Lack of tear gas led to police firing? Cops, witnesses divided on Mangaluru firing deaths

While police say they feared the protesters will overrun them, witnesses question this version.
Lack of tear gas led to police firing? Cops, witnesses divided on Mangaluru firing deaths
Lack of tear gas led to police firing? Cops, witnesses divided on Mangaluru firing deaths
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It has been almost a week since police firing led to the deaths of two people in Mangaluru during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

The sequence of events leading up to the incident has divided the police and witnesses in Bunder, the site of the firing. 

Though the police released a series of crowd-sourced videos showing incidents of stone-pelting and arson to justify the firing of bullets, other videos have emerged showing police firing at protesters from a distance and discussing why “no one has fallen dead”. 

Claims and counterclaims by police and witnesses have muddled the sequence of events that led to police opening fire. Police sources in Mangaluru stated that a lack of tear gas available at the spot and the fears of being overrun by protesters led to the decision to open fire. 

Abdul Jaleel (49) and Nausheen (23), daily wage labourers from Mangaluru, were killed in the firing.

Violent protests

At 3 pm on December 19, initial protests outside the Deputy Commissioner’s office were quelled using lathi charge and tear gas shells.

In the next hour, crowds of protesters gathered in Nellikai Road, Clock Tower, Town Hall, and State Bank Circle. Police personnel were moved from one location to another to disperse crowds that gathered. The largest gathering of protesters was at Mangaluru North (Bunder) police station in Bunder, a port area in Mangaluru. The police station is located on Azizuddin Road, which is surrounded by narrow bylanes where shops selling hardware, grocery and household items are located. 

At 4.30 pm, a crowd of protesters converged on the Mangaluru North (Bunder) police station from three directions surrounding it. Witnesses say that the protesters took to stone-pelting and arson, making use of tyres and scrap metal available in shops in the area. Police responded to the protesters by using tear gas shells.

Lack of tear gas shells

“The police used tear gas shells to disperse the crowd. But when stone-pelting incidents continued to persist, the police were running out of tear gas at the location. In the city, tear gas is stored in an armoury but with the roads leading to the station cut off on three sides, it became difficult to re-stock the tear gas shells and use it to disperse the crowd. Police were also throwing tear gas shells against the wind, which meant that they did not have the desired effect,” a police source in Mangaluru told TNM.

The police stated that protesters planned to roll tyres on fire towards the station and also claimed that the protesters were advancing towards a gun shop – MM Kini Gun House – located 200 metres west of the police station. However, the shop manager told TNM that although protesters tried to break into the shop, they were unsuccessful. It was later revealed that even though there were guns stored at the shop, they had minimal ammunition.

“A decision was taken to authorise select police personnel to fire bullets. Initially, shots were fired in the air, following which protesters were fired at,” the police source added. This was corroborated by multiple police officials on duty when the firing took place. The police did not use water cannons, something which was even questioned by Congress leader Siddaramaiah. Announcements had been made over loudspeaker that shots would be fired.

The protesters, however, say that they were blocked from roads leading to State Bank Circle, Central Market and Lady Goschen Hospital by the police, which led to the confrontation between the two groups and the subsequent police firing in front of the police station. The western side of Bunder Police Station is close to the Gurupura River and Bengre Port. “If protesters were able to leave the area, then there would not have been any need for any firing,” a resident of Kudroli said.

Did police follow protocol before opening fire?

Standards and Procedure for Crowd Control (Model Rules on the Use of Force by the Police against Unlawful Crowds) (Adopted by the Inspectors General of Police Conference, 1964) referred by the Supreme Court in the Anita Thakur v. State of J&K case (2016) states that police should open fire only after warning protesters by means of lathicharge and tear gas fail.

The guidelines state: “If the crowd fails to disperse through the lathi charge, the magistrate or the competent officer may order firing. The fullest warning in a clear and distinct manner must be given to the crowd to inform them that the firing will be effective. If after the warning, the crowd refuses to disperse the order to fire may be given. The police are not on any account allowed to fire except on a command given by their officer.”

