Mukhtar Ahmad with his father Chote Mian at his house in Khadra. (Express photo: Asad Rehman)
With the March 16 deadline ending Monday, the 13 people, who had been issued recovery notices for damage to public properties during the December 19 protests in Lucknow against the new citizenship law (CAA), are having sleepless nights.
As the district administration gears up to attach their properties if they fail to pay Rs 21.67 lakh by Monday, they are clueless about how to pay the money as most of them work as daily wage labourers or are jobless.
“Police had arrested me from a local mosque where my father is the caretaker during the December 19 protests. I was not even present in the protest that day... I was released on bail after 32 days in jail. Most of my family’s savings were lost in securing the bail. How does the government expect me to pay for the damages when I can’t feed my children?” a bewildered 31-year-old Mukhtar Ahmad, who used to sell food on a cart in Daliganj area of Lucknow, says.
“How will I pay for a lawyer and from where will I get the money to run to courts,” he says when asked about taking any legal recourse against the ADM’s order for damage recovery.
Ahmad, who lives in his father’s house with his parents, wife and two children — 3 and 4 years — and has barely any furniture in his house, says that he has not been able to work since his arrest as he lost the spot where he used to run his food cart.
With the BJP government in the state plastering posters of their photos across Lucknow along with 44 others, Ahmad feels helpless. “We can’t do anything about it,” he says when asked about his photos and personal details printed in the billboards. “We are just living in fear,” he adds.
Not far from his house, near Naya Pull in the Khadra area of the city, 28-year-old Mohammad Kaleem is equally distraught. He used to work at a laundry for Rs 12,000 per month. “I lost my job after the hoardings appeared with our names and photos in Lucknow. The owner of the laundry told me to stop coming for work as he feared getting stuck in some legal issue,” says Kaleem, who was also released on bail.
“We don’t know what will happen. We are living in constant fear. Every time my phone rings, I feel anxious. My family members are also scared. My grandmother has fallen ill because of this fear and tension,” he adds.
According to him, the administration has issued the recovery notice to his uncle’s house. “I have no right over that house. It is my uncle’s personal house and not my ancestral house. So I have no right over it,” Kaleem says, referring to the administration notice in which it has been stated that on failing to pay the damages by March 16 deadline, their properties will be attached.
“When I was in jail, they served the notice to the house of my paternal uncle Mohammad Azeem. I grew up there and moved out after I got married nine months ago. Police have served the notice at my uncle’s house because most of my IDs bear that address,” says Kaleem who lives now in a rented house.
The family of 20-year-old Osama Siddiqui, a college student against whom the recovery notice has been issued, says he was out to buy some stationery items on December 19 when protests began. They say Osama was wrongly arrested and also claim to have CCTV footage of the day when he was playing in the neighbourhood.
“He is a student who has never been accused of even stealing anything. His face must have come in some CCTV footage when he went to buy some stationery items on December 19. We did not know about the violence that had broken out that day. We have CCTV footage from the neighbours’ cameras showing that he was playing in the neighbourhood till late afternoon,” says Osama’s mother Yasmin, a homemaker.
“When the notice was first served, we had written a reply to the administration saying that our son is innocent. We had sent the reply to all senior police and administrative officers and also filed it in court. Police have no evidence to show that my son was indulging in vandalism. And if they do, they should show it to us,” says Yasmina, who lives in a single storey house in Khadra.
The third-year BCom (Hons) student, who has two younger siblings, had spent 22 days in jail before he was released on bail. “He had to miss exams because he was arrested and kept in jail,” says his mother expressing concern over his studies.
Meanwhile, 30-year-old Hafiz-ur-Rehman, who works in a private firm and earns Rs 10,000 per month, says he was named in the case as everyone in the area knows him. According to him, he had gone to buy medicines for his father, a cancer patient, when the protests turned violent on December 19.
“I had stopped briefly when I saw a crowd. I think that is when police must have obtained photograph or video of me near the site... I was arrested on December 23 and released on January 28,” says Rehman, who has three younger siblings. His father Mohammad Iqram (60) is a class-IV employee at the session court in Lucknow and the family lives in their ancestral house in Hasanganj.
“We are just scared of what will happen next. The government should not be so vindictive. This is like they are taking revenge. We are also citizens of this country and this city. They have already shamed us by putting our photographs on hoardings across the city. They have till date not given any evidence showing I was involved in the violence. Then, how can they treat us like absconding criminals,” Rehman adds.