“Muslim children go to school & sing Jana Gana Mana like everyone else. But not like this, not the way these policemen were doing it. Who are they to test us?” The mother of a teen, one of five Muslims brutalised by the police during 2020 Delhi riots, narrates her long, hard quest for justice
New Delhi: Wasim, 17, learned the national anthem in class 2 and sang it every day during the morning assembly at the Mala Devi Nagar Nigam school in Babarpur in northeast Delhi. That and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s Vande Mataram. It was a routine that continued at the Government Boys Senior Secondary School, where he studied till class 10.
Wasim recalled singing it twice, while he was lying on the road, bloodied and gravely injured, encircled by policemen who demanded it of him to “prove” his patriotism.
Videos of the “national anthem” hate crime near the Kardampuri bridge on 66 Foota Road went viral—showing policemen beating, abusing and hurling anti-Muslim slurs—but the Delhi Police claim they have not identified any of the policeman involved.
Wasim was luckier than 24-year-old Faizan, one of the men lying alongside him on the road, who died as a consequence of the beating and a two-day, illegal detention at the Jyoti Nagar Police Station without any proper medical care.
“I did not feel things like shame while I was lying on the road,” said Wasim, sitting cross-legged and speaking softly at his home in Kardampuri, a Muslim-dominanted neighbourhood in northeast Delhi. “I was in too much pain.”
“I could not think of anything except getting out of there, and praying for the beating to stop,” said Wasim. “I was just thinking about saving my life. I wanted to get out of there alive.”
‘Who Are The Police To Test Us?’
Wasim’s mother Shamim, 35, wants to know why the police attacked the boys, why they thought it appropriate to force them, as Muslims, to sing the national anthem.
“Muslim children go to school and sing Jana Gana Mana like everyone else. There is no problem in singing it. But not like this. Not the way these policemen were doing it. Who are they to test us?,” she said. “We may be poor but we are good people. We deserve to be treated with respect as much as anyone else. Why this difference between Hindus and Muslims? Do we not have the same blood?”
Wasim’s parents say that their son is a shell of his former self, a withdrawn, fearful teenager who rarely speaks about what happened.
“I cannot watch the videos,” said Wasim. “A feeling of terror runs through my whole body.”
“What effect will something so terrible have on the mind of the child?” said Shamim. “Is anyone asking this? Does anyone care? Who is responsible for this?”
Mehmood Pracha, Wasim’s lawyer—himself the subject of a police raid widely criticised as violating the rule of law, as Article 14 reported—referred to the policeman visible in the videos. “Yet the police are still to identify a single one (of their own),” said Pracha. “What does that tell you? It is clear that the police are completely biased.”
No Progress With Appeals
Dissatisfied with the generic tone of the first information report (FIR) registered in his son’s case, Wasim’s father, 42-year-old Attaullah, said that he filed a complaint with senior officials of Delhi Police on 21 July, and a complaint at the Jyoti Nagar Police Station on 17 September.
When there was no response, Attaullah said he moved the court of Metropolitan Magistrate Viplav Dabas in the Karkardooma district court complex on 18 November for the registration of a FIR under section 156 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
The court asked for an “action taken report” from the police on 8 December, but the police were yet to respond, Pracha said.
A hearing was scheduled for 11 January, but Attaullah said the magistrate was on leave and the matter was rescheduled to 23 March. Pracha said that they planned to move an application for an early hearing.
The Delhi Police report to Home Minister Amit Shah.
Rajesh Deo, a senior Delhi police officer who heads the legal cell, refused to comment on the failure to identify policemen in the video. He said the investigation was “ongoing”.
Packaging A Hate Crime In Patriotism
When he heard that rioting had started on the afternoon of 24 February, Wasim went to look for his mother who was at a sit-in protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019, which critics say makes religion the basis of granting Indian citizenship.
When he was looking for his mother amid the stone pelting near the Kardampuri bridge, Wasim said a tear gas shell landed next to him and he fainted. When he came around, the police had grabbed him.
