also badly burnt and is hospitalized in Alwar, had said that he was burnt by the rioting mob but he saved his life by jumping into the nearby pond.

Importantly the local police haven’t yet registered any FIR from the survivors and relatives of those killed. It has registered an FIR against unknown Meos and Gujjars for gun firing.

While talking to the fact finding team, the local administration didn’t tell us any thing about the charred and burnt bodies. They were trying to downplay the incident, as just a clash between the two communities. Their statements on number of dead, injured and situation turned out to be completely false. For instance, soon after we discovered those two burnt bodies, their claim of only death by firing, collapsed, so did the number of dead.

Importantly the media was barred from talking to the victims and visiting the spot of police firing. So the reporting about the incident was happening completely from the point of view of the police and the local administration which didn’t want the reality of their police firing to go out.

Police and the local administration didn’t want us to visit the spot. They made us wait at the Rajasthan-Haryana border for more than one and half hour. Our vehicle was stopped before we entered Rajasthan. The police officer said we have orders to stop you. It took us one and a half hours of negotiations, shoutings, several telephone calls to the CM and principle secretary’s office, and conversations with the collector before we were allowed to proceed. Meanwhile 7 jeeps full of policemen and a bus arrived to stop us from going any further.

The police throughout, tried their best to misguide us and not to let us enter the villages, they forced us to go to some madarsa saying victims were there. Again after a battle of words and shouting matches we were finally allowed to enter the mosque. As we were going in, the police officer literally threatened us, “if you take too much time we will leave,” conveying that they won’t be responsible for our safety. Our team promptly told them to leave as we did not need their security.

In the villages we heard stories of indiscriminate police firing on Meos, petrol being thrown on people before burning them, people missing, search for bodies still scattered over places etc. The villagers were constantly being threatened by the police not to give any information. Whereever we went the police force in hundreds reached before us. There was tension, fear, apprehension and a strange smell in the atmosphere.

Before we could go and see that we were surrounded by police and arrested. We were not allowed to go any further, to meet anyone else. We were taken to the police station and from there soon with police escort pushed out of Rajasthan border.

(Md. Ali is a journalist with TwoCircles.net. He was part of the ANHAD fact finding team which visited Gopalgadh.)