Muslim men accused in Delhi violence allege brutality by police and jail officials

According to Shahbuddine, personnel from the Khajuri Khas police station picked him up on the night of 9 March. “They punched and kicked me on the road while taking me,” he said. CK VIJAYAKUMAR FOR THE CARAVAN
18 September, 2021

According to two Muslim men in their early twenties, who were arrested in March 2020 in two cases pertaining to the Delhi violence, Delhi Police personnel and officials at the national capital’s Mandoli Prison Complex beat and verbally abused them in custody. After the Delhi Police arrested the men in March 2020—Shahbuddine and Farman—they were lodged in the Mandoli Prison Complex till they received bail in June 2021. The men were accused of murdering a fellow Muslim, Babbu Khan, during the communal violence in Delhi, among other offences. They denied these allegations. Witnesses against Shahbuddine and Farman gave statements against the men only after their arrests, the court orders granting them bail noted.

Over multiple interviews in July and August, Shahbuddine and Farman told me about their experience of dealing with the police and officials at the Mandoli jail. They could not recall the exact dates of the incidents they described. According to Shahbuddine, while arresting and beating him, one of the policemen told him, “Tum mulle dangey karte ho”—You Muslims riot. Farman told me, “I wanted to hang myself in jail.”

Emails to the Sunil Kumar, the superintendent of Mandoli jail; Rajesh Chopra, the deputy inspector general of Mandoli jail; and SK Sain, the deputy commissioner of police of north east Delhi, went unanswered. Pawan Kumar, the station house officer of the Khajuri Khas police station, said in a WhatsApp message, “The matter is subjudice in court. However, if you have any questions please do visit the office after a call.” But in a subsequent call, he reiterated that the matter is subjudice and said that he cannot give a comment.

According to the first-information report 119 of 2020, Khan, a 32-year-old auto driver, was injured on the third day of the communal violence, on 25 February, at a chowk in northeast Delhi’s Khajuri Khas area. He died on 27 February at the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital. The next day, the police lodged an FIR against a complaint that his brother had filed. The FIR mentioned offences of rioting and murder but did not name any accused. The case was transferred to the crime branch on 7 March. While the original FIR did not name any accused, the Delhi Police arrested Shahbuddine and Farman that same month. The chargesheet in the case, filed on 15 June 2020, accused 16 men, including Shahbuddine and Farman. Eleven of the 16 men were Muslim.

Shahbuddine and Farman were not named in the second FIR against them either. FIR 103 of 2020 was registered against a complaint by a police constable on 26 February. The FIR was filed under several offences—including rioting; assaulting or using criminal force to deter a public servant from discharging his duty; and under two sections of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984, that pertain to damaging public property—but did not name any accused. The chargesheet in the case, filed on 6 June 2020, listed 21 individuals as accused—11 of them were also accused in FIR 119.

Shahbuddine lives with his family in Khajuri Khas. His mother, Tabassum, is a domestic worker. She told me that she lost her husband two years back—he was an alcoholic—and that her elder son also died a few years ago. Tabassum said she could never afford to send her six children to school. Before his arrest, Shahbuddine told me, he performed odd jobs at weddings—including that of a washer and waiter—in Faridabad, Haryana. Farman lives with his family in a jhuggi in Delhi’s Wazirabad area. He told me he was the sole earner of the family and like Shahbuddine, he also worked at weddings.

According to Shahbuddine, personnel from the Khajuri Khas police station picked him up on the night of 9 March. “I was on the road, returning from work, when the police came,” Shahbuddine said. The personnel asked for his identification details, such as his name and address, he said. Shahbuddine told me he offered to give these details on the road itself, but the police forcibly took him to the station. “They punched and kicked me on the road while taking me,” he said.

