New Delhi: The last thing that Kismatun remembers her son doing was slowly moving his hands from his chest to his waist.
The 61-year-old seamstress had seen her 24-year-old writhing in pain ever since a brutal beating by policemen in the middle of a communal riot, caught on a video that went viral. She never thought he might die, which is why she did not understand his feeble attempt at bidding her farewell.
“I looked at his hands and thought that he was saying that he wanted to urinate right there and that he was feeling embarrassed. I said, ‘It’s okay, son. Go ahead. I’m here. I will clean it’,” she said. “I never imagined that he was telling me that life was leaving his body. I didn’t understand. My boy died even before his life had started.”
Faizan, a butcher from Kardampuri in northeast Delhi, died at 11 pm on 26 February 2020 at the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) Hospital, two days after policemen were caught on camera beating, abusing and hurling anti-Muslims slurs at him and four other Muslim men, as religious violence ravaged northeast Delhi.
The policemen in now infamous viral videos of 24 February were heard forcing the Muslim men to “prove” their patriotism by singing the national anthem. Then, instead of getting the gravely injured Faizan proper medical care, or releasing him to his family members, the police kept him in illegal custody for two days.
Ten months after his death, the Delhi Police Crime Branch has not identified any of the policemen responsible.
Instead, in a status report submitted to the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate of the northeast district in August, investigators claimed that there were no CCTV cameras—private or government—where the men were beaten near Kardampuri bridge on 66 Foota Road, and no eyewitnesses had come forward.
A petition filed by Kismatun (she uses only one name) before the Delhi High Court on 17 December says the police also claimed that the CCTV cameras at the Jyoti Nagar Police Station, where Faizan was illegally detained on 24 and 25 February, were not working on those two days.
Instead Of Neurosurgery, Illegal Detention
Kismatun’s petition seeks a court-monitored investigation to identify the policemen who beat Faizan near Kardampuri and those responsible for his illegal detention at the Jyoti Nagar Police Station, where he was kept for two days, even though the government hospital where he received first aid and stitches had advised neurosurgery and orthopaedic care.
A postmortem found that cause of death was “cerebral injury associated with multiple blunt injuries over the body,” and the “the pattern of injuries are consistent with assault”.
The Delhi Police reports to Amit Shah, Home Minister in the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government.
“With this kind of delay in the investigation, there is little hope of a fair investigation and therefore we have approached the Delhi High Court for having a court-monitored investigation through a court-appointed SIT in a crime where the police itself is admitting that the injuries have been caused by the police,” said Vrinda Grover—one of India’s leading human-rights lawyers—who is representing Kismatun. “That is not in dispute. The videos show that.”
Rajesh Deo, a senior police officer investigating Delhi riot cases and currently head of its legal cell, said he could not comment on Faizan’s case because the matter is subjudice. “The police will reply to the court,” he said.
Kismatun said her anger was only growing by the day.
The Image Kismatun Cannot Forget
The image that Kismatun cannot shake is of Faizan walking out of the Jyoti Nagar Police Station barefoot on the night of 25 February, close to 30 hours after he was beaten on the road.
When she asked him about his slippers, Kismatun remembered how his face showed he was beyond caring. Barely able to stand, her son was helped into an autorickshaw by Surendar, her Hindu neighbour and an auto driver, who, despite the rioting, she said, drove three women to pick up their male family members from the police station. The six of them squashed into one autorickshaw and prayed they would make it home alive.
Kismatun remembered using a scissor to remove Faizan’s torn and bloodied clothes from his battered body. She remembered him struggling to breathe, trying to take big gulps of air, and saying, “Ammi, everything is hurting. Please get me treatment.”
Kismatun’s resolve for justice is only getting stronger.
“I’ve seen my son suffering and dying before my eyes. He was a good boy. He did nothing wrong. Not one thing,” she said. “I want justice. I won’t rest. I’ve only spoken the truth from the day he was taken from me. I will keep speaking it. I have no fear now.”
Hate Crime By The Police In India’s Capital
Fifty three people were killed in the riots that erupted after a three-month long people’s movement against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, or CAA, a law that critics said makes religion the basis of granting Indian citizenship.
When read with the National Register of Citizens (NRC), an exercise to identify people living without documents, the CAA would lead to differential treatment of Muslims, said critics. Forty of the 53 killed in the Delhi riots were Muslims, according to a Delhi Police affidavit submitted to the Delhi High Court in July.
