The crime branch have named three migrant workers as eyewitnesses to arrest six Muslim men for murder and criminal conspiracy.
In the first week of June, the Delhi police filed a chargesheet into the murder of 25-year-old Shahid Alam, an autodriver from Mustafabad in Northeast Delhi. On February 24, Alam had climbed to the roof of Saptarishi Ispat and Alloys, an iron bar warehouse that stands on the main Wazirabad road, with a mob of Muslim rioters. He was mortally wounded by a gunshot on the roof, and was declared dead at the Guru Teg Bahadur hospital later that day.
The warehouse is located right opposite Mohan Nursing Home and Hospital in Yamuna Vihar, on whose terrace a Hindu mob stood on the same afternoon of February 24, pelting stones and shooting at rioters protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act. These rioters had clashed with a party of Delhi police personnel around 1 pm. Head constable Rattan Lal was injured during this skirmish, and later succumbed to his injuries.
The riots in Delhi saw multiple theatres of violence throughout Northeast Delhi. The first theatre was the Jafrabad-Maujpur stretch, where violence erupted on February 23 shortly after an incendiary speech by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Kapil Mishra.
The communal conflagration that swept that corner of the capital for 72 hours between February 23 and 26 left 52 civilians dead, including 40 Muslims.
A special investigation team of the Delhi police filed a chargesheet in the case on June 8 (FIR 84/2020, Dayalpur). The accused are Mohammad Firoz (28), Chand Mohammad (32) and Raees Khan (28), who were arrested by the crime branch on March 11, merely three days after the case was transferred to the SIT. Irshad (22) and Mohammad Junaid (23) were arrested on April 1, and Akil Ahmed (42) was arrested on April 10.
The chargesheet puts 14 sections of the Indian Penal Code before the names of Chand and Firoz, including 302 (murder), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 506 (criminal intimidation).
Two of the accused, who were out on bail between April 12 and July 19, told Newslaundry that the Delhi police SIT fabricated their confession statements. These statements were made in custody and are inadmissible by law. In addition, the contradictions in the police chargesheet and omissions in the investigation point to a botched probe that accuses Muslims of killing Muslims in the middle of a communal riot.
The eyewitnesses: Mukesh, Narayan and Arvind
The Delhi police claims that the six Muslim men arrested so far have been identified by the oral evidence presented by two police officers and three civilian eyewitnesses: Mukesh (20), his cousin Arvind (24), and their brother-in-law Narayan (50). All three are daily wage workers from Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki who were working at the Saptarishi warehouse during the riots.
The police did not produce CCTV footage or pictures from the time as technical evidence. Instead, they used call data records to locate the accused on the day Shahid was shot dead.
Mukesh is the most pivotal eyewitness in the case since the police claims that he identified all the six accused. The police case diary, accessed by Newslaundry, contains multiple statements made by Mukesh under Section 161 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
A case diary is used by police officers to maintain a day-to-day record of an investigation. It can aid a trial but cannot be used as hard evidence. A chargesheet is the end result of an investigation and presents the inferences from the findings of an investigation.
Mukesh’s statement, dated March 8, recalls what he purportedly saw on February 24.
Shortly after noon, the statement says, Mukesh saw anti-CAA protesters on the Wazirabad road pelt stones at the police. The warehouse was then shut and he went to his room on the roof of the building.
"Between 3 and 3:30, suddenly 20 to 25 protesters broke the door of the shop and came to the roof,” says the statement . “Some of them had their faces covered. Everyone had sticks, bottles, bags full of stones and guns. The protesters harassed me and my fellow workers and threatened to kill us. We pleaded with folded hands and said that we are here to earn wages. After this we descended the building and saw more protesters carrying a bag full of stones upstairs.”
Mukesh then identified one of these rioters, without naming him. "There was also a man in the crowd whose printing press is behind our shop, whom I recognise,” the statement says.
In the chargesheet, the police gave a name to this man: Raees Khan, 28, who runs a printing press in Lane 1 of the 25 foota road in Chand Bagh.
Statements by Arvind and Narayan dated March 8 in the inner case diary have recollections that are identical, word for word, except that they do not mention Raees either. The chargesheet, however, incorrectly claims that the two recognised Raees in these statements.
In fact, Arvind identified the accused four days later at the crime branch office, when Firoz, Chand and Raees were allegedly produced before him. This is recorded in a supplementary statement dated March 12. In it, Arvind stated that he did not know the names of the accused, but learnt them from the police.
