The peaceful protest was shut down by the police after the Delhi carnage began.
“We are waiting for our moment. Khalid bhai has told us to practise patience. It has been 15 days and we all are growing impatient but we will wait.”
Neesha sounds tired. It has been over two weeks since her father, Mohammad Salim, was detained by the Delhi police during the crackdown on a protest site in East Delhi’s Khureji.
The protest, launched on January 13 to oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act, was inspired by similar demonstrations at Jamia Millia Islamia University and Shaheen Bagh in South Delhi which had gained national attention the previous month. The Khureji protesters sat opposite a Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited pump on Patparganj road, and canopies and tents soon came up to shelter them.
It was one of several “other Shaheen Baghs” that had sprouted across Delhi, including in Mustafabad, Turkman Gate, and Inderlok.
This was three days after communal violence broke out in North East Delhi. A day before, according to The Quint, the citizenship law protest at Jaffrabad had become the first of the “other Shaheen Baghs” to be shut down.
Newslaundry spoke with several residents, shopkeepers and lawyers who were involved with the Khureji protest or affected by the police’s action to reconstruct what happened on February 26.
One protester who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal said the police arrived at around 7.30 am. “They came with guns, like they were preparing for a raid,” the protester said.
“The first thing they did after entering was break the cameras surrounding the area,” said Najma, another protester and a resident of Khureji. “Witnesses took video recordings of the police. They didn’t want their actions on the protesters to be seen.”
“I saw with my eyes how policemen manhandled the women,” said the anonymous protester. “They broke the tent and the surrounding CCTV cameras.” The protester said the recording boxes of cameras installed across the street were seized as well.
“They told the women sitting in the camp to run,” Najma added.
Chachi, a protester, said about 25-30 protesters were sitting at the site when the police arrived. And nearly a dozen of them were in a tent reciting from the Quran. “The police came in and started breaking things around us. They gave no warnings, no speeches,” he said. “They just entered and wreaked havoc.”
The women ran out. “I was left alone,” he recalled. “I asked the police to let me pick up the Quran in the tent. But they didn’t listen and kept breaking everything. They didn’t touch any women, but they scared us away.”
The police scattered away the protesters. They put barricades around the site to stop the protesters from coming back. Several protesters were detained on the same day, including Khalid Saifi, a local activist associated with the United Against Hate group, and Ishrat Jahan, a former municipal councillor from the Congress party.
The official Twitter handle of the Shaheen Bagh protest tweeted a video that shows Jahan being dragged and stuffed inside a police vehicle in Khureji on the day the protests were cleared.
Another viral video shows Khalid Saifi walking peacefully towards the police when he was detained. He was sent in judicial custody for 14 days, charged under Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code pertaining to attempt to murder.
Relatives of Jahan and Saifi claim they were tortured in custody.
Dinesh Kumar Gupta, deputy commissioner of police in Shahdara, the district encompassing Khureji, told Newslaundry that seven people had been detained from the protest site and charged with rioting and damage to public property.
“On February 26, in the afternoon, the protesters assaulted and fired on the police. The police retaliated and arrested seven people on charges of violating Section 144 of IPC that had been imposed in the area earlier,” Gupta said. “Seven others are still absconding. The Delhi police is currently searching for their whereabouts.”
According to the anonymous protester, at least 14 people were detained. The Shaheen Bagh Twitter handle puts the number at 16. But Neesha claimed that 20 people had been detained, including her 45-year-old father.
Detainees in court
Lawyers from the Indian Civil Liberties Union Collective told the Wire they were stopped from entering the Jagatpuri police station, where the detainees had been taken. The police station is just about 250 metres from the protest site.
Neesha’s father was detained at 6 pm on February 26, she said. “A number of police officers had come to take him away,” she said. “Just a while before that, the police had marched in our colony and announced that there was nothing to fear, that they were with us.” She said her father had chanted alongside the police that there was nothing to fear.
Neesha is the oldest of Salim’s four daughters. On March 11, the detainees were presented before the Karkardooma District Court. Neesha’s mother, Sehroon, was in the court. She said her husband was sent back in police custody.
“Next hearing is on March 25,” she said. “The local beat officer Yograj said he would round up 280 other people in the next three months in this area. I think all the ladies should file an application in the high court.”
In the court, Sehroon said, seven detainees were present. She identified them as Khalid Saifi, Sabhu Ansari, Ishrat Jahan, Mohammad Salim, Sameer, Vikram Pratap, and Aftab.
A video posted on Twitter shows Saifi leaving the court in a wheelchair, with bandages on both his legs and two fingers of his right hand.
“His fingers were held together using a candy stick and some crepe bandage,” Sehroon said.
Sehroon asked why the police had detained people in the first place. “On the day of the protest, the police fired teargas at the protesters and fired shots in the air,” she recounted. “There was no scuffling with the police. Why are they detaining people then?”
Najma agreed. “We don’t know who is being picked up. We don’t know the whereabouts of so many people. There is an atmosphere of fear. We’re all scared.”
The police FIR
Soon after dismantling the protest site, the police filed an FIR. It listed the accused as Ishrat, Khalid, Sameer, Salim, Shareef, Vikram, Ajar, Ishaq, Haji Iqbal, Hashim, Sameer, and Bilal.
The accused were charged under various sections of the Arms Act as well as the Indian Penal Code such as those dealing with rioting armed with a deadly weapon; unlawful assembly; obstruction of a public servant in the discharge of their duty; use of assault or criminal force to deter public servant; attempt to murder.
On March 6, a collective of lawyers and law students in Delhi called Lawyers Against Atrocities published a fact-finding report on the Khureji crackdown. The report pointed out that the FIR did not name all the accused, including Salim.
Ashutosh, a lawyer who worked on the report, told Newslaundry the FIR also did not detail the list or the number of people yet to be arrested.
“It is your constitutional right to protest,” Ashutosh said. “At Khureji, the protesters were forcibly removed by the police. This FIR has been filed by that local beat officer. It has two sections of the Arms Act focusing on unlawful possession and usage of arms other than for self-defence, which make it a non-bailable offence.”
The report says a minor was detained on the night of February 27. Aftab, 17, had been on his way to pay a few bills at the market when he was picked up.
The report quoted Aftab’s father as saying his son was picked up and charged under the Arms Act for supposedly firing at the police. The police claimed the firing happened between 12.30 and 1.30 pm, a time when their son was home with them.
According to Ashutosh, Aftab wasn’t taken to the juvenile justice court. He was taken to the police station along with six other people.
Newslaundry asked Sunil Kumar, station house officer at Jagatpuri, why they had detained Aftab at the police station. “There are instances of four or more people being transferred to police custody simultaneously,” Kumar replied. “At this time, the standard procedure is to verify his minor status and transfer him accordingly.”
Relatives of the detained persons are frustrated. Neesha said it has been 15 days since her father was taken away, and the family cannot wait any longer.
“We have waited too long. We’ll hang ourselves,” she said. “We won’t be able to wait any longer.”