In custody, the police accused him of rioting and looting. Shahbuddine said he denied their allegations and told them he was in Faridabad at the time of the violence. According to Shahbuddine, other inmates at the station told him that the policemen were drunk. He said that the policemen’s demeanour suggested this was true. “They kept slapping me and they abused me,” he said, before adding that his lip and tongue began to bleed. “There was blood on my shirt and it tore.” Shahbuddine said that the police personnel made remarks like, “Bhenchodo tumne dange kiye the”—You fuckers created riots. Shahbuddine added, “I had a tabeez”—talisman—“around my neck, they broke that. They took my medicine also.” The next day, he said, he was presented in the Karkardooma district court as an accused in the FIR Number 103. After the hearing, he was sent to Delhi’s Mandoli jail.

A few days later, at Mandoli jail, Shahbuddine said, some officials informed him that he was also named an accused in the case of Khan’s murder. According to him, his family had resided in the same neighbourhood as Khan in the past, and that his father was acquainted with the deceased. Shahbuddine said he informed the officials of this and said, “Janaab, musalmaan musalmaan ka murder thodi kardega”—Sir, a Muslim will not murder a Muslim. Tabassum also made a similar remark. “How could my son kill a fellow Muslim in Hindu-Muslim riots?” she said.

Adbul Ghaffar, Shahbuddine’s lawyer, told me that the police had cited a video as a basis of Shahbuddine’s arrest, but it “was never shared with us.” At one point of time, Shahubddine said, some officials at the Mandoli jail showed him a video of the riots and asked to identify people in it, but he could not do so. He did not remember the date of this interaction. According to Shahubddine, officials asked him to sign a document—he did not know what it said, but he put his thumb impression on the document.

Shahbuddine said that jail officials beat him brutally once in jail—he did not remember when this incident took place. According to Shahbuddine, an official falsely accused him of adding insects to the food, after which his hands were tied together with a rope and so were his feet. Shahbuddine said that the officials then bound his arms and calves to a lathi suspended between two chairs, such that he was hanging from it, a little above the ground. Then, Shahbuddine said, jail officials rained lathis on his body, including his ankles, for ten minutes. While recounting his time in jail, he said, “I was missing my family. I was crying a lot.”

Farman lives with his family in a jhuggi in Delhi’s Wazirabad area. He told me he was the sole earner of the family and like Shahbuddine, he also worked at weddings. CK VIJAYAKUMAR FOR THE CARAVAN

Farman’s account was similar to that of Shahbuddine. Farman said personnel from the Khajuri Khas police station picked him up from his jhuggi on 9 March 2020. “You Muslims are like this only,” Farman said the cops told him while he was being taken to the police station. He said he was presented before a magistrate the next morning. “The policemen also beat me on the stairs of the court complex, threatening me not to utter any word in front of the judge,” Farman told me. He was then lodged in Mandoli jail.

Like Shahbuddine, Farman said he found out about the murder accusation against him a few days later. Farman told me that at the Mandoli jail, some two or three officials—who did not work at the jail complex—came to inform him of FIR Number 119. According to Farman, the officials then asked him to identify people in a video, but he did not know anyone. Then, he said, the officials asked him to sign a document. Farman told me the officials then kicked and slapped him for thirty minutes, while verbally abusing him. “I wasn’t able to take it, so I signed. I thought I’ll at least escape this,” Farman said.

Even for the rest of his stay, Farman said, officials regularly “harassed” him and the other Muslims accused of participating in the Delhi violence. According to Farman, in one instance, the Hindu men accused of participating in the violence blamed Muslim prisoners for fomenting the Delhi violence, which led to an argument and “almost resulted in a scuffle.” Jail officials then intervened and took the Muslim men, about ten of them, to the “chakkar”—Farman said this was a colloquial name for a particular area in the jail. There, Farman told me, they beat the Muslim men with plastic batons. “Each person was hit at least thirty times,” Farman said.

Further, Farman said, one particular Hindu inmate rained lathis on him and the other Muslim prisoners accused in the Delhi violence to wake them up on multiple mornings. After this, Farman told me, the inmate would direct them to clean toilets by hand, without providing any products to do so. Muslim men accused of participating in the violence were asked to work in the jail more than the Hindus accused, according to Farman. 