Wasim said that he and four other Muslims were punched, kicked, and beaten with rifle butts and batons for at least 30 minutes before they were thrown into a police vehicle and driven to the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital for first-aid.
In one video that captures the beating, Wasim is seen with blood on his face as a policeman stands on his foot and slams his baton on his back.
“I was hit with a rifle butt on my head as well,” he said. “The blows rained down. It was not possible to say anything, to explain anything,
except beg for mercy.”
“You are beating them, abusing them, telling them to sing Jana Gana Mana,” Shamim added. “What is the meaning of this? How can a mother bear this? I dare them to have beaten my son in front of me. My heart is exploding with anger. When I saw him in the video, I felt fire inside me.”
A gravely-injured Faizan was only released on the night of 25 February, despite his 61-year-old mother Kismatun’s repeated visits to the police station. His parents believe Wasim was released on the night of 24 February because he is a minor.
Under Indian law, a person suspected of a crime can only be kept in police custody for 24 hours and then has to be produced in front of a magistrate. A minor cannot be kept in police custody. Neither Faizan nor Wasim were suspected of a crime but were injured victims.
On 17 December, Kismatun, represented by lawyer Vrinda Grover, filed a petition in the Delhi High Court, seeking a court-monitored investigation by court-appointed police officers to
identify the policemen responsible for her son’s death. The High Court has ordered the Delhi Police to respond by 1 February.
Of the 53 people who were killed during the riots, 40 were Muslim, as per a Delhi Police affidavit submitted to the Delhi High Court in July, 2020.
Shielding The Real Suspects
The complaint in Faizan’s murder case, FIR 75/2020, was registered at the Bhajanpura Police Station against “unknown persons” on 28 February, and makes no mention of the role of police, which was captured in videos that went viral.
A second complaint —FIR 79/2020 — registered at the Bhajanpura Police Station in connection with the other men injured in the same incident near Kardampuri Bridge, invokes rioting and attempt to murder, but it, too, makes no mention of the role of the police.
“This is a false FIR to shield real culprits,” said Pracha, the lawyer.
The FIRS and the medico-legal report (MLC) for Faizan and Wasim from the GTB Hospital say they were attacked by a mob during the rioting.
Wasim’s MLC from GTB Hospital also has a line that says “I don’t want to get stitches,” and bears a signature in English, but the teenager says that he never refused stitches or signed the document.
In the first week of March, Attaullah, Wasim’s father, said that his son was summoned multiple times to police stations in Bhajanpura, Jyoti Nagar and Daryaganj. “It was mental torture for him,” he said. “We are not criminals. We have no experience dealing with the police. We look at the police and we feel fear.”
The Business Of Living
Wasim dropped out of school after failing to clear his class 10 maths examination. Attaullah found him a job as a salesman in a garment shop, but the teenager has not gone back to work since his brutal beating by the police.
“We have just started thinking of what he can do in life,” said Attaullah. “We are concerned about him. He seems to have lost interest in life.”
Attaullah, a father to three boys and one girl, says Wasim suffered from a head injury and it cost Rs 50,000-60,000 to get him treated at a private hospital. His son, Attaullah said, is still suffering physically and needs medicines to manage the pain.
His family is going through a financially difficult time, Attaullah added. He lost his job as an electrician in 2019, Wasim never went back to work, and the last earning member of the family, his eldest son, lost his job as an office boy amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Neither time nor the pandemic has dulled the anger that Shamim feels about what happened to Wasim on 24 February.
“What they did was not just wrong, it was very wrong. It was the worst,” she said. “Did they not think that we are beating someone else’s children. Does anyone speak to children like that?”
Attaullah believes that the guilty policemen will be identified and punished.
“It might take a long time but I believe that we will get justice,” he said. “I’m just happy that he is alive. So many others were not so lucky. There is a lot of sorrow in our community.”
(Betwa Sharma is an independent journalist who covers politics and civil liberties. She was the politics editor at HuffPost India.)