Amid lockdown, Delhi Police target and arrest anti-CAA protesters from Jamia Nagar

On 24 March, the police dispersed protesters and cleared the site of the Shaheen Bagh anti-CAA protest. The Delhi police are targeting people who were involved in the protests. Biplov Bhuyan / Hindustan Times / Getty Images
15 April, 2020

In the first week of April, the Delhi Police arrested at least two Muslim residents of Jamia Nagar who had participated in the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. A third Jamia Nagar resident received a notice to appear at a police station and was later told that he, too, could be arrested. Social activists from Shaheen Bagh and Jamia Nagar told me that the police had been targeting protesters across southeast Delhi since the anti-CAA protests began, in mid-December. According to them, the ongoing lockdown to fight COVID-19 has become an opportunity for the police to track down and arrest the protesters. 

Ashu Khan, a resident of Jamia Nagar, was called to the Shaheen Bagh police station on 4 April. He had participated in the anti-CAA protests at Shaheen Bagh. According to his lawyers, Asthar Khan and Najmi Khan, the police arrested him when he reached the station. They said Ashu was arrested in connection with three first information reports registered at the Jamia Nagar, New Friends Colony and Shaheen Bagh police stations, respectively. “He has got interim bail for 45 days in one of the cases, we have applied for bail in the other two cases,” Asthar told me. “After four days in remand, he was sent to judicial custody.”   

Najmi said that Ashu is a lawyer, a social worker and a local politician, though he is not associated with any political party. The FIR registered at the Jamia Nagar police station named seven people, including Ashu and three students from Jamia Millia Islamia. It is dated 16 December 2019, the day after the Delhi Police cracked down on anti-CAA student protests inside Jamia with brute force and heavy tear-gas shelling within the university. The FIR is registered in connection with “offences” committed on 15 December.

The second FIR, registered at the New Friends Colony police station, is also dated 16 December, and similarly registered for “offences” committed the previous day. The FIRs are registered under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including unlawful assembly, mischief by fire and explosive substances, assault or use of criminal force against a public servant, and attempt to commit culpable homicide. The jail term could be up to seven years, for an attempt to commit culpable homicide. Both FIRs also include offences under the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984.

The FIR at the New Friends Colony police station also mentions that buses and public property near Mata Ka Mandir, in the NFC area, were set ablaze. “The CCTV clips of the incident would show that Ashu Khan and others mentioned in the FIR have nothing to do with this. Rather, they raise doubt on what the police was doing there,” Asthar told me.

The third FIR, at the Shaheen Bagh police station, is dated 24 March and registered under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. It is filed against Ashu and several others, including women, for continuing the road blockade and sit-in at Shaheen Bagh despite a Delhi government order on 22 March, announcing a lockdown and prohibiting demonstrations. The protest site was cleared by the police and paramilitary forces on 24 March. 

Meeran Haider, another resident of Jamia Nagar, had participated in the anti-CAA protest at Jamia. Haider is a PhD student at Jamia, and the president of the Delhi unit of the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s youth wing. On 31 March, the Delhi Police’s special cell sent him a notice pertaining to “FIR no 59/2020.” The notice said, “In connection with the investigation, you are requested to join the investigation on 01.04.2020 at 10 AM at office of Special Cell, Lodhi Colony, New Delhi.” It added, “If you fail to appear, appropriate legal action will be taken against you. This may be treated as urgent.”

According to media reports, Haider was subsequently arrested. The Press Trust of India reported a statement from his lawyer, who said that he was arrested for “allegedly hatching a conspiracy to incite communal riots in northeast Delhi.” Several parts of northeast Delhi had witnessed large scale communal violence in the last week of February 2020, with targeted attacks on Muslim communities. On 6 April, a Delhi court extended Haider’s police custody for another nine days. On 15 April, the court sent him to judicial custody for 14 days.

