Of the scores of horrific video clips in circulation of the anti-Muslim violence that engulfed large parts of North East Delhi a month ago, one piece of mobile-phone footage has been indelibly seared into our collective memories. Even a country habituated to seeing Muslim victims of lynchings being filmed by their attackers was stunned at the sight of the assailants in this video – men in police uniform.
The clip shows five severely injured men, lying on the street, being beaten by policemen as they loudly order them to sing the national anthem. One of the five, Faizan, is slumped to the side, unconscious. He died on February 27, two days after the attack.
An injured Rafiq, lying on his back, sings the national anthem as the police prod him with lathis, asking him to do better. One of policemen bends down, capturing the incident on a mobile phone, his visor coming into the frame as he takes a close-up of Rafiq.
Thirty-year-old Kausar Ali, lies holding his stomach, bleeding profusely from his head, neck and knees. Another policeman bends down to grab 18-year-old Mohmmad Farhan, lifting his head by his hair, before smashing it on the ground.
The youngest, Wasim, just 17, in a black t-shirt and yellow shoes, lies injured as two policemen threaten to beat him again their lathis. A different clip of the same incident shows them raining blows on Wasim’s back and legs.
In all the clips the policemen are heard swearing at the men, asking them to chant Vande Matram, a poem to Mother India. “You live in India but you want azadi,” one of policemen says. The taunt referring to the popular slogan that gained currency during the nationwide protests against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act.
The victims cry out, repeatedly begging the policemen, “We are also Indians, please stop.”
A month later there has been no investigation, no explanations offered by police, leave alone starting an inquiry that would hold the assailants accountable. This is despite the fact that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) cited this specific case in its petition in the Delhi High Court on the role of the police during the riots.
The two FIRS related to the assault do not seem like they are framed to an investigation. Rather, they are directed at burying the possibility of any investigation.
One relates to Faizan’s death at Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan hospital on February 27, and does not even detail the violence that caused it. The second FIR describes the attack by the policemen as an “assault by a mob during the protest near Kardampuri”. It includes the name of a man who is not among the five captured on the video.
This attempt to omit the details of the assault is symptomatic of the manner in which the police are dealing with the investigation into the violence that occurred in New Delhi over those few days. This is why, even as India is engulfed by the coronavirus crsis, the video must not be allowed to recede from public attention.
All five men in the video were residents of North East Delhi’s Kardampuri, a sprawling, largely Muslim-inhabited neighbourhood, that leads into Kardampuri Extension and Kardampuri Village.
‘We couldn’t help each other’
A week after the assault, Kausar Ali, who works as a painter, remarked on the tragic irony of the events that brought the five men together in the same video. “We are from Kardampuri but we don’t know each other,” he said. “All of us came within reach of the police at much the same time so we got dragged, pulled and beaten together. We couldn’t help each other. The ones who are alive feel it’s a miracle.”
One of the main entrances to Kardampuri is across a bridge over the Shahdara drain. Close to this entrance, along the wall of the drain, was the makeshift tent that housed a women’s protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Since January 15, the women of Kardampuri had been sitting in solidarity with hundreds of similar protests across the city and other parts of the country.
On February 24, a mob of Hindu men, chanting “Jai Shri Ram” crossed the bridge, pelting stones say witnesses at the site, including journalists at the site. Their target was the protest site. For some days before to this, residents say, men on motorbikes had been driving over the bridge to the protest site, shouting threatening slogans and chanting “Jai Shri Ram”. But no one expected the kind of violence that was finally unleashed.
According to people who were present at the time, the mob’s first target was the protest site and those around it. The residents of Kardampuri hurled stones at the attackers to try to drive them back. They were able to stop the mob from entering the lanes of Kardampuri. Though they prevented their homes from being damaged, the police fired teargas in the alleys.
On hearing about the mob, three of the five men on the video, Faizan, Wasim and Rafiq rushed out separately as they feared for the safety of their mothers, who were at the protest site. That is when the police rounded them up, along with Mohammad Farhan and Kausar Ali.
Recalling the panic of the moment, Wasim’s mother, Shamim said, “The teargas was blinding and I could barely breathe, somehow I reached home but the police got hold of my boy.” A month after the violence, she had to help her son to sit up. Wasim, who worked in a jeans shop at the Gandhi Nagar market, has been unable to walk properly since the attack.
After having watched the mobile footage of the attack once, Wasim was unable to bring himself to look at it again. The video doesn’t capture the extent of the violence,” he said. “It doesn’t show the police shoving lathis down our mouths, trying to choke us. It doesn’t show them kicking our groins. What we suffered was far worse than what you see on the videos.”
After the police assault, Wasim says, a police Gypsy took them to Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital in East Delhi. There, after a perfunctory few hours of medical attention, they were discharged. Along with Faizan and Rafiq, Wasim was taken to the Jyoti Nagar police station. He doesn’t remember what happened to the other two but he was released only the next afternoon, on February 25, when his mother came to fetch him.
The night at the police station is what probably cost Faizan his life, but his family has been given no explanations for the delay in releasing him.
