New Delhi: Twenty-three-year-old Sabu Ansari, who was arrested along with Khalid Saifi and Ishrat Jehan from the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protest site at Khureji Khas on February 26, was granted bail by the Karkadooma court on Friday.
The court observed that his role was on a ‘higher footing’ than Jehan, who was granted bail on March 21, but different from that of Saifi, whose bail application was dismissed on the same date. Ansari was granted bail against a surety of Rs 50,000 and on the assurance that he will not leave the country, not change his address and present himself for questioning whenever needed.
Relieved to be back home after 63 days, Ansari said that he was grateful to be reunited with his family during Ramzan. A tailor employed in a Pune factory that stitches car seats, Ansari shoulders the responsibility of his old mother and two younger siblings.
“I was not even a regular at the protest site at Khureji Khas. I had been there a couple of times. On February 25, I was visiting my uncle who lives close by. It got late so I decided to sleep in the store room behind the protest site with a few workers. I was still sleeping when the police stormed in and picked me up. I was completely taken by surprise.”
Saifi, Jehan and Ansari had all been arrested in connection with FIR 44, filed at the Jagatpuri Police Station on February 26. The three of them had been named as the main accused in the FIR. The police claimed that it was trying to convince a large crowd that had gathered near the anti-CAA protest site in Khureji Khas to leave the area when the cops heard a commotion and sounds of gunfire from the protest venue.
The FIR says that Jehan asked the women to stay back and told the cops that they will not leave at any cost, while Saifi incited protesters to pelt stones at the police. The FIR goes on to say that anti-CAA protesters, including Ansari, started pelting stones at the police and a gun shot was fired which almost hit a police constable.
Saifi was denied bail in FIR 44 and subsequently the Special Cell also sought his remand in connection with FIR 59 pertaining to the Delhi communal violence. Jehan was granted bail on March 21, but on the same day she was arrested by the Special Cell in connection with FIR 59. Saifi and Jehan are both currently in judicial custody and are facing charges under sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, murder, attempt to murder and rioting.
Abdul Ghaffar, one of the lawyers representing Ansari, said, “We were not sure if he was also being probed in connection with FIR 59 till the time he walked out of jail.” In both Saifi and Jehan’s case, the Special Cell moved to arrest them under FIR 59 (riots conspiracy) on the day of their bail hearing.
Ghaffar continued, “He [Ansari] was perhaps not considered influential enough to be arrested in the second FIR but there was no way for us to know for sure, given how things had played out in Khalid Saifi and Ishrat Jehan’s case. But Khalid Saifi is a well-known activist and Ishrat Jehan is a lawyer and former Congress counsellor from the area. Sabu Ansari is a simple tailor who works in a factory.”
However, the suspense around his bail indicates the cryptic manner in which the Delhi Police has been handling cases relating to the Delhi riots.
In Ansari’s bail application, his lawyers pleaded that “despite the passage of more than two months since the registration of the FIR, there is little evidentiary material to support the allegation of stone pelting made against the applicant in the FIR. The FIR is completely silent on the exact nature of injuries allegedly sustained by the injured police officials. Till date, no medical document has been placed on record to substantiate any alleged injuries suffered by police officials.”
Bail proceedings halted during lockdown
Ansari’s case is also representative of how those who could have been granted bail much earlier got stuck in judicial custody during the lockdown when the Supreme Court ordered that only cases of extreme emergency can be heard. After his arrest on February 26, Ansari was remanded to 14 days judicial custody.
On March 11, his judicial custody was further extended for a period of 14 days till March 25. His bail plea said, “since physical production before the concerned court for the purpose of continuing remand were disallowed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court vide order dated 23.3.2020 in Suo Motu Writ Petition © No 01/2020 titled ‘In Re: Contagion of COVID 19 in Prisons,’ no further remand orders of the Applicant are available.”
Surbhi Dhar and Nitika Khaitan, who were representing Ansari, said, “We were stuck because his bail application filed just before the imposition of the lockdown was listed on June 15 as per the automatic dates that were given for already listed applications. We could file a fresh bail application only after video conferencing procedures were notified and only after regular bail applications began being listed in the category of urgent matters in Karkardooma Courts-which did not happen in the first 3 weeks of the lockdown.”
Ansari’s legal team will be withdrawing the earlier bail plea which had been adjourned to June 15 due to the lockdown, when the date comes up. The fresh bail plea which was filed on April 29 said, “Due to its listing on a later date, and the administrative complexity of locating bail applications during lockdown while court staff are functioning in a reduced capacity and rooms where applications are kept are locked, the Applicant seeks to withdraw the said bail application No XXX. The listing of the bail application XXX on a date that is roughly two and a half months after the date of filing has rendered the application futile.”
His lawyers say that the more serious non-bailable charges in the FIR were not made out against Ansari and in such a situation, judicial custody even for 15 days is “considered excessive”. Ansari spent more than two months in jail.
Out on bail, the next challenge before Ansari is to find a job. “I do not want to go back to Pune, I need to get a job in Delhi,” he said. “Finding a job here is going to be more difficult for me now. I will be grateful if someone could help me find a job so I can support my family. For now I am happy that I will be able to spend Ramzan and Eid with my mother and my siblings.”
Seemi Pasha is an independent multimedia journalist based in Delhi. She can be reached at seemi_pasha on twitter.