Another protester has received a police notice that he fears may lead to his arrest. Abdul Sattar, a resident of Jamia Nagar, got a notice on 6 April from the Delhi Police’s crime branch office in Chanakyapuri. It was signed by a sub-inspector Minut Singh. The notice similarly asked Sattar to appear at the police station the next day to provide information in relation to an ongoing investigation. “Your presence in the aforesaid case is necessary for the purpose of investigation into the offence reported to have been committed in case FIR no 242/19,” the notice said. This FIR, too, was dated 16 December 2019. It added, “Therefore you are hereby directed to appear before the undersigned on 07.04.2020 … to give such information relating to the said alleged offence, as you may possess.” 

Sattar works as a lab technician at the Al Shifa Speciality Hospital in Jamia Nagar. “They had asked me to be there at 11 am,” Sattar said. “Because of the lockdown, those who were living near the hospital are working extra hours. So I could not go and requested for some time.” Sattar said he was then asked to appear at 3 pm on 8 April. 

“The matter is about the protests that happened near Jamia Milia Islamia on 15 December,” Sattar said. “I have done nothing wrong. I have not engaged in anti-national activity. All I did was to participate in protests, raise slogans and voice my opinion, nothing else. I was just exercising my fundamental right. I had participated in the protest and there is no need to lie about this.” Referring to the police, he added, “When I told them this over phone, they called me to the police station. Many people here are getting notifications to go to the police station.”

Sattar then went to the crime branch office at Chanakyapuri on 8 April. “Four–five officers were present there when they questioned me,” he said. “They were asking about some incidents of violence that happened on 15 December. I was not present at those locations at that time. I had told them this clearly. But they are denying this. They told me that out of the ten people called for questioning, three people including me will surely be arrested. I told them that I had not done anything wrong or against the interests of the nation. They are pressuring us and falsely implicating people in cases. They are targeting people who had participated in the anti-CAA protests.” 

Sattar said he had also gotten calls from the Jamia Nagar police station asking him to appear for questioning. He added that he was finding it difficult to get legal help or assistance from social activists because of the lockdown.

The day Sattar received the police notice, he said he was at the Shaheen Bagh police station to get a curfew pass and permission to distribute food for people affected by the lockdown. “We were having a hard time getting the permission,” he told me. “They were asking who all had participated in the protests.” 

Other Muslim residents of Shaheen Bagh and Jamia Nagar also told me that they were unable to continue relief work for those suffering from the lockdown because of harassment and intimidation by the Delhi Police. An activist, who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity, said that he feared that he would also be arrested soon. “Officers from the crime branch have come to the area and asking for some of us who were active in the Shaheen Bagh protest,” he said. “The officers are going to houses and creating trouble. Most of us are engaged in relief work, but because we are being hunted like this, we had to stop our work. I have stopped going out now.”

The activist noted that the police had been targeting them since the anti-CAA protests first began in mid-December. “The officers from crime branch were behind some of us right from the beginning of the protest. We got several calls from the crime branch and the local police station during the first week of protests,” he said. But he added that once the protests became popular and got wider support, the police were not able follow through with intimidation or arrests. “They had stopped it, but started it again now,” the activist continued. Wherever the anti-CAA protests were happening, they are targeting and picking up people.”

 The Delhi Police did not respond to a request for comment. According to a report on Scroll, the police also arrested Safoora Zargar, another Jamia student, on 11 April. Zargar is the media coordinator of the Jamia Coordination Committee, a group comprising students and alumni from the university. The Scroll report said that Zargar was accused of obstructing the road near the Jaffrabad metro station during the anti-CAA protests in the area.

I also spoke to Chandan Kumar, a member of the Jamia unit of the All India Students Association. Kumar is also named in an FIR filed at the Jamia Nagar police station. He said he, too, has been getting calls from the Jamia Nagar police station asking for his whereabouts. “They have arrested three people so far,” he said, referring to the Delhi Police. “They are threatening people over phone and calling them to the station.” Referring to the National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register, he added, “The Delhi Police are utilising the lockdown to turn the narrative on anti-NRC-NPR movement into the polarised narrative of the government on citizenship.”