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Virus excuse allegation against Yogi govt

Different strokes for protesters, shooter
People wear protective masks in view of coronavirus pandemic, at a market in Lucknow on Sunday

Piyush Srivastava   |   Lucknow   |   Published 15.03.20, 09:02 PM

Yogi Adityanath’s administration allegedly used the coronavirus scare to try and break up an anti-citizenship-act dharna on a day it cited the virus protocol to shift a BJP youth leader and murder accused to an apparently more comfortable prison ward.

Women protesters at Aligarh’s Shah Jamal Idgah said a medical team sent by the district authorities on Saturday afternoon had asked them to disperse if they didn’t want to be infected with the coronavirus, and abused them when they refused.

Vinay Varshneya, arrested on the charge of shooting dead an anti-CAA marcher in Aligarh on February 23, was moved to a separate ward with better facilities the same evening after he complained of sneezing.

Protocol mandates that anyone who may have come in contact with a suspected coronavirus patient, or is exhibiting symptoms such as a cough, runny nose or fever, should be quarantined and tested for the virus.

Home department sources said Varshneya, who had been shifted to a jail in neighbouring Etah district on Friday “to avert a law-and-order problem”, had his new ward all to himself and was being allowed his own clothes, better food and daylong meetings with supporters.

At the Shah Jamal Idgah, where women have been on a dharna for 47 days running, the protesters said the medical team had arrived on the pretext of examining some of them but soon began pressuring them to withdraw the agitation.

“Four doctors and a pharmacist came and announced they were here to ensure we were well. Then they started saying we all would be infected with the coronavirus if we continued our dharna,” a woman told reporters.

Another said: “When we said we were scared neither of the virus nor of Yogi Adityanath, the doctors began abusing us with foul words.”

She added: “The chief minister is playing mischief to try and bully us.”

Both women spoke on the condition of anonymity because the police have been filing cases of breach of peace against any protester who makes a statement to the media anywhere in Uttar Pradesh.

More than 300 of the women protesters at the idgah, including all who have been quoted in the media, have been booked so far. Across the state, the figure is above 4,000.

Dr Geeta Pradhan, chief medical officer of Aligarh, denied that the medical team had abused the women.

Police role

Aligarh senior superintendent of police Muniraj G on Saturday suspended Kapil Kumar, the officer in charge of the Babri Mandi police outpost near which Varshneya allegedly shot dead Mohamed Tariq, on the ground of dereliction of duty.

Muniraj acknowledged that the police were present at the site when Varshneya and his supporters allegedly fired on the anti-CAA marchers.

“Kapil Kumar neither prevented the antisocial elements from firing on Tariq nor contacted senior officers to demand reinforcements,” he told reporters on Sunday.

He said that forces had been posted at the homes of Tariq and Varshneya to prevent any backlash.

Varshneya and two alleged associates were arrested on March 12 morning — 18 days since the shooting — only after Tariq’s condition became critical and a crowd gathered before the hospital. Till then, Varshneya had been holding pro-CAA marches in the area almost every week.

“According to eyewitnesses, policemen were standing near Varshneya when he fired on the marchers but didn’t stop him,” Tariq’s father Munawwar Khan said.

“The arrests and the suspension are an eyewash, meant only to calm the situation because unrest is brewing in the city. The prison is a home away from home for the killer.”

The day after his arrest, Varshneya was shifted to Etah jail. On Saturday evening, he was moved to his current ward.

“He complained of sneezing. Fear of the coronavirus spreading is the main reason for keeping him away from the other jail inmates. Doctors are checking him,” a state home department official said in Lucknow. He acknowledged that large numbers of Varshneya’s supporters from Aligarh were travelling to Etah to visit him every day and — in what should be a breach of jail rules and the coronavirus protocol -— he was being allowed to meet them all from morning till evening.

Munawwar said the police had refused to allow a funeral procession for Tariq, citing the possibility of the coronavirus spreading.

Tariq, who had died at the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital on the Aligarh Muslim University campus, was buried in the campus graveyard “in the presence of a huge police force”, Munawwar said.

According to the central government, 11 Indians and one foreigner had tested positive for the coronavirus in Uttar Pradesh, and four of the Indians had been discharged after treatment.

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