Some of the most shocking videos of the riots captured the hate crime perpetrated by policemen on five Indian Muslims, including Faizan, in the national capital in daylight.
While forcing the wounded men to sing the national anthem, policemen say things like “sing properly”and “azaadi, azaadi, azaadi” — mocking the protest call for freedom from persecution. One young man is kicked in his private parts. A policeman stands on the foot of another and hits him with his baton on the back.
One of the injured men is heard pleading, “Sir, we are all Indians.”
In a second video, Faizan is surrounded by at least six policemen who beat him with their lathis. In a third, he is lying on the road in a sky blue shirt and dark track pants with blood trickling down from his ear.
In interviews in December, two people in the video, 49-year-old Kausar Ali and 17-year-old Wasim, said that they were kicked, punched, beaten with batons, rifle butts, and humiliated, as they lay on the road for at least 30 minutes before they were thrown into a police vehicle and driven to a government hospital, the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, for first-aid.
Father to four boys, Ali, whose leg, hand, and ribs were broken in the incident, said, “They said that ‘even if we kill you, nothing will happen to us. It will be part of the riot’.”
“When someone asked for water, they said, ‘We will urinate in your mouth’,” added Ali.
“The investigation in this case has been found wanting,” said Grover, Kismatun’s lawyer. “Contrast that with the speed with which other cases (here and here) related to the same riot have been investigated including by the Special Cell of the Delhi Crime Branch talking of a larger conspiracy.”
An FIR That Makes No Reference To Police Brutality
In the first detailed report of the hate crime published on 1 March, 2020 in HuffPost India, Anumeha Yadav reported that Faizan’s death was a direct consequence of how the police had treated him from the time he was attacked. In a second report for HuffPost India, Yadav reported that the first information report (FIR) of the incident did not make any reference to the role of the policemen captured in the video.
The FIR for rioting and murder registered on 28 February at the Bhajanpura Police Station was against “unknown persons”.
The first response of the Station House Officer (SHO) of the Jyoti Nagar Police Station, where Faizan was detained, and the subsequent status reports of the Delhi Police Crime Branch seem to contradict each other.
The FIR claims that Faizan told the GTB hospital that he was attacked by a mob, received treatment and was discharged. It says Head Constable Manoj Bhatti went to his residence, but there was no one home.
Tomar’s statement is contradicted by the status report of the investigation submitted in August to the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate of the northeast district. That report claimed Faizan asked to be taken to the Jyoti Nagar Police station on 24 February, after he was given first-aid at the GTB Hospital, and that his family members only showed up on 25 February to pick him up.
Under Indian law, a person suspected of a crime can only be kept in police custody for 24 hours and then has to be produced in front of a magistrate.
In July, The Times of India reported that the Delhi Police had told the court of the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate that they had sent Faizan’s blood-stained clothes and broken mobile phone to the forensic laboratory, and that they were looking at four video clips to identify the policemen.
No Mention Of Faizan In Police Records
The police status report in August said identifying policemen deployed near Kardampuri bridge was a “mammoth exercise.”
In September, The Indian Express reported that the Delhi Police Crime Branch had questioned a policeman posted with the Delhi Armed Police, He reportedly denied involvement.
The petition filed before the Delhi High Court in December says the search for the guilty policemen needs an examination of the police log book for the vehicle used to transport the injured men from Kardampuri to the GTB Hospital for first-aid on 24 February.
The duty roster of Jyoti Nagar Police Station would also reveal the identity of the policemen who kept Faizan in custody for two days in February instead of releasing him to his family or ensuring he received the proper treatment.
The status report submitted in August states that the policemen on duty on 24-25 February were interrogated and that no one mentioned any assault on Faizan.
The petition also noted that the Delhi Police Crime Branch recorded Kismatun’s statement and recovered Faizan’s clothes on 18 March, four weeks after he died as a result of police actions, and were yet to recover the bloodied clothes of Kausar Ali, the 49-year-old Muslim man, also beaten up on 24 February.
“... time sensitive crucial evidence is still in the control and custody of the police stations where the perpetrators work. The intervention of this Hon'ble Court is immediately needed to secure and preserve official records and CCTV footage, so that the petitioner’s right to justice is protected, and a fair investigation may take place,” the petition to the Delhi High Court says.
How Kismatun Looked After Her Family
Faizan was the eighth of Kismatun’s nine children. He was an infant when his father, a vegetable seller, was killed in a road accident in 2000, and it fell to Kismatun to raise their children.
