The coronavirus outbreak may have shifted the spotlight away from that left at least 53 people dead and several hundred injured last month, but there’s no end to the suffering of the victims. After in unleashing the violence, the police are now allegedly tormenting the Muslim survivors.
In Shiv Vihar, Chand Bagh, Chaman Park, Kardampuri, and Gokulpuri, Muslims live in constant fear of the police taking away young men. The police officially admit to having detained around 2,200 people and arrested at least 50, the majority of them Muslim. But the police haven’t clarified the grounds for the detentions.
The survivors complain that they hadn’t even mourned their relatives, neighbours and friends yet, or come to terms with the destruction of their homes, shops, religious places when the police started hounding them.
Plainclothes policemen who claimed to be from the Crime Branch began taking away Muslim men almost as soon as the violence subsided, the residents claim. They would descend on street corners where people were standing, thrust a gun into a person’s back and order them to quietly get into the waiting vehicle. Some men were taken away from their homes at night. A few were issued notices to report at the police station; some of them in fact found such notices put up outside their homes when they returned after the violence had subsided.
A Crime Branch notice pasted on an empty house.
The hounding hasn’t stopped even during the coronavirus pandemic.
Across neighbourhoods that bore the brunt of the carnage, Muslims say the police’s complicity in the violence against them has destroyed the community’s faith in the men in uniform. All that remains is fear, suspicion, and despair.
The police can take anyone away at will, they fear, cook up a case, and throw them behind bars for a long time. Stories shared by those who have already suffered at the hands of the police have only heightened the sense of dread and despair among the Muslim survivors. Here are a few of them.
‘There’s so much fear’
Nizamuddin, a resident of Chaman Park who uses only his first name, says he was taken away by the Crime Branch for “questioning” and let go only after he agreed to sign a blank sheet of paper.
“People from the Crime Branch came and invaded my house like I was some big terrorist. I wasn’t home, so they called me up and I immediately came. I told them whatever they wanted to know. They tried to indirectly implicate me in the violence. They showed me videos of stonepelting and asked where I was. I told them I was at the bank. That when I came back from the bank, I saw riots had broken out. I waited for some time and then fled with my children. They asked me where I went and where I had been spending my time. I told them I had taken refuge in the Eidgah relief camp in Shiv Vihar.”
Nizamuddin says he was freed by the Crime Branch only after he agreed to sign a blank sheet of paper.
He says harassment by the police is keeping survivors from returning home.
“There were five of us. They made us sign blank sheets of paper. They told us ‘when you are called, you will have to come’ and we said, ‘ji janab’. The other four men are my colony. Look, we are all Muslim and Muslims are being picked up. There is so much fear here that people are not coming back home.”
‘Magistrate wouldn’t listen’
Anees Pradhan, who lives barely a few hundred meters away from Nizamuddin, shows a notice from the Crime Branch demanding that his son join their investigation.
“The cops came looking for my son and they gave me this piece of paper. First, they just came into our home and showed me a photograph of my son on a mobile phone and asked if he was my son. They asked me to get him. I told them he doesn’t live in Delhi. We have a cloth business and we need to travel. I told them I would call him but it would take three days for him to reach. My son got back in three days, I took him to the DCP’s office in Nand Nagri and handed him over. They questioned him all night. When I went to meet him the next morning, they said he would be booked. I asked them why. I asked them if my son’s name had appeared anywhere or he had been spotted on CCTV cameras during the riots or his phone’s location showed him in some place. He had his phone on him and he was with us the whole time. We saved the lives of nine people. They have booked him. I did my duty…I handed over my son.”
Anees Pradhan’s son was sent in judicial custody.
Speaking with Pradhan, it appears the Muslim survivors have not lost faith in not just the police, but the criminal justice system as a whole.
“Our lawyers argued in court but the magistrate wouldn’t listen. He just told us the next hearing would take place on March 25. Children of Muslims are being blatantly picked up’, says Pradhan.
