New Delhi: With her son (22-year-old Shahabuddin, the sole bread winner of his family) languishing in Delhi’s Mandoli Jail for over a year in a case related to the February 2020 Delhi riots, 50-year-old Tabassum — a widow with three children to feed — is forced to beg for survival. She was working as a domestic help in her locality, but lost her source of income to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shahabuddin’s case is a tale of despair, with his mother claiming that her son has been detained on false allegations and the two witnesses, whose alleged statements were the basis of his arrest, crying foul against the investigators for recording statements they claim they had never given.
Tabassum, a widow and a mother of five, lives in a rented accommodation at Khajuri Khas in Northeast Delhi. She said that she had moved to Delhi from Chandwara in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district some 20 years ago in search of livelihood. Her husband used to ride a cycle rickshaw before he passed away three years earlier. Even as the family was coping with the loss, another tragic incident hit when she lost her eldest son to an accident just a year later.
In that situation, it was the young Shahabuddin, who took over the responsibility of tending to his family’s financial needs. He was working with a catering company where he used to wash dishes at marriage ceremonies. He was arrested on March 20 last year by the Delhi Police allegedly from Khajuri traffic signal while he was returning home from work.
“As COVID restrictions began to be imposed, his employer (the caterer) sent the workers home after paying their wages. With Rs 6,000 in his pocket, Shahabuddin was returning home from Badarpur (a locality in Southeast Delhi) on foot. He was too tired and exhausted. He stopped near the (Khajuri) red light from where he was picked up by the police,” Tabassum told NewsClick, alleging that her son has been “framed”.
She added, “When I got to know about his detention, I went to the Khajuri Khas Police Station where initially I was not given any information about his whereabouts but they later told that he had been arrested in connection with a murder, which had taken place during the communal violence,” .
According to her, Shahabuddin was not even present in the area when the riots were going on. “He had gone to work much before the riots and was returning almost a month after the deadly violence. How can he be part of a violent mob when he was not physically present in the area?,” she asked.
The matter (FIR No. 119/2020 registered under sections 147, 148, 149, 302 and 34 IPC at Khajuri Khas Police Station) pertains to the brutal murder of Babu Salmani aka Babbu — a resident of Shri Ram Colony at Khajuri Khas. The 34-year-old auto driver was reportedly caught and lynched by a frenzied mob on February 25, 2020, near Khajuri Khas intersection while he was returning home after dropping off passengers.
According to the police, he had left home early in the morning and was not aware that the area had fallen prey to mayhem. The rioters left him only after he fell unconscious, presuming him to be dead. When the police chased the crowd, his elder brother and others from the colony rescued and rushed him to the GTB Hospital where he died after three days.
The father of three young children (eldest among them is just a four-and-a-half-year-old), Salmani was the only bread-winner of his family. His father is paralysed and wife is mentally ill. The family lives in a rented house.
Even after one year, the deceased’s family allege, they do not know the exact reason of the death and the nature of injuries inflicted because the police have not given them the mortem report yet. The victim’s elder brother Pappu Khan said that whenever he goes to the police asking for the same, the police say that the documents are with the Crime Branch.
THE POLICE THEORY
Investigators have alleged in the chargesheet filed in the case on June 16, 2020, that Shahabuddin along with other accused “conspired the riots” and did “sloganeering against the Hindu community”. He was part of the violent mob and “pelted stones at members of another community”. The rioting in which he was allegedly involved resulted in the death of the auto-driver.
The prosecution’s case is based on the “disclosure statement” of the accused extracted during two-day police remand and testimonies of two “eyewitnesses” recorded under Section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
In the purported confession, Shahabuddin has been quoted as saying, “…I make ends meet by driving an auto-rickshaw. I stand by my confession made earlier. I reveal it further that I was involved in the riots, which had broken out on March 25, 2020, at Khajuri Khas. I had also hurled stones during the riots. There was a mob of rioters at the Khajuri Chowk that day. I know few of them, but I don’t know where they live. We used to meet near Khajuri Chowk, and I can get them arrested from areas around it.”
Cops have claimed his “disclosure statement” has been corroborated by his three co-accused namely Shamim, Bharat Bhushan and Tayyab.
Interestingly, the statements of the two “eyewitnesses” (Deepak Kumar and Dalip Sharma) mentioned in the inner case diary (day-to-day record of an investigation) are repeated near identical. Both of them purportedly told the investigators that they “saw large number of people gathered at Khajuri Chowk and indulging in violence. They were carrying lathi, danda and stones in their hands and thrashing people. They were also resorting to stone pelting. Some of them were brutally beating up with lathis and dandas a man lying on the road near the khatta at Khajuri Chowk”.
While Sharma said in his purported testimony that he saw the rioting mob when he was returning from work at around 2 PM on February 25, 2020, Kumar recorded he spotted them at around 1:30-2 PM when he was going to work, according to the statement.
Both of them allegedly told the police that they were caught by the mob, physically assaulted and the money they were carrying was looted. Sharma lost Rs 1,200, while Kumar lost Rs 1,500. However, they somehow managed to escape.
