A week after protests against a controversial new citizenship law, claiming 23 lives in India’s largest state Uttar Pradesh, authorities are issuing notices for people to pay for damages.
In the Muslim-majority city of Rampur, 250 kilometers (150 miles) from the capital New Delhi, people are living in fear and apprehension.
The local administration has so far sent recovery notices to 28 people they say were involved in violent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), widely seen as discriminating against Muslims.
"They have been given seven days to respond to why action should not be taken against them, failing which, proceedings will be initiated to recover money from them for the destruction of public and private property," District Magistrate Aunjaneya Singh told Anadolu Agency.
Damages to police vehicles, police helmets, batons and sticks that were dented during the protests have also been accounted for as a loss.
Reacting to the violence that rocked the state, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath Singh said his government would take revenge against protesters by seizing and auctioning their properties.
Some 300 households have so far been issued notices across the state, which has a Muslim population of 43 million (19.3% of its total population).
The city of Rampur is known for its grandeur and opulence of past Muslim rule, housing the great collection of oriental manuscripts held in the magnificent Rampur Raza Library. But the opulence is history, with the decayed city today serving as a symbol of poverty.
Poor workers and laborers issued notices to pay damages are running from pillar to post to save their hard-earned properties.
Mohammad Abid’s family living in Ganj locality has no idea why they were served notice. Not only were they issued a notice to pay damages or vacate their house, but Abid has also been arrested for taking part in protests.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency in his two-room decrepit house in the old city, Abid’s brother Alam said they are poor people and have no time to take part in protests.
"We were at our house for the whole day. In the evening, my brother went outside. He didn’t even know what had happened,” he said.
The family makes a living by making kites.
“After toiling hard for a full day, we can earn less than 200 rupees ($2.81),” he says, wistfully. Now with his brother in jail and protests raging, the family has not been able to sell kites for many days.
- Recovery sum huge for poor
“We have received notice to pay 14,000 rupees ($200), a huge sum for us. We are poor. How can we pay this much amount?” asked Aslam ruefully.
“We were told they will confiscate our two-room house. Where will we go this winter?”
“The police have power. They can do whatever they want. The poor man can do nothing, and we don't even have money to hire a lawyer. We’re being victimized. We don't know what to do next,” he added.
Islamudin, a 36-year old cattle trader, also got notice. According to his family, on Dec. 21, he was sitting outside his house, warming and chatting with friends around a bonfire, when police came and picked him up.
Five days later, a few policemen visited his home with a notice for the recovery of damages. His wife Zulekha said her husband is innocent and the police are framing him.
"I know some of them who were issued recovery notices. The administration is targeting poor Muslims," said Faisal Lala, a social worker in Rampur.
"We feel that the police are acting to get vengeance and are targeting innocent people who were not even part of protests. The administration should also tell us why recovery notices are being issued since no such notices were issued in the past when similar protests took place," he said.
The district administration has claimed the notices are being sent only to those identified based on videos and photos. “The accused persons and their families can submit evidence of their innocence. Recovery will be made only after a thorough investigation,” said Singh.
- More people to get notices
Rampur Superintendent of Police Ajay Pal Singh said that so far, recovery notices have been sent to 28 people, and this number may rise.
"The police have identified people who damaged public property through video and photographs. The police have also assessed the damage to public property. Notices to 28 people have been sent who were seen in videos and photographs. More people are being identified," said Aunjaneya Singh.
These people have been given seven days to reply to the notices, after which action will be taken to recover the damages from them.
“Until now, notices for the recovery of around 2.5 million rupees ($35,000) have been sent,” he said.
"The police are still examining videos and photos. Other people involved in arson and violence are also being identified. The process of identification is still going on,” Singh added.
On Dec. 20, protests against the Citizenship Amendment Law rocked India. A demonstration held in Rampur also turned violent in many areas.
The new law grants citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, but blocks naturalization for Muslims.
One person also died in the Rampur violence after sustaining gunshot wounds. The police have denied opening fire. An attempt was made to talk to the brother of the victim but he refused.
Violence has occurred in many districts of Uttar Pradesh, in which at least 23 people have been confirmed dead. Many videos have surfaced online showing the police shooting at protesters, although they have denied firing.