Hyderabad: Beyond religious polarisation, people to vote for dignity and security

For many, the upcoming election is about asserting their dignity and ensuring security rather than participating in a perceived Hindu-Muslim conflict.

BySumit Jha

Published May 12, 2024 | 1:00 PMUpdatedMay 12, 2024 | 1:00 PM

Hyderabad

Those living on the banks of the Musi River are deprived of many basic facilities, but they all claim to have one thing in common: Police high-handedness.

On the banks of the Musi River in the Asad Baba Nagar area of Hyderabad’s Kishan Bagh, Ghousela Bi and her family reside in a two-BHK asbestos home. She lives with her three sons and their wives.

On Sunday, 5 May, Ghousela Bi responded to a knock on the door of her two BHK house at the Asad Baba Nagar area in Hyderabad’s Kishan Bagh. The elderly woman saw around 10 police personnel outside the house she shared with her three sons and their wives.

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Trampled dignity 

A few women officers entered the house without waiting for permission.

“While the male policemen stood outside checking the motorcycles, the female police personnel entered the house without any prior intimation or documentation,” she said.

“We informed the female police personnel that there is a newlywed daughter-in-law, and asked why they were going in. They did not respond, but instead upon entering the kitchen, asked why there were three gas cylinders. We explained that there are three different families in the house, and hence the three cylinders,” Ghousela Bi said.

The woman officers started inspecting the asbestos roof and then entered the bedroom.

“As there is a newlywed couple in the house, the bedroom is filled with new things. They asked how and when we acquired them. They stood on the bed and began inspecting the shelf,” she added.

Ghousela Bi outside her house. (Sumit Jha/South First)

Intimidation and more

She said that when one of her sons objected to the searches, “a male police officer came and behaved as if he had committed a crime and was hiding something.”

My son was uncomfortable with the way the police officer entered the house,” the mother said.

She added that the police personnel took one of the bikes.

“We informed them that the bike belonged to us, but they demanded the registration papers. We explained that the Registration Certificate (RC) was with our other son. Still, they confiscated the bike. It was returned only after my son submitted the papers,” she added.

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The search at night

On the evening of 5 May, around 200 police personnel, accompanied by CRPF troops, entered Asad Baba Nagar and Hafeez Baba Nagar in Hyderabad.

These areas fall under the jurisdiction of Bahadurpura police station. The Assistant Commissioner of Kalaknuma police was in charge of the operation.

“They entered our locality from Kishan Bagh new park. They went through all the lanes, knocked on doors, requested details, and checked vehicle documents. They even entered my shop and inspected the premises,” a shopkeeper said on condition of anonymity.

“When I enquired about their intentions, they asked if I had any knives or weapons. I denied having any and offered to show them the CCTV footage. After that, they left,” he said.

Residents reported that the police arrived around 8 pm, checking vehicles and knocking at doors. However, the residents noticed a difference in the police’s approach.

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All citizens are equal, but…

“The buildings facing the main Kishan Bagh Road are three-storey structures. The police knocked on doors, requested details, and departed,” a resident noted.

“But, if you enter from the main road towards the Musi River, it’s a slum area. The police, without seeking permission from residents, entered houses and conducted searches,” the shopkeeper added.

A video posted by a YouTube channel ATN News 24×7, covering the search, revealed that while police personnel were merely knocking on doors of multi-storey buildings, they entered houses in the slum, and searched even under cots.

Three locals residing in the slum confirmed that the police entered their houses without presenting any documents or seeking consent.

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Search to spread poll awareness

“It’s a matter of class that transcends religion,” activist and secretary of ASEEM, a non-profit, SQ Masood, said.

“In November 2021, during the cordon search in the Moorambagh area, the majority of slum-dwellers belonged to the Madiga (SC) caste and STs. Only two or three families were Muslims, and a few belonged to the Mala (SC) families, and they all did odd jobs,” he recalled.

The ACP later told a media conference that the cordon search was conducted to raise awareness about the election and instill trust in the voting process.

“After receiving instructions from the Commissioner of Police and DCP, we conducted the cordon search. We seized the number plates and documents of 36 two-wheelers and one four-wheeler, confiscated gutka from a shop, and checked six rowdy-sheeters,” the officer said.

“We urge everyone to vote. In the recent past, there have been four murders. We advise parents to ensure their children do not venture out at night. Cordon searches will continue even after the election,” the ACP said.

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Money matters

A resident told South First that after the search, the police left their vehicles near Kishan Bagh park.

“Those who did not possess documents bribed the authorities and retrieved their bikes. I got my scooter back after paying ₹500. The scooter’s documents were with my cousin, who was not present that day,” he said.

A cordoned city

The houses in Hyderabad city have been regularly subjected to searches under the guise of cordon operations, irrespective of which party is in power.

There have been documented instances of the police seizing cooking gas cylinders, bikes, mobile phones, cash, and other items.

Videos of the police going door to door, demanding Aadhaar cards, identification documents, vehicle registration documents, and even bills for gas cylinders, too, have been recorded.

Fact of the matter

A 2021 fact-finding report following the Moosram Bagh cordon search revealed that the police had demanded to see Aadhaar cards of every individual in the house.

“They became more cautious when people identified themselves as tenants. They began asking for details such as their state of domicile, how long they had been residing there, who had stayed there before them, etc.,” the fact-finding report noted.

“They also asked for the number of people in the family and their Aadhaar cards. Additionally, they checked the documents of all vehicles present. Vehicles without original documents were seized, and individuals with pending traffic violation challans were coerced into paying fines. Aadhaar and mobile numbers were recorded on paper, and in some cases, on a tablet brought by the police,” the report further said.