‘Everything written under my name is a lie’
Newslaundry met Mukesh and Narayan in their village in Subeha in Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki to get their comments on the police investigation. We spoke to Arvind over the phone.
Mukesh told Newslaundry that when a Muslim mob broke into the warehouse on February 24, he along with Arvind and Narayan’s families and few others locked themselves into a room.
“Some of them started beating the door of our room and asked us to come out. What’s our fault, we asked them. We are here to earn wages,” he said. “Then one of them said these are poor workers, don’t harass them, and they left. Our owner then told us to come to the second building.”
Mukesh pointed out that since he and the others had been inside the room, he could not identify anyone in the mob. “The police had shown us some photos once and asked us to identify people. I could not identify anyone. When we did not see anyone, how can we recognise them?”
Asked about Raees Khan, Mukesh said: “I don’t know any Raees Khan. I don’t know who he is.”
The SIT recorded Mukesh’s statement after every batch of arrests. In his supplementary statements in the inner case diary, the migrant worker is quoted as saying that he identified members of the mob when they were produced before him at the crime branch office. Newslaundry read out multiple statements to Mukesh. Here’s what he said:
Mukesh added: “I have nothing to do with all this. The police have written them [the statements] themselves. When I’m back in Delhi, I will confront them about why I’m being entangled in all this.”
Like Mukesh, Arvind denied that he recognised any member of the mob that broke into the Saptarishi warehouse that day, nor did he know that one of them, Shahid, was murdered. The police claims he identified Raees Khan, Mohammad Firoz and Chand Mohammad, but Arvind says he could not identify anyone because their faces were covered.
said Arvind, who had returned to Barabanki shortly after the pandemic-induced lockdown but is now back in Delhi.
Narayan, who lives in the village ahead of Mukesh’s, also said that he did not recognise Raees Khan or, in fact, any members of the mob from February 24 — contrary to the Delhi police’s claim in the chargesheet. The 50-year-old had left for his village in Barabanki shortly after the lockdown, and was working in his farm when Newslaundry visited his village.
He said: “There were 30-35 mobsters that had broken in that day around 3 pm. They tried to break our door too and some shouted that we should be set on fire. But two boys among them said that these are poor people, it’s not right to harass them. They saved us, and asked us to go downstairs and leave the warehouse. We reached the second building in Bhajanpura around 4 pm.”
“I couldn’t identify any member of the mob. I told this to the police as well,” Narayan told us.
Who killed Shahid Alam?
“The police couldn’t control the situation on February 24,” said Brijesh Khatri, 40, who runs a medicine store on the Yamuna Vihar side of the main Wazirabad road. “The protesters outnumbered them and they crossed over to Yamuna Vihar side, and the stone pelting began soon after.”
The Hindu mob arrived at the scene a couple of hours later and, as the police chargesheet puts it, “it was now a full-fledged Hindu-Muslim riot”.
“The Bajrang Dal came here to burn shops in the evening,” Khatri added. “They mistook the ‘Khatri’ in my shop board to mean ‘Khan’ and almost torched it, until my neighbour intervened.”
The Muslim mob stood on the Chand Bagh side and pelted stones at the Hindu mob and the police force gathered in Yamuna Vihar, and vice versa. Videos captured from Yamuna Vihar on February 24 show policemen and Hindu rioters lobbing rocks at the other side from the service lane outside Mohan Nursing Home, a multi-storeyed hospital founded in the mid-1990s. Saptarishi Ispat and Alloys warehouse is located right opposite the nursing home.
In a primetime show on March 5, NDTV anchor Ravish Kumar had aired footage of a group of men shooting at the Muslim mob from the terrace of Mohan Nursing Home with a rifle. “They were Hindus of Yamuna Vihar who had arrived here from the back streets,” said Sanjay Kumar, 50, who runs a medicine store located on the ground floor of Mohan Nursing Home. Kapil Jindal, a pharmacist at the nursing home, told Newslaundry that the rioters destroyed all CCTV cameras, stole the DVR, and caused damage of approximately Rs 8 lakh.
On the other side of the road, Shahid Alam and others had climbed to the terrace of the Saptarishi Ispat and Alloys warehouse, opposite Mohan Nursing Home, “from where they could hurl stones and fire at the rioters of the other community and also the police,” as the chargesheet claims.
