Jahoor Ahmad, 65, had just one thing to say when wife Akhtar Jahan met him at a Lucknow prison on December 26.
“Ask all our children to run away from Lucknow for a few months, else the police will arrest and beat them and put them in jail,” Akhtar Jahan, 60, quoted her husband as saying.
She added: “Our three sons have run away from home. One of them is an embroidery worker, another a tailor and the third an undergraduate student. We don’t know where they are.”
Akhtar Jahan alleged the police had thrashed Jahoor in the lockup before producing him before a magistrate who sent him to jail custody on December 21. “When I met him, he was unable to walk properly.”
Jahoor, a milk shop owner at Madheganj in Lucknow’s old quarters, was arrested on December 20, a day after a massive protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens. The charges against him include rioting and preventing public servants from discharging their duty.
His younger brother Gafoor said none from the family had participated in the protest but the policemen who arrested Jahoor told him that “every Muslim is protesting”.
Such comments strengthen fears that the administration is targeting Muslims at random and explains why Jahoor wanted his sons to flee home, a family friend said asking not to be named.
“A crowd was protesting in Madheganj on December 19. Every time the police fired tear gas or bullets, the mob would run back and stop in front of our house. We had closed our milk shop and were hiding inside our home for fear of injury from the mob’s stones or the police’s bullets,” Gafoor told The Telegraph.
“The police picked up my brother at 2.30am on December 20. When Jahoor told the policemen he was not involved in any agitation, they told him that every Muslim was protesting but claiming before the police that they were not.”
The policemen said the arrested Muslims would be released from jail “only after all vitality has been drained out of them so that they cannot raise their head for the next 50 years”, Gafoor alleged.
He said the police had also “dragged out and taken away” four of the family’s five tenants who live on the first floor of their house. “We don’t know where they are. Local policemen told us they didn’t know about those four,” he said.
Gafoor identified the four tenants as Mohammad Zakir, Mohammad Ayub, Mohammad Jahoor and Ravi Kumar, all day labourers.
“Their family members have arrived here and are running from pillar to post to find out where they are. We hope they are in jail and not in a police lockup somewhere,” Gafoor said.
Gafoor said the family had received a notice on December 26 that accused Jahoor Ahmad — detained six days earlier — of damaging property during the protest and asked him to appear before a magistrate within a week to prove his innocence. Else, it said, his properties would be attached to compensate the losses.
“How can a man lodged in jail appear in a court by himself?” said Mohammad Rizwan, a lawyer trying to secure bail for Jahoor.
“The police should have served the notice on him in jail and arranged for his court appearance. They are playing tricks to harass people.”
The police have issued scores of such notices to try and recover damages from people they accuse of arson and vandalism during the citizenship protests, after chief minister Yogi Adityanath threatened “revenge” on violent demonstrators.
While lawyers have already said the executive cannot seek damages without a court order, the notice against Jahoor lends credence to allegations that at least some of these notices are being issued at random.
The suspicion is strengthened by the way the police have been issuing another kind of notice, which asks potential troublemakers to appear in court within seven days and seek bail against a personal bond, or face arrest.
This newspaper reported on Thursday how Firozabad police had served such notices on a dead man, Banne Khan, and nonagenarians Fasahat Meer Khan and Sufi Ansar Hussain.