On Monday evening, efforts by the Hyderabad city police to conduct Cordon and Search Operation (CASO) within the Shah Ali Banda police station limits was stopped by the residents of Shakkar Gunj. The residents then reached out to their local legislator who had a standoff with the police.
In a video that is being circulated on social media, the Charminar legislator, Mumtaz Ahmed Khan of the AIMIM could be seen asking the police to leave the locality, “What is happening? You are doing harassment..nuisance.The whole public is worried about NRC and in between that you are doing cordon and search?” The legislator could be heard asking the police officer who replied saying that they only asked for documents to prove vehicle ownership from the residents.
“Then for that, you are asking Aadhaar card? Please leave, don’t do like this, leave. The whole public is worried due to NRC, there is confusion,” Mumtaz could be heard telling the cops.
Cordon and search is a military tactic where a locality is cordoned off and searched house to house. The tactic, used to nab weapons or insurgents hiding in a locality has been co-opted by the Hyderabad police since 2015 for residential areas in the city. The police cite keeping law and order as a reason for conducting CASO. But the police who conduct CASO are unsure about the legal provisions they operate on.
The @hydcitypolice does an illegal exercise called cordon off search, where 200 cops go door to door & ask for id details. They used to do this middle of night, in the name of finding criminals in poor neighbours. Now people of the city have started speaking up. #CAA_NRC_Protests pic.twitter.com/fEXBMKRIU8— Srinivas Kodali (@digitaldutta) January 7, 2020
Up until December 2019, the police used to ask only for documents related to vehicles parked on the roadside. However, since the passing of CAA by the NDA government, the police have begun asking for Aadhaar and other identification documents apart from the vehicle documents.
In the year 2019, the Hyderabad police had conducted 192 CASOs within the Hyderabad commissionerate. The police claim to have detained 2,464 unauthorised vehicles and registered six cases. The localities where CASO are conducted are mostly in residential areas in poorer neighbourhoods.
“The public, they are worried, there are rumours about NRC going around,” says Mumtaz to TNM, his party the AIMIM led by Asaduddin Owaisi has been vocal against the CAA, and has been trying to highlight the combined impact of the NPR and NRC processes for Indian Muslims. “Am a six-time MLA, they have been doing cordon and search in my area for the past three years and I have never objected to it before, but now they have started bringing lady police along with them. They are asking the women in the houses for their Aadhaar card, they never used to do this before. They are asking for all documents, not just Aadhaar, they are asking how many people stay in the house, how many children,” he adds.
Speaking to TNM, the Assistant Commissioner of Police for Faluknama MA Rasheed said he was unsure on the legal provisions that allow them to conduct CASO at Sha Ali Banda and Shakkar Gunj on Monday, “I will check and inform. This is routine no special reason as to why CASO was conducted in that locality. We are asking vehicle documents and relevant driving licence when we have suspicions about someone we ask for their identification documents,” said the officer who added that, “We have a standard operating procedure manual, prepared by the state government, that’s the basis on which we conduct CASO,”. At least 60 to 70 police officers took part in the CASO.
Srinivas Kodali a researcher on Open Data and privacy questions the legality of operations such as CASO and Operation Chabrutra conducted by the Hyderabad police, “It's an illegal data collection exercise. The cops have no authority to police civilian neighbours without complaints or warrants for searches. Cordon and search is a military technique and has no place in civilian neighbourhoods.”
On December 19, 2019, the Hyderabad police had undertaken CASO within the Asifnagar police station limits, Ibrahim a member of the TJS party told TNM. “The people got really worried when the police surrounded the area and started going door to door asking for Aadhaar and passports. They came out into the streets and there was panic as to why the police were kocking on doors asking for documents. Our house was also searched, we are all Indians," he said.
“When CASO was first brought in, it was to nab criminal elements selling ganja and gudumba (liquor) at Dhoolpet. It was quite successful initially,” says Habeeb a social activist who claims to be one of the first few activists in the city who had demanded police action against the illegal sale of gudumba, miscreants and rowdy sheeters at residential localities in the poor suburbs of Old City.
"We had submitted a dossier with a list of all the illegal activities that was going in the area. The police used that dossier to plan the first CASO at Doolpet and they had seized weapons such as swords and knives apart from Gudumba and ganja at the time,” he adds.
But over a period of time, CASOs started to be held almost every month at some locality or the other within Hyderabad. Habeeb says this made CASOs ineffective. “The criminal elements in a locality would get a tip-off about an upcoming CASO and they would flee. The police would then get only stolen vehicles, all the trouble makers will return after the police leave the area. Has the crime rate gone down in these areas where they conduct CASO? Not really, now CASO is done to get applause from the higher-ups,” he opines.
The AIMIM legislator hopes to take up the issue with his party leaders, “We won’t sit quiet,” says Mumtaz.