Farman said he was in agony in jail. “I used to be very stressed, thinking about how my family must be managing financially,” he said. “We anyway stay on a footpath. Lockdown had been imposed then. People can do a lot of things when their circumstances compel them—I used to worry that what if my mother and sister did something.”

Shahbuddine received bail in FIR Number 119 from the Delhi High Court on 4 June and in FIR Number 103 from the Karkardooma district court on 9 June 2021. The Karkardooma district court gave Farman bail in FIR 119 and 103 on 22 June and 19 June, respectively. The court orders granting the men bail in FIR Number 119 shed light on the police’s case against them.

The Delhi High Court’s bail order for Shahbuddine noted that the chargesheet in the case mentioned a video where Khan could be seen lying on the ground. But it did not mention if Shahbuddine was visible in it.

According to the bail order, three individuals who claimed to be witnesses in the case did not make any call to the police-control room, or PCR, on 25 February 2020. The bail order mentioned that even one police personnel who was “allegedly the eye witness of the incident” did not make a PCR call at the time of the incident and only gave his statement on 12 March 2020, after Shahbuddine was arrested.

Statements of two public witnesses—who allegedly saw Shahbuddine rioting—were also recorded before the police under section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, over a month after his arrest. The statement of the first public witness “who had allegedly identified petitioner was recorded on 15.4.2020 i.e. after a lapse of around 40 days and the said witness had not made a PCR call or complained on the day of the incident or even thereafter,” Shahbuddine’s bail order mentioned. Similarly, the statement of the second public witness was recorded on 23 April 2020 “after a lapse of 57 days of the incident and even he had not made any PCR call or complaint on the day of incident or even thereafter.” The bail order noted that both the public witnesses had identified seven Muslim men as rioters in total, five of whom had already been released on bail.

The order mentioned that according to the chargesheet, on 21 March 2020, Shahbuddine was in police custody remand where he admitted that on “25.02.2020 he was involved in the riots with the mob.” Shahbuddine, however, denied this when I asked him about it.

“Keeping in view that there is no direct evidence like CCTV footage etc. coupled with the fact that co-accused of petitioner have already been granted bail, I am of the view that the petitioner deserves to be released on parity as well as on merit,” the order stated. “Without commenting on the merits of the prosecution case, the petitioner is directed to be released.” Shahbuddine said that due to some issues related to bail documents, he was only released on 20 July.

The Karakardooma district court’s order that granted bail to Farman in the case regarding FIR Number 119 comprised similar comments. “It is worthwhile to note here that arrest of applicant in the matter has been effected on 10 March 2020 and till that time no statement of any public witness(es) was recorded against him,” the order mentioned. The first public witness against Shahbuddine was also a witness against Farman. According to the order, the first public witness had approached the police via a complaint on 4 March 2020, but he did not identify Farman at the time. He only identified Farman in his statement to the police, dated 15 April 2020. The bail order mentioned that the second witness against Farman recorded his statement on 18 May 2020 and had not approached or informed the police about the matter till then.

“Investigation in the matter is complete; chargesheet has already been filed; and trial in the matter is likely to take long time on account of Covid-19 pandemic,” the order mentioned. It noted that 10 of the 16 accused in the chargesheet had also been released on bail. The order said that while the special public prosecutor for the case had opposed the bail, he had not been able to establish how Farman’s alleged role in the violence was different from the accused who had been granted bail. The court opined that Farman deserved bail on the ground of parity. The order added that “anything stated hereinabove shall not be construed as expressing any opinion on the final merits of the case.”

In 2020, several Muslim residents of Khajuri Khas, one of the worst-affected areas in the violence, had told The Caravan that Hindu mobs targeted them. The publication reported on 11 March 2020 that “till 7 March, the Delhi Police had registered 693 cases and either detained or arrested 2,193 individuals over the violence. There is no official data on the religious identity of the detainees or the arrested, although inputs from residents, activists and lawyers suggest that Muslim men were taken into custody in large numbers.”