‘They are targeting my son’
Ifrahim, 70, a resident of Shiv Vihar, says policemen landed up at his home with a picture of his son taken off Facebook.
“Some policemen came to my home at 7 in the evening. One of them showed me a photograph of my son on his mobile phone. There was no weapon or even a stick in his hand. They asked me if it was my son and I said yes. I’m not the kind of person who would lie. I told them it was my son in the photograph and I told them he wasn’t here. They asked me if they could search my house and I said, ‘Sure, please go ahead. I am sitting here, you can go and search my house but please don’t keep anything there. Don’t put something there yourself and then claim that you have recovered it from my house.’ So, they didn’t search my house. They asked me to bring my son to the Gokulpuri police station or another one…I forgot the name. That’s it. They didn’t come back. My son hasn’t come home since either. They are unnecessarily targeting my son. The photograph they showed me was taken off Facebook.”
Ifrahim has not seen his son since the police came looking for him.
‘They told my father to sign a blank paper’
Shabnam, 30, who lived in Mustafabad’s before it was shut down in view of the coronavirus pandemic, says her house in Shiv Vihar and her family’s autorickshaws were set afire by the rioters. With nowhere to go and no source of livelihood left, Shabnam and her family have been waiting for monetary help from the Delhi government. Making matters worse for the family is harassment by the police.
“People from the Crime Branch picked up my Abbu on March 9, just after 5 pm. They took him to the police station in Khureji. They wanted him to sign a blank piece of paper but he refused. He told them he would sign only after they had prepared the document. They tried to force him to sign but he refused. They took away his mobile phone. We couldn’t reach him for several hours. When a senior person from Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind called the police station, the cops confirmed that Abbu was with them. They told him that Abbu was alright. He was allowed to leave a little before midnight. We were all very worried.”
Shabnam at the Eidgah relief camp in Mustafabad.
‘Should I pull my son out of his grave?’
Shabbo, 42, lost her husband in a road accident seven years ago. Her oldest son met the same fate around two years ago. Her other son, Sohail, all of 17, is the sole breadwinner of the family, providing for his mother, his brother’s widow, and her two children. Sahbbo says she had to send him to work in a factory when he was barely 10 ten and he is now employed as a tailor.
“We were all sitting at home when we heard loud sloganeering outside. We did not pay much heed to it, but soon a mob gathered and started pelting stones in our street. A teargas shell landed inside my house. There was smoke all around, we couldn’t see anything and our eyes started burning. We did not even get time to wear our slippers. We just got up and ran.”
Shabbo has been unable to find her son since the police came looking for him. She doesn’t know if he has been detained or has gone into hiding.
Shabbo and her family took refuge in the Eidgah camp for around two weeks. After returning to Chaman Park, the family found their home had been ransacked and looted.
“I was trying to get an FIR registered but the police kept making some excuse or the other.”
If that wasn’t enough, Shabbo claims she is being harassed by the police now. Two days after she got back to her house, Crime Branch personnel landed at her doorstep asking about her sons.
“The cops came to my house and said I have three sons and they were all involved in the violence. Now you tell me, where shall I get my dead son from? Should I pull him out of his grave? I have one son and they came to pick him up. Now they are circling my house day and night. There are no men in my house. I only have one son and they are after him. He is the only breadwinner of the family. Please tell me, what should I do?”
She has not been able to find her son since the Crime Branch officials came looking for him. She doesn’t know if he has been detained or has gone into hiding.
‘Thankfully, they did not torture him’
Arif Khan, 29, who runs a fabric store in Shiv Vihar, was taken away by the police when he went to take stock of the damage to his shop, but let go after a few hours. His mother says she worries for his safety every time he steps out of the house.
