Ground Report: “I Have Got A New Life. They Were Planning To Burn Us Alive,” Meerut Journalist Recalls Friday Horror
Caught in the onslaught of thousands of bloodthirsty rioters, galvanised after the Friday prayers in Meerut on 20 December, was journalist Rizwan Khan and 30 young police trainees.
And they all have only one person to thank for being alive — Circle Officer Dinesh Shukla.
Last Friday (20 December), many areas in the Western part of Uttar Pradesh witnessed large-scale rioting, arson and torching of public properties. Meerut was one of the worst affected cities where massive crowds of Muslim youth trundled on the streets after Friday prayers and turned violent when police tried to confront them.
Meerut witnessed rioting at a much larger scale compared to other districts. It also saw the most number of deaths. Five people, four from the city and one from Delhi, died. Scores of policemen also suffered injuries.
While the security forces were able to get a handle on the situation in the city in a matter of a couple of hours, what they must be most relieved is for preventing a major disaster from unfolding.
They saved 33 people — one journalist of a local Hindi daily, 30 trainees of Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC), two jawans of Rapid Action Force (RAF) — from being lynched alive by a bloodthirsty mob in broad daylight.
We reached out to the journalist, Rizwan Khan, who was held hostage along with PAC and RAF personnel by the mob for more than two hours. He narrated at length the tale of horror and how a police officer rescued them from the rioters.
‘Circle Officer (CO) Dinesh Shukla, the City Magistrate, three of us from the press, some trainees of PAC, RAF jawans and police personnel started out for Hapur road where a swarm of protesters was marching on,” Rizwan Khan says while describing how they ended up being face-to-face with the rioters.
According to police sources, a huge crowd was brought in from Zakir and Aashiyana colony, especially from the slums, after Friday prayers. They poured on to the Hapur road in thousands and were marching towards Hapur adda. Next to it is Sohrab Gate area where Meerut’s big mosque Jama Masjid is located. Since it was a Friday, Muslims from across the city come here for afternoon prayers.
“As we got on the Hapur road, CO Dinesh Shukla got information about crowds running riot near Umar Nagar so we started in their direction and met them near City Hospital. Here, protesters started sloganeering. CO Sahb tried to talk to them and calm things down. As he was talking to them, a stone came out of nowhere from the crowd. It missed CO sahb by a whisker and hit me on my foot. But CO sahb didn’t take offence. He ignored the matter and rather focused on calming the crowd”, he tells Swarajya.
Khan says that despite repeated provocation by the crowd, police officials on the spot displayed the best of behaviour.
“After talking it out, we started walking away. We were hit by 2-3 stones from behind. CO Sahb again tried to make them understand by talking to them. But suddenly, we were bombarded with stone pelting from the crowd. We didn’t have helmets so we ran helter-skelter to save ourselves. The crowd chased us. We saw the shutter of one shop half open. Thirty three of us — I along with 30 PAC trainees and two RAF jawans went inside and brought down the shutter. The crowd spotted us, gathered outside and started banging on the shutter, threatening us to open it,” Khan recalls.
Rizwan and his colleague, the photographer, another journalist, CO Dinesh Shukla and police personnel got separated in all the commotion.
“Inside, it was a small space and 33 of us were jammed inside. It wasn’t even a shop but only a gateway to go upstairs. All these trainees were just kids who had been in training for a few days. Two of them fainted. One called his home and said he wouldn’t make it and was pleading to his mother to take care of his sister. Another was asking the same of his wife. I stopped them from making such frantic calls and troubling their families. I told them we would face this situation head-on and they needn’t worry and we would get out of this alive. The tear gas shells that police was launching outside on the protesters was making the situation worse for us as we started getting suffocated,” says Rizwan.
Rizwan says they had hardly any weapons to deter the crowd. All the trainees had only sticks. RAF jawans had one tear gas gun and one another weapon.
“The rioters had locked the shutter gate from outside as soon as they knew we were inside. I knew they would try to open it after some time. So, we decided to shut it from the inside. I took the caps of the trainees, tore them and used those as threads to lock the shutter from inside. After half an hour, the protesters opened the lock as we had anticipated and tried to break inside but failed.”
“When they couldn’t open the shutter, someone from the crowd shouted and asked to bring the oil. They were thinking of burning us alive. But fortunately, they didn’t succeed. We had been making calls to the police to save us. Only CO Sahb knew where we were stuck. He came with a large force and rescued us after two hours of face-off with rioters,” Khan tells me.
“While I tried to be brave inside and kept assuring the trainee kids, I couldn’t control my tears after coming out. I can’t thank CO Shukla enough. He has given me a new life. After going home, I couldn’t sleep the whole night. This incident kept flashing before my eyes,” says a thankful Khan.
Rizwan Khan is also the reporter who first spotted posters by Popular Front of India (PFI) in the city.
“I first saw them by chance. It was pasted on an e-rickshaw. These posters appeared soon after the verdict on Ram Janmabhoomi came out on 9 December,” Khan tells me.
The police has only now taken notice of these posters and even apprehended two PFI party workers, Amjad and Javed, from Meerut’s Lisari gate locality. It is investigating their role in mobilising the crowds post-Friday prayers and provoking them. In total, as many as 13 PFI members have been arrested in different parts of the state.
The posters exhort Muslims not to forget 6 December (when the disputed structure was brought down in 1992) and 9 December (when the Supreme Court pronounced its verdict).
Prashant Kumar, Additional Director-General of Police, Meerut zone, says, ”There is evidence against PFI leaders in several incidents. The hot spot of violence was in Meerut, Muzaffarnagar and Bulandshahr.”
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