Dissent in his Blood

Khalid Saifi and the perils of Muslim assertion

Khalid Saifi on the banks of the river Yamuna, in Delhi, on 26 January 2019. According to friends and family, Khalid developed a consciousness for social justice at a young age and his activism was a progression of his beliefs. Khalid is presently incarcerated for his alleged involvement in what the Delhi Police refers to as the “Delhi riots conspiracy” case.
Courtesy Puneet Jain
Khalid Saifi on the banks of the river Yamuna, in Delhi, on 26 January 2019. According to friends and family, Khalid developed a consciousness for social justice at a young age and his activism was a progression of his beliefs. Khalid is presently incarcerated for his alleged involvement in what the Delhi Police refers to as the “Delhi riots conspiracy” case.
Courtesy Puneet Jain

“When my husband left home that day, he was fine. A day later, I saw him in a wheelchair. It’s been 300 days since then,” Nargis Saifi said, when we spoke in late December. Her husband, Khalid Saifi, was arrested by Delhi Police on 26 February 2020, and has been incarcerated in the city’s Mandoli Jail since then. When we first met Nargis months ago, she was scared and distraught. This time, her tremulous voice was transformed. “I rarely used to go out. But as time went by, I realised that it’s a long fight and garnered enough courage to fight. Many of Khalid’s friends and activists offered support. I attended several online meetings for Khalid’s release.” The 34-year-old is a homemaker and a mother to three young children. “Earlier, my children would ask me every day when their father will return. Somehow, they understood the fact that he will not come home soon. But they are optimistic.” Nargis, too, held out hope. “Khalid was arrested for no reason. They want people to be afraid. They want to threaten the people who fight for truth and justice.”

Khalid stands accused of various crimes in three cases related to the communal violence that ripped through the capital’s northeast district in the last week of February 2020. The charges against him—including one under the dreaded anti-terrorism Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act—range from rioting, obstructing a public servant from discharging their duty, unlawful assembly, securing funds for illegal activities from illegal sources, and attempt to murder. On 4 November, a Delhi court granted him bail in the case pertaining to the First Information Report 101 of 2020. Khalid was arrested in this case on 6 June, while he was already in jail for the other two cases. While issuing the bail order, the additional sessions judge noted that the charges against Khalid were based on “insignificant material,” that there was no proof of his presence at the crime scene and the chargesheet displayed “total non-application of mind by the police which went to the extent of vindictiveness.”

The judge lambasted the police’s claims of Khalid’s involvement in a “conspiracy” to instigate the violence. The police had based this claim on a witness’s second statement, recorded on 27 September—an earlier statement by the same witness recorded in May did not mention Khalid with regard to the “criminal conspiracy.” Notably, this second statement was taken just over two weeks after Khalid was granted bail in the first case lodged against him—under FIR 44 of 2020—for which he had been arrested on 26 February. Khalid continues to be in jail for the third case, the now infamous Delhi riots conspiracy case, under FIR 59 of 2020. The Special Cell of the Delhi Police arrested him in this case on 21 March, and subsequently charged him under several sections of the UAPA.

Over the years, the 39-year-old Khalid has donned several roles—activist, political worker, philanthropist, social worker, community leader, organiser, mediator, businessman, all alongside being a doting family man who has schooled his children in the vocabulary of democratic principles. Friends and family spoke to us of his passion, his piety and his unwavering commitment to the notion of justice. Nargis recalled how, out of worry, she had often tried unsuccessfully to dissuade him from activism. “He would tell me that he is not doing it for himself but for our people. He believed there is no need to fear unless we do something wrong.” Khalid, like several others languishing in jails across the country on arbitrary and suspect allegations, has become a leitmotif of the present times—an assertive member of a minority community who dared to dissent, and suffered for it. Rights activists, family members, lawyers, and Khalid’s colleagues that we spoke to, all said that Khalid’s only crime was that he was a Muslim who raised his voice in protest. “Khalid had dissent in his blood,” Salimuddin, a friend of his, told us. The circumstances surrounding Khalid’s arrest and his continued incarceration speak to this.

Khalid was born in a family deeply steeped in the ethos of the Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic revivalist group. He grew up in his family home in Delhi’s Khureji Khas neighbourhood along with eight siblings. His father, Abdul Lateef, had an ancestral business of selling furniture, and had migrated from Muradabad district in Uttar Pradesh to Delhi. Lateef was an influential businessman and well known among the Muradabadi trader community. The family is devout, and Khalid grew up reading Tablighi literature. Since childhood, he regularly attended the group’s meetings, with Lateef.

Ashfaque EJ is an independent journalist.

Aslah Kayyalakkath is a Delhi-based journalist, and the founder editor of Maktoob.

Keywords: Delhi Violence Delhi Police Anti-CAA Protests NRC mob lynching UAPA Aam Aadmi Party
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