Irfan, Shahid’s brother, told Newslaundry that Shahid had felt unwell on the morning of February 24. “I had given him a few medicines and suggested that he stay home. I left for work. Next, I saw him dead at Madina hospital in Mustafabad at 6 in the evening,” Irfan said. “We brought him home and took him to GTB hospital in an ambulance.”
Our conversations with Shahid’s relatives, doctors at Madina hospital, and employees at the Saptarishi warehouse did not reveal any substantive facts about how Shahid reached the warehouse roof that afternoon.
The chargesheet describes the circumstances surrounding Shahid’s death: “It was during this period that at around 3:30 pm a gunshot hit the deceased and the bullet tracking of which suggested that it went downwards from the left side front abdomen region to the right side of back of abdomen. Three fragments of copper coloured metallic bullet jacket found from his body was possibly a case of fire from close proximity. However the incidents of firing from the buildings on the other side especially Mohan Nursing Home is also being looked into [emphasis added].”
Later, the chargesheet says: “As of now, it seems that the fragments obtained are of small arm and hence it is highly unlikely [emphasis added] that it could have been fired from Mohan Nursing Home.”
Note the words “suggested”, “possibly”, “being looked into”, “seems” and “highly unlikely” in the chargesheet. They hint that the police investigation (a) has not procured the firearm, (b) has not unearthed conclusive evidence, and (c) is not complete.
The theory that Shahid was killed by Muslim men on the roof of the Saptarishi building was further fuelled by a “senior police officer” who told the Print that Shahid was “accidentally shot at by one of his own men. From the angle he was shot at, it appears to be an accidental shot.”
Notably, this theory’s credibility rests primarily on the Forensic Science Laboratory’s report on Alam’s injury, which the chargesheet says “is still awaited”.
In Ravish Kumar’s primetime show, NDTV had also shown a video of a wounded Shahid Alam being escorted down a ladder by a group of men on the roof of the Saptarishi warehouse.
In its chargesheet, the SIT says that it has not arrested any of the persons seen carrying Alam in the NDTV footage. The police used the footage to develop still pictures but the men “could not be identified as the pixel broke down while enlarging the pictures”.
It adds: “All efforts were made to establish the identity of these persons but no clue could be gathered.”
During our investigation, Newslaundry could not locate the men seen with Alam in the NDTV footage.
On June 26, Quint reported that a 22-year-old named Akram had claimed to have been attacked with petrol bombs from the terrace of the nursing home. In his complaint, Akram alleged the involvement of the owner of the hospital and its employees. The police are yet to register an FIR in this case.
Newslaundry reached out to Dr Sunil Kumar, one of the owners of Mohan Nursing Home and Hospital, for a comment. He declined to take our questions.
And the contradictions don’t end here
Newslaundry accessed the confession statements of the six accused that were attached with the police chargesheet.
The statement of Mohammad Firoze, a taxi driver who was arrested from the Bhajanpura stand on March 11, says that when he saw the violence break out on Wazirabad road that day, he went home and returned with a danda, a stick. “In my haste, I forgot my mobile phone at home and returned to the scene and joined the mob,” the statement says. However, the chargesheet says that on February 24, “mobile phone of accused Firoz was active in the area of scene of crime”.
Firoz languished in the Mandoli prison for a month after his arrest on March 11. On April 12, he was granted interim bail because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Firoz told Newslaundry that his home is in Chandu Nagar, about a kilometre away from the Saptarishi warehouse in Chand Bagh. “I had rushed home after the riots began that day and stayed there. So they can’t claim that my phone was active near the warehouse,” he said.
Chand Mohammad, another taxi driver who was arrested with Firoz on March 11, says that the Delhi police SIT made him sign on blank papers under the pretext that it was a normal exercise. “On February 24, I was in Khureji in East Delhi, and I never had time to attend protests here,” Chand told us. “When my father met the crime branch officers after I was detained, he was told that I’ll be let off after some questioning. I was in jail for a month.”
On July 19, Firoz and Chand’s bail was cancelled and they were arrested again.
Newslaundry also met the families of the four accused in the case.
Irshad’s mother, Rehana, told Newslaundry that her son could not have been part of the mob because he was not in Chand Bagh on February 24. “He was at his garage in Usmanpur where he works. His boss, a Gujjar saab, had to have a car painted on time, and he had come to take him and given an assurance for his safety,” she said.
