Bijnor, India – Protests have been taking place against a contentious new law outside the state building of Uttar Pradesh in capital New Delhi over allegations of police brutality and excessive force.
At least 19 people have been killed across the state, India’s most populous, in two weeks of demonstrations against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and grieving families are demanding answers.
The legislation, passed earlier this month, grants citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, but does not include naturalisation for Muslims.
‘Police caught him and shot him’
Suleman Hussain, 20, a resident of Bijnor city in Uttar Pradesh who was studying to join India’s civil service, was one of the 19 killed, most of whom are Muslims.
“When he was coming back from prayers [December 20], the police started beating people,” Hussain’s father Zahid told Al Jazeera’s Elizabeth Puranam.
“Everyone ran, but he couldn’t because he had a high fever. The police caught him and shot him,” Zahid added.
Police commanders in Uttar Pradesh maintain officers acted in self defence and to prevent communal violence.
Arun Kumar, a police officer in Bijnor, said in a press conference: “There came a point where there was a fear of clashes between Hindus and Muslims. Only we know how we have stopped that from happening. If we had not reached there then things would have deteriorated.”
However, Bijnor residents said police attacked people in their own homes.
Mohammad Sirajudeen told Al Jazeera that police broke into the home of his brother Shamsudeen – who is paralysed – and beat the entire family with batons.
“The police barged in. They broke the door and dragged him out of the house. They beat him up, and now he is detained,” he said.
“The people here are so scared that many have locked themselves up inside their houses. Many others have left the place because of police atrocities.” Hussain said.
The police in Bijnor was sending messages of reassurance to distressed residents but rights groups say “they’re too late”, Puranam reported.
“Members of a fact-finding team, who travelled to Uttar Pradesh, say the police are carrying out a reign of terror on Muslim communities,” she said.
“There is terror over there… people in Muslim colonies are staying up all night to guard their houses. They are terrified of a police raid or a communal attack,” activist Kavita Krishnan, member of the fact-finding team, told reporters at a news conference in capital New Delhi.
Activists point out that while protests have happened nationwide, protesters have been killed only in states governed by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), such as Uttar Pradesh.
“Police are detaining any protesters who come to Uttar Pradesh House here in the capital New Delhi to stop people from speaking out against the police response in the state in northern India,” said Puranam.
“Civil rights groups are demanding the immediate release of what they call innocent protesters arrested by police and they want Supreme Court judges to oversee an investigation into allegations of police brutality,” she added.
Police have detained around 6,000 people in Uttar Pradesh, including more than a 1,000 arrests.
With inputs from Al Jazeera’s Elizabeth Puranam reporting from New Delhi and Bijnor