It adds, “A warning shot in the air or firing over the heads of the crowd is not permitted. An armed force should maintain a safe distance from a dangerous crowd to prevent being overwhelmed, or increasing the chances of inflicting heavy casualties. Aim should be kept low and directed at the most threatening part of the crowd. Firing should cease the moment the crowd show signs of dispersing. All help should be rendered to convey the wounded to the hospital".

However, videos which emerged soon after the police firing showed that the police continued to fire at protesters even when they were at a distance from the police station. Mohammed Nazeer, a relative of Abdul Jaleel, one of the victims, said that Abdul was at a distance of 500-800 metres from the police when he was shot in the eye. Abdul was a daily wage labourer who worked odd jobs at Dhakke, a popular fish market in Mangaluru. He is survived by his wife Faiza Fatima (Zara) and two children, Shifani (14) and Shabil (10).

Muslim community members pay respects to victim of police firing in Kudroli, Mangaluru

Meanwhile, preliminary analysis of Nausheen’s body showed that a bullet had made “a clean break through his stomach”. Nausheen was a daily wage labourer from Kudroli involved in welding works. He is survived by his parents and brothers Noufal and Noushad. Witnesses and family members said he was returning from work when he was killed in the police firing. The injuries also strengthen the allegation that police did not fire low as stated in the guidelines.

Cops and protesters clash at Highland Hospital

Around 7 pm, police and protesters clashed again at Highland Hospital, where the victims of the police firing were taken. CCTV footage emerged showing a few protesters running into the hospital, followed by the police. Witnesses and opposition leaders said that tear gas shells were used inside the hospital even near the intensive care unit. A hospital source told TNM that the police followed people who threw stones, and even mistook caregivers for protesters.

Both victims – Abdul and Nausheen – were booked for rioting in an FIR registered in Mangaluru North (Bunder) police station following the violent protests. Police officials claimed that Abdul and Nausheen’s bodies were found with a handkerchief tied to their faces and that this was proof of their involvement in the violent protests. This claim was reiterated by Shobha Karandlaje, the BJP MP from Udupi-Chikkamagaluru, in a press conference on December 21.

“There were stone-pelting incidents. This happens in Kashmir but for the first time in Mangaluru, either students or youths from Kerala have done this by covering their faces,” Shobha said.

‘Handkerchief worn to protect from tear gas shells’

However, Abdul’s family members say he was wearing the handkerchief to protect himself from the tear gas used by the police. “Initially, Abdul went out of his apartment since he was worried that his children had not yet reached home. After seeing his kids come home, he wanted to see the commotion happening outside and shift his children to his sister’s home. When he came outside, he was hit by a bullet,” said Mohammed Jaffer, a relative of Abdul.

Police security in Bunder

Moreover, in an FIR registered at the Mangaluru North (Bunder) police station, 29 people from Mangaluru were booked for rioting but none from Kerala were booked. Police say that based on evidence collection, more arrests will be announced. Mangaluru Police Commissioner PS Harsha also publicly appealed to citizens to send in videos of protests in the city. A series of videos showing stone-pelting and arson were released on Tuesday in an attempt to justify the police action.

Violence is not new in Mangaluru but many residents said police firing is unprecedented in the city. Following the violent incidents of December 19, a curfew was imposed in Dakshina Kannada district, which was fully lifted only on December 23. Mobile internet services were suspended for 48 hours, a first in Mangaluru and Dakshina Kannada.

Even as Mangaluru returns to normalcy, the events of December 19 are seared into the memories of the city’s inhabitants, especially in the bylanes of Bunder.

“We are not asking for compensation but for justice. We want an honest introspection into what happened,” said Mohammed Nazeer, a relative of Abdul.

All images by Prajwal Bhat.

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