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.