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Cops terrorise riot-hit areas

Last updated on March 17, 2020

Police are questioning the injured who have registered medico-legal cases, arresting Muslims who guarded a temple and detaining men randomly

IT HAS been more than two weeks since Delhi witnessed gruesome riots which have left 53 people dead. The violence which broke out on the evening of 24 February and went on till 27th has also seen at least 200 injured, some gravely. Delhi Police stated on 7 March that they have registered 690 cases and held nearly 2,200 people.

But who are the real culprits? Many videos had emerged of the police helping rioters attack neighbours belonging to the minority community. The many people Patriot interviewed who were injured have either said that the police watched silently as they were attacked or say men dressed in uniform attacked them.

Now, many in the Muslim-dominated area of Mustafabad —which also houses the Eidgah where people who have fled from the violence have been given refuge — say that the Muslims who were injured in the attack, and on whose behalf medico-legal cases have been filed at the hospital are now being harassed by the police and in some cases taken to the police station and arrested. While we could not find cases for the latter, we did meet a few who had been questioned by the police.

One of them is Saleem (name changed), in his 20s, who like many others do not wish to speak to the media, fearing what the attention might bring. So, his father Faiz (name changed), who works as a porter in Mustafabad, is the one giving the following account.

On the morning of February 25, Saleem had left for prayers unaware about the violence which had begun the previous day.

He took a bus back in the afternoon from Kasabpura Eidgah in Sarai Khalil, to Khajuri Khas. “As people were deboarding, a mob outside was beating them up”, Faiz says.

Just as Saleem tried to run from the rioters, he was hit on the back with a bottle of acid, “It burnt his back…but he managed to return home that evening. He got some medical attention and was discharged”, Faiz says.

Since this Monday (March 9), according to him, police have been visiting their home. “They say they need to take his statement which can be done only at the police station. They keep repeating the same thing. They want us to come to the police station but we do not trust them, we won’t go,” he says.

A small crowd that gathers to listen to this testimony back his choice. They say everyone is scared, and wouldn’t allow their boys to step into a police station, “even if they say it’s just for a statement”, one woman adds. “They may not return our boys”. Their fear stems from what they saw, they say, during the riots: “The police were with the rioters”.

We also met Hashim, who was a little more willing to speak. Beaten and chased by a mob, he was left with a broken arm. He says police did come to question him but left soon after. They have not yet asked him to come to the police station.

Farhan Azimee, one of several lawyers helping victims and their families, says there is no need for the police to call those who have filed MLCs to the station. “Police will proceed accordingly” and will have to “investigate accordingly before the registration” of a FIR, Azimee says reiterating that the injured person’s presence at the police station is not required.

“We are supporting those (injured) who need to file FIRs. Right now, what has come to our knowledge is that police are conducting their investigation and no detaining has happened yet”, he says. He however adds that Patriot’s information of injured being detained sounds about right. “The police will go after the people who have filed the MLCs and file charges against them…especially the ones who don’t have a backup or look weak. They will go after them and trap them because they (police) want to show that they are working.”

A person well-informed on the cases of those attacked — but one who would like to stay anonymous in the likelihood of being detained — says he also knows of money being demanded in exchange for not detaining victims under false charges. One was even asked for Rs 5 lakh, he alleges. However, we were unable to verify the veracity of this claim as he was unwilling to divulge more on the same.

While data is not available on the religious identity of the detainees or the arrested, many in Mustafabad say the police have been taking Muslim men from their homes every day.

At every street corner, people have come up to us and described a detention that has taken place that very day. They say that while those persons detained have nothing to do with the riots, they are being picked up to show Muslims were the rioters.

One such detention which has baffled the detainee’s neighbourhood is that of Usman Saifi.

On Sunday night, 8 March, 45-year-old Saifi was guarding the Ram temple close to his home. This practice was started from the day the violence began, say Irshad and Naseer. The two have been part of the group who have kept a watch outside the temple to see nothing untoward happens there.

The night when Saifi was taken, Naseer says police showed up around 12:30 am in their street, “They came in a jeep and two motorcycles. We thought they were on a round. But they stopped and put a pistol to the heads of a few and shoved them inside the car. When we asked them why they were doing this, they didn’t respond. They also held me but I could somehow wriggle out in the chaos and reach home”.

Irshad and Naseer could only watch helplessly as their neighbour was taken away “in a lot of hurry”. Along with Saifi, two more persons were detained, whose names we were told are Shakeel and Habil.

