He would often act as an interlocutor to resolve disputes in his locality. His neighbours would come to him with their issues to use his influence in government
Zafar Aafaq | Clarion India
NEW DELHI — In her barely audible voice, Javeria is muttering ‘Papa, Papa’. Doctors have described her condition as bad; her liver is damaged, the food pipe has ulcers all over. She vomits whatever she eats and encounters repeated loose motions.
“Since last one month, she has been lying in bed and has not eaten anything,” says Nisha, her mother, sitting by her bedside.
“She is longing for her father.”
Rais Ahmad, 48, a resident of Chauan Banger locality in Delhi’s North East, has been languishing in jail since late April when he was first summoned and arrested by the police who first charged him with rioting and then with murder but the family says the charges are baseless.
“They have held him under rioting and murder charges,” says son Moiz. “But my father is a peace-loving man.”
On the afternoon of April 21, two policemen came to their home but Rais was out for some work. “They asked that the new SHO of Jaffarabad Police station wanted to see him.”
Rais was a go-to man for the police and local politicians whenever there was a communal conflagration in his area. He would often act as an interlocutor to resolve disputes in his locality. His neighbours would come to him with their issues to use his influence in government. “He was close to even BJP leaders,” Moiz says. “Sartaj (Ahmad) uncle, who fought as a councillor as a BJP candidate here is his best friend.”
So, summoning by the police was not a source of worry for Rais or his family. Next morning, accompanied by Sartaj, he went to the police station. For the first few hours at the police station, he was in contact with the family via phone. “They were asking him to identify the faces from the CCTV footage of the riots,” recalls Moiz. “They told him he will be allowed to go home in the evening.”
But that did not happen. Instead, the police held him in lockup at the station for three days. They named him in a rioting case and then shifted him to Delhi’s Mandoli jail.
The riots broke out in the last week of February. More than 50 people were killed, a majority of them Muslims in the worst communal violence that convulsed the national capital. Hindu mobs rampaged through the streets in Muslim neighbourhoods, burning whatever came their way–homes, shops, mosques. The police were accused of acting as spectators or in some cases aiding the mob.
There was also violence in retaliation by Muslim youths during the riots. In one such instance, a mob beat a Hindu man named Vinod Kumar to death in Chauan Banger on February 24 night. According to the complaint by Kumar’s son Nitin in FIR dated March 28, a mob of 100 men chanting “Allah u Akbar” attacked the duo while they were out on motorcycle to fetch medicines.
While the complaint does not name Rais or anyone, the police say he has been found in one CCTV footage from a camera installed at the corner of the lane where he lives. He is seen carrying a stick. But his family denies that he was part of any mob and says that he was standing briefly to disperse children of the locality who were roaming around while the situation was tense. “He snatched a stick from one of the children to shove them away,” says Moiz. “The murder happened half a kilometre from where my father was standing.”
The police have also booked Rais under Section 302 for murder but the family questions the way he has been “framed”.
When Rais was arrested in April, the police named him in FIR on charges of rioting. After a month, he was allowed to go home on parole as per directions of the High Court in view of the coronavirus situation in jails. He spent Ramzan Eid with family.
But the stay at home proved a short sojourn. In early August, while his parole was expected to be extended, he got a call from the police to present himself before the crime branch “for the purpose of investigation on August 4”. When he went there, he was arrested and put in jail once again.
Several rights groups have accused the Delhi Police of doing biased investigations, falsely implicating and jailing Muslim men in anti-Muslim riots. Activists said the police were forcing Muslim men to act as witnesses and produce statements to manufacture evidence against those they have arrested.
But a court in Karkardooma rejected his bail once, though his lawyer Anwar Siddique, who took over the case three weeks back, feels they have a good case and is pretty sure of securing bail for Rais. “We are waiting for copy of the charge-sheet,” Siddique told Clarion India.
Rais’ family is also baffled over the police conduct. They say he is being implicated for his “good work in which he was helping police”.
“Rais has committed no crime. We expect the court to dismiss the case against him and set him free,” says his brother-in-law. “How can they hold a man in jail who has worked so much for communal harmony in this area.”
His son recalls one instance from riots when “Rais took out buckets of water from his home to douse the fire when some boys tried to set fire to a cycle tyre shop run by a Hindu.”
The family has collated photos and videos showing Rais in social events and peace marches alongside police officers. In one such video, he is seen leading people and police officers duirng a search conducted in the area in the immediate aftermath of the riots.
They have also printed details of the calls and messages sent by Rais to the Delhi Police helpline number on the first night of riots. The police had also acknowledged his calls.
His identity cards of a locality association called ‘Aman Committee’ issued by the police is a testimony to his involvement in keeping peace in the area.
“We would often try to discourage him from getting involved in public matters and focus on earning for the family,” Nisha, his wife, says. “But he would try to convince us saying he is also known to BJP leaders”. The family has also preserved a photograph of Rais with Manoj Tiwari, the politician who was BJP’s CM candidate in Delhi elections held weeks before riots.
She is running a home-based tailoring venture to sustain her family.
But Rais’s absence is tough for her to endure. “He is the caretaker of this family. He is the guardian of my children.”
All these issues aside, Nisha’s own health issues are making things worse for the family. She suffers from heart condition and often finds herself in need of medical attention. Last week, she visited a doctor who advised some medicine but she did not buy all of them because of financial constraints. “I thought if I spent money on my medicines, what would be left for my children?.”
Some days ago, when the condition of her daughter worsened, Nisha made a call to the jail and informed Rais about it. “I told him your daughter is battling for life; if she dies in your absence, I will not be able to bear that regret and you will never forgive me.”
(Names of family members, except Rais Ahmad’s, have been changed on request)