New Delhi: The first time in 17 months that he felt alive, said Mohammed Shahid, was when he returned home in August 2021 to his three children and wife after spending those months in jail.
He was critically ill during his incarceration, suffered a paralytic stroke and was finally granted interim bail for 90 days for medical treatment.
Shahid was arrested after suffering a bullet injury in his shoulder during the communal violence that ravaged north-east Delhi in February 2020. Back home, Shahid and his wife Shaziya Parveen were exhausted from months of struggling to get proper medical attention—the bullet injury left splinters lodged in his shoulder, and his health deteriorated while in jail.
On 2 August, when he suffered a paralytic attack, the Mandoli jail authorities admitted him to Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, Shahdara. He was subsequently granted interim bail on 11 August.
Facing charges under 16 sections of law including charges of murder and attempt to murder, Shahid is among scores of Muslim men arrested and charged by the Delhi police for their alleged involvement in the north-east Delhi riots and kept in custody without trial for long periods on the basis of tenuous evidence.
The Delhi police alleged that the riots—which left 53 dead (the police disputed this figure), of which 75% were Muslim, 581 injured and hundreds homeless—were a “pre-planned conspiracy and centrally co-ordinated” by those protesting the CAA to coincide with US President Donald Trump’s visit to India.
Even as several Delhi courts criticised the police for a “shoddy” and “callous” investigation, as Article 14 reported on 13 September, the families of those arrested in these cases and denied bail face a long, difficult road to justice.
With bread-winners incarcerated, families face destitution, while wives and mothers struggle with mounting expenses, the rounds of courtrooms and lawyers’ offices and flagging mental and emotional health.
Handicapped without the use of his right arm, Shahid faced the prospect of having to find a new occupation. In their one-room home in Janta Colony in Jaffrabad, north-east Delhi, Shahid and Shaziya spoke about their worst fears and their disappointments during the course of his incarceration amid the relief of getting bail.
Shot, Arrested, Charged With Murder
On 25 February 2020, Shahid stepped out of his house during the riots, hoping to find an auto rickshaw to escape Jaffrabad. He was alone—his family was not in Jaffrabad that day.
A mob of masked men armed with swords, petrol bombs, rods and shouting ‘Har har Mahadev’ and ‘Jai Shri Ram’ was marching towards colonies near the Jaffrabad metro station.
A bullet shot from behind him hit Shahid in the right shoulder. Shots had been fired by policemen and rioters, and it was never established whose bullet hit Shahid. As Shahid fell unconscious, crowds ran across the street and kicked him, as he lay on the ground.
A stranger took him 5 km to GTB Hospital, where he spent nine days.
Shahid had lost a lot of blood. Splinters of the bullet were lodged deep in the muscle tissue of the shoulder, and doctors were reluctant to operate and risk further blood loss. He would have to live with the splinters, they said.
Back home in a still-tense capital city, Shahid’s health deteriorated and the family shifted him to Al-Shifa Hospital in Okhla. He was discharged on 5 April, his shoulder bandaged.
Two days later, on 7 April, Shahid’s brother Naseem was walking down their lane when he heard a large group of men asking local residents for Shahid’s house. They didn’t have an address, but they had a name. They were not in uniform, but they appeared to be policemen.
Eventually, according to their mother Bushra, nearly 16 men arrived at their doorstep. On finding him at home, they loaded Shahid into a police vehicle and asked the family to pick him up later from Jaffrabad police station.
Later, said Bushra, they did not find him at the Jaffrabad police station. Shaziya, her brother Rauf and Naseem then rushed to Jaffrabad police station, then to Welcome police station, 2 km away, and then a further 40 km to the Dwarka crime branch office in an autorickshaw. It was 7 pm when they finally received a call from Shahid.
He told Shaziya he was being taken to the R K Puram office of the crime branch, 22 km from their home. “Shahid pareshaan the, par kehte rahe ki maine kuch nahi kiya… (Shahid was troubled, but kept saying that he had done nothing wrong),” said Shaziya. He was certain he would be released soon.
Shahid was lodged in Mandoli jail for 14 days with 16 sections of the law invoked in the first information report (FIR) 50/2020. These included the 302 (murder) and 307 (attempt to murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, for the killing of Aman Ahmad, an 18-year-old Muslim shot by rioters near Jaffrabad’s Tent Wala School on 25 February.
Accused Of Murdering Another Muslim During Riots
The Delhi Minorities Commission concluded in June 2020 that the riots were an anti-Muslim pogrom, but in Shahid’s case, the Delhi police accused a Muslim man who bore a bullet injury of murdering another Muslim during the rioting.
Shahid was near the Jaffrabad metro station when Aman Ahmed was shot dead. The Tent Wala school is about 700 m away.
The FIR used a pixelated video to locate Shahid near the scene of the crime, but there is no other evidence that places him there, according to his lawyer, Bilal Anwar Khan.
Ten men were accused in Ahmed’s murder, all Muslim. The chargesheet cited their locations using phone records and the video clip.
Sub-inspector (Crime Branch) Rajeev Malik, the investigating officer in the case against Shahid, told Article 14 that the investigation was underway and he could not discuss details about evidence.
Asked about Shahid’s deteriorating health, Malik said: “But he is out on bail now.”