“My son was picked up at 3 in the afternoon and allowed to go only at 10pm. They set our shop and our house on fire and now they are picking up our children. What kind of laws are these? My older son and daughter-in-law were stuck in their house in Shiv Vihar on February 24. We rescued them late that night. I don’t know who went inside after that but it was burnt down. I don’t know why the police picked him up. Thankfully, they did not torture him. Our shop was burnt down. My son had gone there to get it cleaned up.”
Arif Khan’s mother says her son was taken away when he went to check on their burnt shop.
Muslim residents accuse the police of detaining even the survivors who go to register complaints at police stations. Instead of providing a helping hand to the victims who are struggling with the loss of life and property, the state machinery, they allege, is adding to their misery.
Attempts by this correspondent to get a response from the police to these allegations were met with silence. It’s quite surprising that instances of their brutality and harassment have been widely reported, yet the police are barely trying to even deny wrongdoing.
It’s not just the survivors of the carnage who are suffering at the hands of the Delhi police. Muslim activists involved with the protests against the citizenship law are being hounded as well. Prominent among them are Khalid Saifi and Ishrat Jahan.
Khalid Saifi’s office.
They were arrested after the police shut down the protest at , one of Delhi’s several “other Shaheen Baghs”, on February 26. At the time, violence was still raging on in North East Delhi.
Here’s a lowdown on Saifi’s arrest and police custody:
The FIR claims the police were on a flag march in the area when violence broke out near the Khureji Khas protest site. Stones were pelted and a shot fired that barely missed a policeman. The police were forced to fire in the air and lathicharge the protesters. Regardless of the veracity of these claims, video footage shared on social media shows the police targeting the protesters without provocation. Not only that, the police can be seen taking down art installations put up by the protesters, dismantling their tent and smashing CCTV cameras in the vicinity.
Saifi’s wife, Nargis, claims he was home till about 1 pm when he started getting calls saying the police were assaulting women at the Khureji Khas protest site and firing in the air.
“At around 1.15 pm, he left the house. He was arrested while he was walking towards the protest site. Lots of people saw him being cornered by the cops and being arrested. They shot videos of his arrest which have gone viral on the internet. The cops didn’t speak to him, there was no provocation, they just arrested him.”
Nargis’ statement and videos showing Saifi approaching the police on an empty stretch of road contradict the report filed by the police. The FIR, which was registered at the Jagatpuri police station, claims that Saifi was at the protest site at the time and he was held after he incited protesters to throw stones at the police.
Saifi was made to walk to the police station, which is less than 500 meters away from the spot where he was held. A video of him walking on the road, escorted by policemen, was widely shared on social media as well. After his arrest at around 1.30 pm, Saifi and other detainees were kept in custody all day and lawyers who tried to meet them were assaulted inside the police station and thrown out. His lawyers claim Saifi was tortured in custody and then rushed to Lal Bahadur Shastri Hospital for first aid. At 9 pm, he was produced before the duty magistrate in the parking lot of the Karkardooma Court and remanded in judicial custody, along with Ishrat Jahan, a lawyer and activist, and Sabu Ansari, a factory worker.
Nargis says she was shaken when she came face to face with her husband in Mandoli jail the next morning.
“When I went to meet my husband, I found him sitting on a wheelchair! A man who had walked out of his house on his two feet, who was arrested while he was walking on the road, who was made to walk to the police station…I found him sitting in a wheelchair with bandages on both his legs. He told me he had been brutally tortured. I don’t think they even treat criminals like that. How could they torture an innocent man? He has a fracture in one leg and the muscles in the other leg are completely damaged. I could see bruises all over his arms.”
Nargis broke into tears as she recounted meeting her husband in police custody.
By producing him before the duty magistrate outside court hours, the police ensured that no one could see that Saifi had been tortured. When he was produced before the court again on March 11, Saifi was wheeled out in a wheelchair. His legs were in a cast, suggesting fractures in both legs, and two fingers of his left hand were wrapped in white plaster. It’s shocking that the magistrate on duty on the night of February 26 sent Saifi in judicial custody, for almost two weeks, without questioning the police about his injuries. And even the second time Saifi was produced in court, repeated attempts by his lawyers to highlight his torture in custody were completely ignored.
