Delhi Riots: Son in Jail Since March, Poor Muslim Family Struggles to Make Both Ends Meet

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Mohd Iqbal was detained on the evening of March 8.

EXCLUSIVE REPORT

Activists have said that the Delhi police are hounding innocent people and leaving out those who instigated and participated in the riots

Zafar Aafaq | Clarion India

NEW DELHI — Like other lanes, this one is also gated to keep its poor inhabitants safe from communal violence, just a spark away. A little ahead, an alley leads to the two-room home of Mohd Wasim in Chandu Nagar locality of North East Delhi. The front door is missing. The entry is gated by a large white polypropylene sack.

It is afternoon. The space is dimly lit with poor ventilation. Wasim’s two sons and his daughter are asleep on a mat under a ceiling fan. Their mother Jannat is fiddling with toys.  The eldest son Mohd Iqbal, 24, is in jail.

Iqbal was detained on the evening of March 8 this year. That day at around 8 pm, he and his three friends went out to buy meat from a nearby market. On the way, they were intercepted by the police. The police asked them why they were out during curfew time and rounded them up into a police vehicle.

The family was unaware of Iqbal’s whereabouts until the next morning. “When he did not return, we called our relatives and friends to enquire about him but no one confirmed anything.”

At six in the morning, Jannat got a call from the police station about Iqbal’s arrest.

Jannat rushed to the police station but there she was not allowed to meet Iqbal. She waited outside. After some time, the police brought Iqbal out to be taken to the court. That moment, Jannat got a chance to speak with him. Iqbal told Jannat that the police had tortured him. “The police had hit him on his feet,” she said. “He was crying.”

Since then, Iqbal has been lodged in Mandoli Jail located near the Delhi-UP border near Ghaziabad in connection with the Delhi riots.

Iqbal is among the hundreds of young men who were arrested in cases related to Delhi riots that took place in late February this year and claimed over 50 lives, majority of them Muslims.

Police photograph burnt properties owned by Muslims in a riot affected area, New Delhi, March 2, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Activists have said that the Delhi police are hounding innocent people and leaving out those who instigated and participated in the riots. The rioters committed large-scale arson setting ablaze homes of Muslims and mosques. There was also violence in retaliation by Muslim youth during the riots. But Iqbal’s family says their son is innocent.

When Iqbal was arrested, the police charged him with involvement in rioting. Three months later, on June 10, the court granted Iqbal bail against a surety bond of Rs 20,000.

The family did not have a fixed account to submit as surety. It was then that a few local activists who arranged Rs 20,000 through crowd-funding and opened a fixed account in Jannat’s name.

“After we got money, we were happy that our son was coming home,” Jannat recounted.

But when Wasim went to jail with the bail order to fetch his son, he was shocked when jail authorities told him that Iqbal would not be released. They asserted that there was another case against him, a case of murder. Wasim had to return home dejected.

His family says the cases against Iqbal are fabricated. “During the days of rioting, he was at home all the time,” Jannat claims. “I did not allow him to go out.”

She recounts the night when violence broke out in their locality. “We heard gunshots at 2 am. We later came to know that Hindu youths had come to our area to attack Muslims. They fired bullets, one of which hit a Muslim migrant worker in his chest,” she says.

A month before the riots, Iqbal had returned from Bangalore where he worked for a catering agency. Jannat says that Iqbal was helping the family, paying rent of their house.

The family hails from Bhagalpur, Bihar and has been living in Delhi for the last several years. Wasim works at a restaurant in Chand Bagh where he washes dishes. “He earns Rs 300-400 per day,” Jannat says, “But you know we are facing a lot of problems without Iqbal.”

The migrant workers living in the area went to their respective villages during the lockdown but Iqbal’s family chose to stay back. “We are a poor family, we do not have the influence or money to get our son released.” Jannat says they visited the local lawmaker Haji Younus a few times for help but he has been dodging them with different excuses.

For several weeks, Iqbal had no lawyer at all. His illiterate parents did not know about lawyers taking up riots-related cases without charging any fee. An activist who is assisting the family put out a tweet about Iqbal’s case. Anas Tanweer, a well-known Supreme Court lawyer saw the tweet and decided to take up the case.

Thick smoke billowed in the air and mobs roamed unchecked through the streets, pelting stones, vandalising shops and threatening locals, as fresh violence broke out in northeast Delhi on February 26. — AP

During the lockdown, the family received relief material from a group of workers put together by local youths and activists. Now as the lockdown has eased, the help from volunteers has also stopped. “We are struggling a lot. We want Iqbal back. He is our support,” says Jannat.

Allegations of Murder

When Iqbal’s father went to jail, he learnt that the police have charged his son with a second case–being part of a mob that allegedly caused the death of a person during the riots and have filed an FIR against him.

Even after the bail, the police did not give a copy of the FIR to the family or Iqbal’s lawyers. “Even after numerous requests, we did not get it from the police. Fortunately, we got it from a lawyer handling similar cases,” said his lawyer Chandan Goswami, who represents Iqbal alongside Tanwir.

He said the state always knew there were two FIRs against Iqbal. “The state filed a reply in the first bail application and nowhere in that reply did they say a second FIR has been lodged against him and he is in their custody in that case. It should be the duty of the state to come out clean with facts before the court or at least inform the family.”

Chandan said that the authorities must explain why this crucial fact was concealed from the family and court. “The case against Iqbal lacks substantial proof, and the state must not hinder the right of an accused to fair trial…for which all facts must be duly stated before court.”

According to Chandan, the police presented an independent witness who claimed to have identified the accused in the riot. “But the witness has recorded his statement two months after the incident. There is a possibility that the witness may have misidentified him. Our argument is that he was at home.”

The lawyers applied for the bail in the second case but it was rejected by the sessions court.

Now they have moved the High Court to appeal against the sessions court order. The case is yet to be taken up for hearing.

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