The other charges against Shahid were under sections 147, 148, 149 (rioting, unlawful assembly) of the IPC; sections 186, 188 (obstructing public servant from discharging his duty, disobedience of order promulgated by public servant), 332, 333 and 353 (causing grievous hurt to deter a public servant from his duty, criminal force against a public servant); sections 283, 323, 427 (causing obstruction in public way, punishment for causing hurt, causing mischief/ damage) and section 120 B (criminal conspiracy).
In addition, sections 25 and 27 (punishment for using arms) of the Arms Act, 1959; and sections 3 and 4 of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984, were also applied.
Shahid’s regular bail hearing is slated to begin on 12 November 2021.
‘I Was Waiting To Die’
Over the last year, said Shaziya who is educated till class XII, she came to recognise the “asli chehra” (true nature) of police and investigative agencies.
Until the Delhi riots, Shaziya didn’t ever step out of the home alone, not even for groceries. Now able to name sections of law under which Shahid was jailed, she said she had three young children and no source of income. “We are living on charity right now,” she said.
With Shahid in jail, Shaziya had a series of challenges to deal with. Her son needed surgery in July 2021 after a fall, and her daughter contracted typhoid. She herself was operated for cysts in her bladder in May 2021.
In Mandoli jail where he was incarcerated, Shahid recalled, he was given pain-killers to help him sleep, rather than treatment. Medical officers also administered physiotherapy.
Shahid alleged his arm was lost to medical negligence. “I was waiting to die,” he said. “I used to lie to my family that I’m healing and doing okay.”
In July, Shahid fainted twice from the acute pain, and his fellow inmates informed his family using the jail’s telephone.
Rais Ahmed, accused in another riot case, was granted bail by the Delhi High Court in June, after spending 11 months in Mandoli Jail. While granting him bail, the court said there was “no material even prima facie on record” to show that Ahmed and his co-applicants for bail were part of a mob that indulged in stone-pelting leading to the death of a man in Brahmpuri Gali, near Seelampur.
Shahid and Ahmed lived in adjacent barracks in Mandoli jail.
Various Delhi courts have come down hard on Delhi police’s investigations into riots that swept India’s capital in February 2020.
The comments in the courts’ observations included ‘absolutely evasive’, ‘lackadaisical’, ‘callous’, ‘casual’, ‘farcical’, ‘painful to see’, ‘misusing the judicial system’. Article 14 studied 40 court orders to find a trail of false statements, fabricated charges and police unaware of their own investigations.
Ahmed, also charged with attempt to murder, said Shahid could have died any day. “... and if he did, we knew his blood was on the State’s hands.”
In jail, Ahmed recalled, Shahid’s condition was so poor that other inmates often volunteered to carry him to the medical room, to bathe him and to assist him while using the toilet.
Shaziya said: “It began with killing Muslims and has reached its end with jailing innocent Muslims.”
For Some, The Process Is The Punishment
Shahid’s bail plea was rejected twice, in June and August. Eventually, his deteriorating health prompted his counsel to seek interim bail for 90 days. Khan, Shahid’s lawyer, said the process itself has been a form of punishment.
Khan said the police used Shahid’s bullet injury to implicate him in a murder case, arraigning him as an accused on the “flimsiest piece of evidence”, video footage showing three men standing on a road near the Jaffrabad metro station. The men cannot be identified from the hazy video footage.
Khan told the court Shahid had bullet fragments lodged in his right shoulder at the time of his arrest, and during the period of his incarceration, his health substantially deteriorated despite treatment at the jail’s out-patient department.
Courts ordered medical treatment, but his condition did not improve. Four times in 2020 and on another three occasions in 2021, Shahid was taken to various government hospitals and then back to jail without complete treatment.
Unable to be with his children for 17 months, Shahid said he cursed himself often while in jail. Commenting on the disproportionate numbers of Muslims lodged in jails for their alleged involvement in the Delhi riots, Shahid said: “It is Muslims who died, and yet Muslims were jailed.”
Of the 53 people killed during the Delhi riots, 40 were Muslims. As many as 933 Muslims were jailed for alleged involvement in the rioting.
Had it not been for his health, he may have never met his family while the wait for his trial to begin continued. “Aaj ki date mein Musalmaan ki koi sunvaai nahi, mujhe laga waheen mar jaaunga (Today nobody listens to Muslims, I thought I would die there),” said Shahid.
Shaziya said she realised over the past few months that Shahid’s was not a rare case: a Muslim man charged in a Delhi riots case without adequate evidence.
Recently, a Delhi court said that while about 750 cases were registered in connection with the riots, only 150 cases have been received by the court for trial. Courts had framed charges in just about 35 cases, while many were sent back on being found they were not triable by a sessions court—they were not crimes of a serious nature.
In another rioting case, additional sessions judge Vinod Yadav remarked on 2 September while discharging the accused that there were cases in which the police seemed to be “busy filing supplementary chargesheets” due to which many accused were forced to languish in jail without bail.
The lone bread-winner for his family, Shahid’s long incarceration left his family without an income or livelihood. Without the use of his arm, the prospects of being able to earn once again are remote, Shaziya said: “Zakhm ko nasoor bana diya logon ne (A wound has been allowed to fester).”
(Tarushi Aswani is a New Delhi-based journalist.)