New Delhi: Meeran Haider, Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University PhD scholar and Delhi’s youth wing President of the Bihar-based political party Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD), was first summoned by the Delhi Police Special Cell for questioning on his alleged role in a CAA-NRC protest in Delhi and the Delhi riots. Meeran was later arrested, and after few days of his arrest, Safoora Zargar, another Jamia PhD scholar who was three months pregnant, was also summoned by a special cell of Delhi police. “She too was then arrested on similar charges,” Rizwan Ahmed Khan, an Alumni of Jamia Millia Islamia University told Gulf News.
Rizwan said that Delhi police have slapped 20-21 criminal cases against both Zargar and Haider. “Protesting for our rights is our constitutional right. And we were exactly doing that. Why these arrests? I don’t understand,” added Rizwan.
More arrests to come
Rizwan said that in the days to come, as the investigation proceeds, Delhi police is likely to make more arrests in this connection.
On April 10, 2020, During COVID-19, when India was under lockdown part one, Zargar was charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). She was associated with the Jamia Coordination Committee and was part of the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests organised by the University students in December and January. She was arrested for allegedly leading the anti-CAA protest at Jaffarabad metro station in Delhi in February.
Cryptic and superficial reply
At her bail hearing on April 18, the court said the investigating officer had filed a “cryptic and superficial” reply on her role in the case and told the officer to file a detailed reply for the next hearing. However, her bail was later denied after more stringent charges were added to the FIR. She is currently lodged in Delhi’s Tihar Jail.
After Zargar’s arrest, her sister Sameeya wrote an open letter to her, describing the period of Safoora’s arrest as a ‘slow death’.
Khan told Gulf News that Zargar’s family is not interested in talking to the media. Her husband, sister and all her family members have switched off their phones, because many people are calling and abusing them.
On the condition of not publishing his name, an assistant professor of Jamia University told Gulf News that Zargar has had pregnancy-related urinary tract infections. “She also has a history of UTI. We were hoping on all these grounds she will be given bail, but that hasn’t happened.”
Another friend of Zargar's told Gulf News that they were hoping she would get bail soon, but because of the lockdown, the entire machinery is moving slowly.
On the other hand, Delhi police maintain that Zargar’s arrest is not arbitrary. “It is not an arbitrary arrest, we have evidence to prove the charges. Rest, the Judiciary will take a call,” a Delhi Police official said on the condition of anonymity.
Haider’s case is related to communal violence in north east Delhi, over the CAA, said his friend, who also didn’t want to be named. Haider too is lodged at Tihar.
Delhi Police has also booked former Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Umar Khalid under the UAPA, said the advocate representing Haider in the case.
The FIR alleged that Khalid had given provocative speeches at two different places and appealed to the citizens to come out on streets and block the roads during the visit of US President Donald Trump to spread “propaganda at international level” about how minorities in India are being treated.
Tolerant protest leader
Gulifsha, an MBA student and a leader of a peaceful protest, was arrested on April 9, 2020, and slapped with the draconian UAPA in connection with North East Delhi violence.
Her co-protesters say that Gulfisha was a leader who preached tolerance, organising a peaceful protest on site.
Gulfisha’s lawyer, Mehmood Paracha, told Gulf News that his client had been falsely implicated in the cases. “And these cases will not stand in a court of law,” Paracha said, adding that the arrest of Gulfisha was a part of a larger conspiracy by Delhi police at the behest of the extremist RSS. Paracha added that getting bail under UAPA is a difficult task.
Waiting for their father
Mohammad Pervez, a 35-year-old motorbike mechanic from Delhi, was also arrested by Delhi police on charges of rioting and murder. Speaking to Gulf News, his younger brother, Kamar Alam, said that police had slapped 22 cases on his brother which include instigating riots and murder. Kamar, a native of Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh, said that his brother was innocent. “On the day of his arrest he went to his house to collect his personal materials. The neighbours informed the police that my brother was involved in riots. Police came and arrested my brother,” said Kamar Alam. He also said his brother was running a motorbike repair shop in the area. He is a father of three children. After his arrest his family is in dire economic straits. Kamar said his brother is lodged in Mandoli jail of Delhi, going through a difficult period of his life.
Mohammad Dilshad Malik, a 40-year-old resident of Bhajanpura area of North East Delhi, was arrested by Delhi Police during the lockdown from his house. His younger brother, Irshad Malik, told Gulf News that his brother was innocent. “He is a heart patient and underwent open heart surgery. How can he instigate crowds to violence?” Irshad asked, adding that police have slapped rioting and murder charges on his brother. A hawker by profession, selling readymade garments on Delhi’s streets, Dilshad is currently lodged in Delhi’s Mandoli jail. His brother said his five children, currently facing economic crisis, are eagerly waiting for his father to return from jail.
No legal representation
Civil society activists have raised questions on the timing of these arrests. A lockdown is in place and according to them, restrictions and social distancing norms mean that those being arrested during the lockdown may not get the legal representation they require. It will also be difficult for the lawyers to venture out during the lockdown and question the police on the arrests.
“While investigating Jamia and North East Delhi riots cases, Delhi police has done its job sincerely and impartially’, the Delhi police tweeted. “All the arrests made have been based on analysis of scientific and forensic evidence, including video footage, technical and other footprints,” it said.
But according to activists, pandemic or not, the fundamental rights guaranteed under the constitution are non-negotiable. It is important that courts intervene and ensure the police does not take advantage of the lockdown to deny people their constitutional rights, they said.
- Adil Khan is a journalist based in New Delhi.