We spoke to Irshad’s boss, Sunil Kumar, to double check this claim.
Irshad, who lives in New Mustafabad, had been picked up by the police on April 1 from his home. The crime branch officers told his family that his neighbour, Mohammad Junaid, also an accused, had given his name to the police. “Irshad had met with an accident a few months ago and cannot even walk properly. How can he be part of any riots in that state?” Rehana asked. “The police had said he would be released the same day after he identified some people. My boy never returned.”
Junaid’s mother Ruksana, lives in a rented flat in New Mustafabad. She told Newslaundry that 12-13 officers from the crime branch had knocked on her door on April 1. “They asked me if Junaid had sustained any injury during the riots. I said he hadn’t. They then asked me to bring him to the crime branch in Yamuna Vihar for interrogation. When we took him there, he was arrested,” she said.
The police chargesheet says that Junaid was identified by Mukesh and two constables, Amit and Azad.
Ruksana said, “On February 24, he was away in Bawana, where he works in a factory. At noon, I had called him and told him to come home since riots had broken out. He had returned home by evening.”
The oldest accused in Shahid’s murder is Akil Ahmed, a taxi driver. “He was having lunch at home on February 24. Our kids would regularly go to a small anti-CAA protest near a madrassa here, and he did not like it. But they would quench their hunger with the food distributed there,” said Zebun Nisha, Ahmed’s wife, who lives in a single rented room in New Mustafabad. “When the riots broke out, both of us went out looking for our children. We found them by evening and returned home.”
Nearly three months after Ahmed’s arrest, Zebun told Newslaundry about the family’s ordeal.
The Delhi police SIT assigned to investigate the riots arrested six accused within 72 hours of Shahid Alam’s case landing on its desk. In fact, as the material annexed with the chargesheet reveals, the police did not even seem to know that Alam had been shot on the roof of the Saptarishi warehouse till March 5, when NDTV broadcast a video of a mortally wounded Alam being carried off the roof. The FIR in the case, lodged by a police officer on March 1, incorrectly states that Alam was shot near the Chand Bagh bazaar.
The chargesheet also incorrectly claims, based on the narration of a PCR call by one Dr Mansoor Khan, that Alam was “dumped” in front of the Madina hospital in Mustafabad. This aspect of the case was overblown by Hindu nationalist websites like OpIndia, which used this to push the police theory that “Shahid did indeed die of bullet wounds inflicted by their own side”.
When Newslaundry met Dr Khan at the Madina hospital in Mustafabad, he clarified that Shahid’s body had not been dumped outside the hospital on February 24.
He is right. His statement under Section 161 of the Criminal Procedure Code in the inner case diary does not state that Shahid was dumped in front of the hospital. Instead, the statement says: “By the time I reached the patient, the people had put him on a stretcher and left.”
If the Delhi police wants to solidify its theory on Muslim members of the mob killing Shahid Alam, they would have to produce the Forensic Science Laboratory report on his injury. This report had not come out yet when the chargesheet was filed; Newslaundry asked the Delhi police if the report is out now but did not receive a response. Alam’s postmortem too is silent on whether the 22-year-old was shot from a close distance or not.
Most importantly, the police chargesheet is silent about whether the SIT has recovered the firearm that was used to kill Alam.
The two major problems in the investigation is the Delhi police SIT’s commission and omission. The SIT arrested six men based on three civilian eyewitnesses who have rubbished the statements under their names in the police case file. Moreover, the police has not apprehended a single person from the gang of Hindu rioters that was stone pelting and shooting from the terrace of Mohan Nursing Home, right opposite the Saptarishi warehouse, on February 24.
It is worth remembering that there exist videos that show personnel of the Delhi police indulging in violence alongside Hindu rioters during the communal carnage in Northeast Delhi. One of them shows the police stone-pelting at anti-CAA rioters from outside the Mohan Nursing Home. If the SIT’s investigative trajectory reaches the Hindu rioters, it will then naturally turn to the police itself. At the current junction, however, there is no such trajectory to begin with.
Newslaundry sent a questionnaire to the Delhi police to elicit comments on our investigation. The office of the Additional PRO and the PRO acknowledged that they had received the questionnaire. This piece will be updated if and when we receive a response.
Inputs from Barabanki.