A small house with two rooms that her husband managed to build in Kardampuri saved them from a life on the streets, but she still had nine mouths to feed.
The one thing that she knew was sewing, and as luck would have it, northeast Delhi was becoming a hub for readymade garments. She has spent 15 years working as a seamstress, sewing buttons and trimming loose threads. Since her community frowns on women stepping out, she has always worked from home.
Working for wages would have never been permitted if she had been in her native village in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, said Kimatsun. When she was growing up, she remembers purdah being so strict that women would only step out after sunset to carry out household chores like sweeping the yard or making cow dung cakes.
Kismatun’s father was a farmer in Unnao. She was seven years old when her family moved from UP to Delhi in search of a better life. She was barely 15 when she was married. She delivered her nine children at home, with only a midwife present. Her four girls had studied at school, while her five boys played truant, she said.
“I would go to drop them off at school and they would return after a few hours. I had so much work that I couldn’t run after them as well,” she said. “I could not leave my daughters alone at home. That is unacceptable in our community.”
‘I Relied On Faizan For Everything’
Kardampuri, where Faizan was born, is a Muslim-dominated neighborhood in northeast Delhi. People and motorcycles jostle for space in its narrow alleys, butchers, grocers and tailors fill its markets and garbage chokes its open drains. Residents say garbage collectors are a rare sight.
While his sisters were married off young, childhood for Faizan and his brothers also ended abruptly when their mother found them jobs to keep them out of trouble and help put food on the table.
Faizan was sent to Ashok, a Hindu tailor, who taught him how to make shirts and pants for men. “He was a good boy. He was a fast learner,” said Ashok. “His death is a tragedy. What is there left to say?”
As the years passed, Faizan wanted to earn more than the couple of hundred rupees that he was being paid for assisting a tailor. The meat business, he discovered, paid far more. After learning to slaughter chicken and make botis (pieces), he went to work at the chicken market in Ghazipur and earned Rs 1,000 every day, most of which he gave to his mother.
“He was my only child who looked after me. The rest are married and only earn enough to support their own families,” said Kismatun. “But he put me first. I relied on him for everything. I knew he would take care of me in my old age.”
With his savings growing, Faizan was able to buy a smartphone. Even as he started dreaming of owning his own meat shop one day, Nadeem Khan said that his younger brother was taking tuitions to learn some basic reading and writing.
“He didn’t like going to school when he was young, but after growing older and wiser, he realised how important it was to be able to read and write,” he said. “He was trying to make up for the education he lost as a child.”
Death Came With Scarce Medical Attention
Faizan’s family says that he had returned home from the Gazipur meat market when the rioting started on 24 February and went looking for Kismatun, who was at an anti-CAA sit-in near Kardampuri bridge.
His family said that was when the police grabbed and started beating an innocent man.
It took two days, three visits and a lot of pleading at the Jyoti Nagar police station before Faizan was released on the night of 25 February.
As he described carrying his brother into the house, Nadeem said: “There was no part of his body that was not bruised. I said to him, ‘The policemen did this. Do you want justice?’ He replied, ‘I’ll leave everything alone. I just want to get better.’”
The next day, 26 February, Faizan was admitted to LNJP Hospital. But in the eight hours that they were at the hospital, Faizan’s family said all the doctors gave him was glucose drips. Kismatun said that she begged for a painkiller for him, but they were advised that it was dangerous and he may never wake up after taking one.
The first x-ray showed no broken bones. Nadeem said: “Faizan looked at it and said, ‘Perhaps, I will be okay.’ We did not know that he was close to dying.”
As the hours passed, Nadeem said that his brother only got sicker.
When the hospital shift changed, a second doctor ordered another x-ray. But this time, Faizan was writhing in pain, while on the x-ray table. A hospital attendant yelled at him to lay still.
It was shortly after the second x-ray that Faizan died, Nadeem said. As he tried taking his brother back to his bed on the floor below, Nadeem said that he collapsed against a wall and begged not to be lifted.
A few minutes later, as Nadeem tried getting his brother to lie down on a stretcher and put a box of Frooti on his lips, Faizan died.
“He worked so hard at his job. He was doing well. He was going to get married soon. I had already seen two girls,” said Kismatun. “Words cannot explain the pain I feel.”
(Betwa Sharma is an independent journalist who covers politics and civil liberties. She was the politics editor at HuffPost India.)