A student. A food seller. A creative producer. A scientist. All they have in common is that they took part in the Citizenship Act protests last winter. Months later, the Delhi Police called them in for questioning in its controversial riots case, which blames the communal violence that took place in India’s capital in February on a conspiracy by Citizenship Act protestors to overthrow the Narendra Modi government. Over 70 protestors have been interrogated in the case. Below is an account by one of them.

Read more about the case which has been described as a witchhunt against protestors here. Read more accounts of those who have been questioned in the case here.

It was, he said, no less than a cruel turn of fate. All that he was in his life was because of the food that he sold in his two hole-in-the-wall food stalls, separated by barely a few metres. One specialised in buff, the other sold only chicken.

Yet, it was the same food that had landed him in front of the Delhi Police’s Special Cell, forcing him to do something he is struggling to live with now.

When the Citizenship Act protests broke out in Delhi, he did not bother joining them. He was far too busy tending to business. But “hamdardi ke tehat” – out of sympathy – he distributed food at two protest sites, he said. “A lot of people were distributing food out of hamdardi,” he said. “So, I also did it.”

That was his extent of involvement in the protests, he insisted.

But a policeman still landed up from the local thana at his house at the peak of the coronavirus-induced lockdown, asking him to report at the Special Cell’s Lodhi Road office the next day.

‘If you want to be free, you have to give a statement’

There, he said, the police “tortured” him a lot, constantly subjecting him to pressure, although, he clarified, it was never physical. “Yeh kar denge, wo kar denge. We will do this, we will do that. We will implicate you in the riots,” he recalled his interrogators saying.

Then there were also more pointed questions: “What was your role in the riots?”

“I had no role at all,” he reportedly told them. “There were no riots in our area. All of us, Hindus and Muslims, prevented it. For days, we stood vigil and did not let any outsiders inside our locality. So, what role can I possibly have?”

But his interrogators would have none of it. “They would call me every third day and torture me, make me sit there all day. I went around eight-nine times.”

The police would invoke his family, his children, he alleged. “They said ‘bol do bhai, nahi to tumhare bacche bohot pareshan ho jayenge. Your children will really suffer if you don’t speak up.’”

The police allegedly threatened to implicate him in the riots case. “They would say ‘bacchna chahte ho to isme statement dena padega. If you want to be free, you have to give a statement.’ They would put a lot of pressure on me.”

Finally, after several days of this ordeal, he said he agreed to be a witness and give a statement dictated by the police. “I said what they told me to – I had no choice,” he said. “There was no help available as everything was shut. Even the courts were shut for me to go there for help.”

“They did everything in the lockdown so that people couldn’t help each other,” he added.

Scroll.in has emailed questions to Delhi Police about these allegations but they are yet to respond.

Identical line

In his statement before the magistrate recorded under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code, reviewed by Scroll.in, the food seller testifies to have heard one of the organisers of a protest in North East Delhi say that they would “do a chakka band that would lead to riots” coinciding with United States President Donald Trump’s visit to the capital.

Several witness statements filed as part of the chargesheet in the main riots conspiracy case by the Delhi Police carry an almost identical line.

“They tutored me for two days, made me memorise the statement,” said the food seller. “Yet, I only ended up saying only 50% of what they said because I just did not remember.”

He feels guilty about making the statement and implicating someone who he knows is innocent. “But I just did not have a choice,” he rued. “They would say: ‘If we charge you in the riots case your family would be destroyed – you’ll be in for at least five years without any hearing.’”

“No one is fighting for the truth. What is happening is open goondaraj,” the food seller concluded.

Read the entire series here.