A group of about 20-30 men gathered and they went to the Dayalpur police station together. “When we reached the police station, they had closed the gate and said personnel are out on a round. Come in the morning, the station is closed”, Naseer says. They were asked to come the next morning at 8.

The group were then informed on the morning of March 9 that Saifi had been charged under various sections of the IPC, including rioting, and taken to the Mandoli jail.

As we ask about Saifi’s family, Naseer’s response indicates a hint of guilt, as he wasn’t able to help. He says: “I don’t know what to tell their family. Her husband was taken away when he was with us. We have done no rioting or any such thing, so what was the point of taking him?” he asks.

Joined by a few more men from the group who had gone to the police station, we are told that at the Dayalpur police station, a police functionary said that the pressure was mounting on them to make arrests “so they will pick up men whoever comes in hand”.

Since the riots began, Irshad says they haven’t allowed any outsider to come in. But now, when things are returning to normal, the police come, “So much happened but they never came to check on us. Now that things are okay, they keep coming”, he added.

We met Saifi’s wife Tajwar at her home. She says she hasn’t been allowed to see her husband since his detention and now arrest.

“Everyone used to sit and guard (the temple) thinking no outsider should be allowed to come in and wreak havoc here, and destroy the mandir. Hindus and Muslims stay here happily together”.

She tells us her husband’s schedule before he was taken by the police. “He would go outside every night around 12 am and stay there till 5 am”, but on that day a little over half an hour after joining his protection group, the police came and hauled him off.

At first, two persons were taken into the police vehicle, one of them being a friend of her husband called out to Saifi, she says. “He called out and said Usman bhai, they are taking me away. As my husband went to check, they put him inside the car at gunpoint. They didn’t even allow him to speak”, she accuses.

Tajwar also says, there were only a few people out guarding the temple that day, and when the police came and started detaining, others scrambled and ran home.

Saifis mother who was also present when we met cannot understand why the police would take her son away, Tajwar says, “My husband’s mother is so upset. Just imagine how she must feel, imagine how I must feel… Why are they doing this? Taking innocent people away”, she cries, “What will they get by picking him up? If I die, his mother dies, sister dies?”

Still, no word home

While some have been detained and arrested, there are some families who don’t know anything about the whereabouts of their father’s, husbands or sons.

One such family is Hakimuddin’s. While the 75-year-old had left home on February 22nd for a religious gathering at Kasabpura, he was scheduled to return on the 24th. That was also the day when things had reached a boiling point in North East Delhi and his home in Shiv Vihar.

We met Bilkish while she was trying to locate Hakimmuddin, her father-in-law in the city hospitals. Her husband was looking for his father in Shiv Vihar and Bhajanpura area.

We spoke to the family again on March 12 and they still remain unaware about the whereabouts of Hakimuddin. Their search continues.

We also spoke with Matboob Alam whose 22-year-old brother Mohd Shahbaz has been missing since the 24th. That morning he had left from home in Vijay Vihar at 7am for Guru Nanak hospital to get his eyes checked. Alam says his younger brother had been suffering with an eye problem due to his work as a welder.

The last time the brothers spoke was that afternoon at 2:25pm, when Shahbaz told Alam that he was at Karawal Nagar where people were being beaten up. “He said the situation was very bad. I asked him to go away from there and come home”, Alam tells us.

But Shahbaz said it was impossible, and he would instead try going into a gali for safety and return home somehow, later. His brother says after an hour of that phone call Shahbaz’ phone was not reachable. And it is so, to this day on March 12.

There are still others who have found their loved ones in the last place they would want to: in a mortuary.

We had met Mohd Irfan at Old Mustafabad on March 3. He had been trying to find his nephew Hamza Gyassuddin Ansari for days. A young boy of 19, Ansari used to work at a roadside stall selling noodles before going missing on 26 February.

He was last seen around 7 that evening when he finished his evening prayers at the nearby Noor Masjid and had then decided to go check on the food stall he worked at.

Irfan says his nephew wanted to go see if the shop had also been torched by rioters who had been on a rampage. The shop was situated on the main road, and chances of finding something more than the charred remains of the stall was high.

Because of the prevailing situation in that area, Irfan nor anyone else from the family ventured out until three days later to look for Ansari. “I didn’t want to enter a police station, they mistreat us. Because I have a beard and wear a skull cap they are worse with me. So, another relative of mine went”.

Unfortunately, Ansari was found on March 5 at the RML hospitals mortuary. The family still don’t know what happened. The post mortem report is
awaited.

With inputs from Mayank Jain Parichcha