As per the chargesheet, Sharma was caught, thrashed and looted at 2 PM when he was returning from work; the same happened with Kumar when he was returning from work at 8:30 PM. Both suffered injuries (one on right shoulder, while the other on his left eye) when they were attacked with stones.
Notably, none of them got a complaint in this regard registered on the day of incident or a day after. While Sharma lodged a complaint at Khajuri Khas Police Station on March 5, Kumar did it on March 8 last year — after an unexplained delay of 12 and 15 days, respectively.
Both of them have identically said in their statements that they later came to know that “the man who was being brutally beaten up at Khajuri Khas Chowk was someone called ‘Babbu’ who has passed away”.
Further, both of them “identified” four accused each from a “dossier” of few boys they were shown by the police.
The chargesheet was filed on June 16, 2020. The accused was arrested on the basis of alleged statements of Sharma and Kumar recorded on April 15 and 23; whereas, the incident is dated February 25, 2020. Their purported statements that they were present on the spot and had seen the incident and identify the accused is highly unreliable for the reason that neither any complaint was lodged by them nor did they make any PCR calls.
Notably, the delay in recording the statements has not been explained by the investigators anywhere in the chargesheet, raising a doubt upon the prosecution’s story.
Not only that, the glaring similarities in the narration of the incident, with minor differences, by two individuals also leads one to question the veracity of the statements. The police have claimed in the chargesheet that Shahabuddin is an auto-driver, a claim that has been trashed by his family and neighbours. “He does not know driving. He was working with a catering company. Whatever they have said in the chargesheet is nothing but a concocted story,” alleged Tabassum.
NewsClick independently verified her statements with her neighbours and landlord. All of them denied the allegation, reiterating that he was employed with a caterer and that he does not know driving. They also alleged he has been “falsely implicated” in the riots case as he was not in the neighbourhood when the riots were taking place. He returned days after the riots ended, they said.
The statements of the accused have been registered in police custody and are inadmissible by law. In addition, the contradictions in the police chargesheet and omissions in the investigation point to a allegedly botched probe that accuses members of the minority community of killing people from their own community in the middle of a communal riot.
WITNESSES CRY FABRICATION BY POLICE
What is even more shocking is that both the witnesses, on the basis of whose statements the police have arrested Shahabuddin, have accused the investigators of “fabricating” their statements. NewsClick possesses recordings of the two witnesses confirming the same.
“I have not given any statement to the police, neither do I know anyone by the name of Shahabuddin. What has been attributed to my name in the chargesheet you are reading out is fabricated. I have nothing to do with the Delhi riots at all,” Sharma told NewsClick, emphasising that he does not have any idea as to how his name along with his cell phone number and address figure in the chargesheet.
Kumar, too, denied deposing before the police in the case. “I have not got any statement recorded with the police as a witness, neither was I involved in any identification as claimed. I had registered a police complaint with regard to an injury inflicted on my shoulder, thinking that I would get some compensation as announced by the government,” he added, but, he said that he did not even get any compensation.
Asked if some cash amount was looted from him by the rioters on February 25 last year during the riots, he said no such incident had taken place. “Whatever the police have claimed is totally false,” he concluded.
The alleged public witnesses turning hostile prima facie gives rise to the presumption that they are “planted witnesses”.
TALE OF UNITY
Tabassum said she did not face any bias or hatred during the riots and even after that. “I got support from my landlord and the neighbour who helped me during the lockdown and after. They never discriminated against us. They are still standing with me in this time of difficulty. I am the tenant of a Hindu landlord who has not asked me to pay rent (Rs 1,000 per month) for the time being,” she said.
Her landlord Munna said he has never discriminated among Hindus and Muslims. “When the entire area was burning, we ensured that our Muslims neighbours or tenants do not get hurt. We helped them as much as we could do,” he told NewsClick.
With regard to Shahabuddin, he said the young man is being “punished for nothing”. “He had no role in the riots. He was busy with his works when the incident was taking place. He is an innocent boy who has not got many friends. I have seen him growing up, he has always worked hard to earn a living. His incarceration for over a year is completely unjustified,” he added.
Chand Bi, a social activist who has now arranged a lawyer to secure Shahabuddin’s release, also praised Tabassum’s landlord, adding that he and other neighbours have helped the family a lot.
“Left with no option after losing work to COVID-19, Tabassum started begging. When she asked a person at Shri Ram Colony known to me, he called me — informing about her. I reached there, took her home, provided her with ration and some cash amount. Since she has three children to feed without any source of income, my primary goal is to secure her elder son’s release so that the family can get their life back on track,” she added.
She said that due to her plea, a lawyer has taken up Shahabuddin’s case bro-bono. “Soon, his bail application will be filed and he will be out,” she added.
However, a look at the status of Shahabuddin’s case shows how his case is being handled. His bail application was dismissed by Additional Sessions Judge Vinod Yadav after his counsel Abbas Khan failed to argue and withdrew his application.