The police booked Saifi under the Arms Act, alleging that he had provided a ‘desi katta’, or a country made pistol, to someone. In their reply to Saifi’s bail application, the police claimed that one Mohammad Saleem had also been booked for the same crime. When the judge asked the police how many country made pistols had been recovered, the police admitted that Saleem’s name had been incorrectly copy-pasted from another reply to a bail plea.
The sessions judge observed that the charges against Saifi were largely bailable and asked the police to reconsider the evidence against him and whether any other charge was made out. Before the next hearing, scheduled to be held in the Karkardooma court at 4.30 pm on March 20, the police served Saifi a notice asking him to join the investigation in connection with another FIR naming him. This second matter was listed before the Patiala House Court at 2.30 pm. Saifi was reportedly taken there but not presented before the magistrate. Based on the police’s request for further interrogation, the court sent Saifi back in police custody for six days, despite allegations that he had been tortured the first time around. So it happened that the Karkardooma court too denied Saifi bail when the matter came up for hearing.
The original FIR registered by the police on February 26 names Saifi, Ishrat and Ansari as the main accused. It also names Sameer Pradhan Khureji, Saleem Gunda, Vikram Thakur, Haji Iqbal Khureji, Hashim, Sameer aka Shamim, Bilal aka Lamba, Anjar aka Bhura, Shareef Khureji, and Yamin Cooler Wala, among others.
It is not clear if all of the 13 people mentioned in the FIR were arrested by the police but family members of Ishrat and Ansari claim they too were tortured in custody. Ishrat was granted bail on March 20 by the Karkardooma court but the police served her a notice asking her to join the investigation in connection with another FIR. The end result: she is still behind bars.
Ansari, 20, who reportedly works in a factory in Pune where car seats are stitched, was detained from the protest site as well. His family claims he was visiting home and was out with friends on the night of February 25. It got late and he decided to sleep at the protest site. They woke up to the police firing in the air and assaulting the protesters. His brother Fareed claims when he went to meet him in custody, Ansari showed him bruises on his back. He continues to be in judicial custody. His bail plea was scheduled to be heard again on March 26, but the court wouldn’t sit in view of the coronavirus pandemic. The bail applications of Saifi and Israt are scheduled to be heard on March 31. It’s not yet clear if they would be heard, however.
'Mistaken identity or harassment?'
Along with Ishrat, the Karkardooma court on March 20 also granted bail to Samir, Mohd Salim and Vikram Thakur. “As per the story of the prosecution, ‘Mohd Salim’ is also known as ‘Samir Pradhan Khureji’. If one looks at copy of identity documents fixed along with affidavit of Sheroon, wife of Mohd Salim, all the said documents record only one name ie, Mohd Salim, and ‘Sameer Pradhan Khureji’ is not mentioned in any of his identity documents,” the court observed. “Said documents were given to the IO for verification but IO has only replied with respect to volunteer I card of applicant Mohd Salim, stating that the said I card was issued by Beat In charge on demand.”
What this essentially means is that the police picked up Salim and kept him in custody for almost a month while trying to pass him off as Sameer Pradhan Khureji.
The court also made the following observation while granting bail to Vikram Thakur. “Applicant Vikram Thakur has also disputed that he is only known by the name of ‘Vikram Pratap’ and not as Vikram Thakur, which is also shown by his counsel vide copy of election I card and Aadhaar card filed with the application.”
In this case too, it seems the police picked up a man named Vikram and decided that ‘Thakur’ would be a more convenient surname for him, as opposed to his real surname.
One could perhaps laugh at the police but for the thought of what these men have been put through to frame them in a criminal investigation. Call it loopholes, gross negligence, or criminal misconduct but the role of the Delhi police in all this has exposed their sheer disregard for fairness and for human rights and dignity.