“A shop owner mentioned that the police requested the trade licence of his tailoring shop. Another officer inspected a kirana shop for ganja; he even examined items such as toothpaste in search of ganja and gutka,” the report continued.

“One individual complained that a police officer used harsh language during the search. People reported that when they approached the police to release their vehicles, some officers demanded bribes to release vehicles whose documents were not in order,” it added.

Support for police action

Meanwhile, a former police commissioner justified the cordon search, saying it was necessary to maintain law and order.

“The Hyderabad police strictly adheres to protocols during cordon and search operations to ensure that personal liberties are not violated,” former officer CV Anand said.

“All citizens must understand that in a mega city with a population of 82 lakh and an additional 10 lakh daily float, the police must conduct searches in certain areas for extremists, terrorists, illegal migrants, thieves, dacoits, rowdies, etc., for the safety of the entire neighborhood,” he said.

“I am confident that rational individuals will appreciate the hard work put in by the police for their safety,” he added.

The city beyond the binary

During the upcoming Lok Sabha election, while the country is viewing Hyderabad through the lens of Hindu-Muslim dynamics, the people in the city are yearning for dignity amid what they perceive as excessive policing.

In Hyderabad, “Chabutra” traditionally denotes a place of social gathering. However, for the Hyderabad police, it has become synonymous with illegal activities.

Initially, the police’s intention was noble—to deter youth from engaging in criminal activities by discouraging gatherings at Chabutras and providing counselling. However, despite these efforts, crime rates in the city surged, leading to fatal conflicts between different groups.

Consequently, the police in Old City shifted their focus primarily to “Operation Chabutra” in an attempt to combat crime.

Under this operation, the entire community, especially groups of youngsters, face severe restrictions on venturing outdoors at night. Those who venture out are subjected to questioning, detention, and other forms of scrutiny.

Instances of violence against these youths during Operation Chabutra have also been documented in the city, further exacerbating tensions and raising concerns about the methods employed by law enforcement agencies.

Selective targeting

While the police action under Operation Chabutra has yielded results in several localities, there remains a perception regarding the selective targeting of certain areas within the Old City.

“The operation is primarily observed in Muslim-majority areas, as well as in localities where people from backward communities and lower socio-economic strata reside,” Masood said.

Residents of Asad Baba Nagar also confirmed that their area has regularly witnessed police presence late at night, with officers questioning youngsters about their activities. This consistent monitoring has led to feelings of unease among the local population.

In addition to the Cordon Search and Operation Chabutra, the Old City has also experienced instances of heavy-handedness, including the use of Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) and warrantless mobile phone checks by the police.

These actions have raised concerns regarding privacy rights and civil liberties, as individuals are subjected to surveillance and scrutiny without proper legal justification.

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Issues unchecked

Nawab Sahab Kunta and Shah Ali Banda, too, reported heightened police inspections. Despite such searches, these areas lack government support for employment and small businesses.

In Shah Ali Banda, concerns ranged from police harassment and delayed ration card applications to poor quality government schools and instances of domestic violence against women.

When it comes to security of the food as well, a report, “How an algorithm denied food to thousands of poor in India’s Telangana,” by ‘Reporters Collective’ said that the Samagra Vedika algorithm, used to digitally profile the state’s residents, denied thousands of people the benefits of the state’s welfare schemes.

The algorithm resulted in people being deprived of their rightful benefits. Such people are said to have faced significant challenges in proving their eligibility.

Flood of woes

During the monsoon, the open drainage system overflows and inundates homes by the Musi River.

“We reside in a low-lying area, so when it rains, all the water from the higher localities flows through our neighborhood. During the 2020 flood, we had to seek refuge in a nearby school for several days. Our home was also damaged in the flood. This is the situation every year,” a resident of Asad Baba Nagar said.

According to a survey conducted by ActionAid Association, as part of the People’s Agenda – 2024, civic issues such as poor road infrastructure, sewage overflow, and flooding during rains emerged as the major concerns among residents across 23 localities in the Old City.

For instance, in Kishan Bagh, residents highlighted issues like bad roads, sewerage overflow on streets, inadequate Basthi Dawakhanas (community health centers), and substandard government schools.

In Bahadurpura, complaints centered around police harassment at night, difficulties with ration card KYC procedures, and deteriorating road conditions.

Residents of Darulshifa expressed frustration over rejected ration card applications, difficulties in accessing pensions, police harassment, housing instability, and inadequate education facilities.

A vote for dignity

In Macca Colony, recurrent flooding during rains, poor road infrastructure, lack of government colleges for girls, delayed scholarships and disbursement of Shaadi Mubarak benefits, and insufficient public transportation were highlighted as major issues.

Mohammad Haneed. (Sumit Jha/South First)

Mohammad Haneed. (Sumit Jha/South First)

Amidst the heightened political atmosphere surrounding the election coverage, for those living near the Musi River, the upcoming election is a vote for asserting their dignity and ensuring security rather than participating in a perceived Hindu-Muslim conflict.

Mohammed Haneef has been living near the river since 2012.

His house recently received a water connection. “We always exercise our right to vote, but our vote isn’t driven by any communal agenda that some may wish to portray about the city,” he said.

“I run a mutton shop in a predominantly Hindu locality, and many of the residents there are BJP supporters. Despite differences in political views, we coexist peacefully,” Haneef painted a picture that went beyond the politically created communal divide.

“My family and I vote for issues that directly affect us—access to water, proper road infrastructure, and other necessities. Religion takes a backseat,” he added.

(Edited by Majnu Babu).