Kismatun, Faizan’s mother has been the most vocal. “I have lost my son,” she has asked all those who came to comfort her. “What else can they take? My life?”
Faizan’s case was reported shortly after his death by journalists, in most telling detail in the Huffington Post by journalist Anumeha Yadav.
Kismatun said that for much of the day after the violence started, she had no idea of what happened to her son. In the evening she was informed by the police that Faizan, after being taken to Guru Teg Bahadur hospital, was at the police station, along with Rafiq.
She went to the police station twice, begging them to release Faizan but the police would not relent, “What enmity could the police have with me to do this to a mother,” asked Kismatun. “Did they want Faizan dead?”
Finally, around midnight, with the violence still raging around them, Kismatun and Rafiq’s mother, Salma, went back to the Jyoti Nagar police station. “The Muslims were too scared to step out,” she said. ‘A Hindu autorickshaw driver who lives in Kardampuri helped us reach the thana.”
By the time Kismatun got Faizan home “he was like a living corpse”, she said – “black and blue from head to toe, unable to eat, drink or sit up”.
Dr Khaliq Ahmed, who runs a clinic in the neighbourhood,asked the family to rush Faizan to hospital as soon as he saw him.
At the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, the authorities initially refused to admit Faizan as there was a medico-legal case relating to him already pending in Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital. By the time they were persuaded to treat him, life had all but drained from Faizan’s body. He died in hospital that night.
At the Jyoti Nagar police station, Station Head Officer Shalindra Tomar told Scroll.in that the assault on the five men occurred outside his jurisdiction so the case was registered at Bhajanpura. But he Bhjajanpura police claimed the men present when the medico-legal case was filed were from Jyoti Nagar so came under their jurisdiction.
When Tomar was asked why Faizan and Rafiq were kept for a day at the thana, he was initially reluctant to speak. He went on to claim that the police had actually acted to save them. According to him, his Gypsy patrol found these men lying injured and took them to hospital. Since no family members could come to pick them, he said that the police took them to the thana to keep them safe.
It is a version that’s been contradicted by Faizan and his mother but Faizan’s testimony was never properly recorded. The other men, especially the younger ones, do not want to challenge the police version. They live with the constant fear of police reprisals.
As Rafiq spoke to Scroll.in, his mother Salma, asked him to be quiet on the role of the police. “We don’t want any trouble,” he said. “We already have a person from the thana coming to question us constantly.”
Rafiq avoided talking about the night at the Jyoti Nagar thana as he recalled the hadsa, (incident). But he recalled, “I kept trying to sing the national anthem until I fell unconscious.”
A month later, his head still ached and his eyes watered. The stitching unit where he worked shut down due to the coronavirus threat. But even if it were open, he says he would be unable to do any work.
“If only my son had not rushed out to try and save me, he would have been spared this trauma,” said Salma.
Unlike Rafiq, Faizan or Wasim, Kausar Ali was not rushing out but was returning home from India Gate when he got caught up in the violence. “Suddenly I felt a policeman push me to the ground,” he said. “I fell literally on top of a young boy. The thrashing was severe, the abuses blood curling. I think they wanted us dead.”
His injuries to the spine were so severe that he was still in a cast when he spoke to Scroll.in. “There is physical pain and then there is the trauma that comes from the realisation that those who beat us, who almost tried to kill us were policemen,” he said.
Kausar also remembered a Gypsy taking them to Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital. Later in the day, he was discharged and made his way home in an auto. “I was still bleeding but lucky to have survived,” he said. “At the time I did not know what happened to the other boys.”
His wife Zehrunissa, recalls someone from an NGO coming to visit the home and finding Kausar unable to walk or sit up. They arranged proper medical treatment in the orthopedic department at St Stephens’ hospital where Kausar stayed from February 29 to March 13.
His son Tariq still had to help him sit up. Kausar was the main earning member in his family and Tariq would supplement the family income but he was on contract. Now, the coronavirus lockdown has put an end to Tariq’s work while Kausar is not sure he’ll ever be fit to work as a painter.
“My youngest son has a mental disability, I have to support him and my family,” he said. Zehrunissa added, “At the moment we are living on people’s charity and Rs 20,000 that came from the Sub-Divisional Magistrate but how long will this last?”
The fear and trauma from the assault has made Mohammad Farhan reluctant to meet anyone. Farhan lives with his three brothers, his sister and his widowed mother.
Over the past month, the family has not left Farhan alone for a moment, urging him to push away the memory of that day from his mind. It has not been possible. He rarely steps out of the room. “Often when I fall asleep I feel I can see a policeman pulling me up by my hair and then letting go so that my head falls violently on the ground, just as it did that day,” he said. “And I wake up with a start.”
He added: “Insaaf [justice] is a big word for us. Who do we seek justice from? The police that beat us? By the grace of God I survived, all I want now is for the pain and fear to leave me.”
Farhan’s younger sister asks a question that would be absurd if it were not so poignant: “How could the policemen ask them to sing the national anthem after beating them to the ground? You have to stand up as a mark of respect to sing Jana Gana Mana.”
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