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Communalism

Delhi Riots: 'They Made Me Sign a Blank Sheet of Paper,' Says Muslim Man Jailed for 16 Months

The judge who granted Mohammed Farman bail pointed out that witness statements against the young man had been recorded nearly a month after his arrest.

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New Delhi: Sitting together with his family in Northeast Delhi’s Khajuri Khas, Mohammed Farman’s mind is firmly set on the present and the future. 

The 22-year-old wants to work hard, earn money and take care of himself and his family of six. He does not want to look back at the past, especially the last 16 months. Those months had been traumatic. Because like many young Muslim men after the riots in Northeast Delhi in February-March 2020, Farman had been picked up by the police, charged with violence and jailed. He has just been released from Mandoli Jail on bail.

Last March, Farman was charged by the Delhi Police in connection with the murder of Babbu Khan, an auto driver and resident of Khajuri Khas, who was killed by a mob at Khajuri Khas Pushta on February 25, 2020. 

Babbu Khan was one of the 53 people who were killed in the riots; hundreds of others were injured.

But when the police picked him up from his home on the night of March 20, 2020, and took him to the police station, Farman had no idea why. 

“I was with my family when the police suddenly came to our shanty and started asking me questions. They asked me my name and then took me away with them to a nearby police station. They made me wait at the station the entire night and shifted me to Mandoli Jail the next day,” he said.

It was only when he entered the jail that Farman learned that he had been named as one of Babbu Khan’s murderers. 

Also read: Delhi Riots: Family Starves as Son Remains in Jail for More Than a Year

“They made me sign on a blank sheet of paper when I was at the police station and did not tell me anything until I reached Mandoli jail, where I was told about the charge sheet and the allegations against me,” Farman said.

‘A false case’

The Wire accessed charge sheet number 119/20 on the murder of Babbu Khan, which names 18 people including Farman from the Hindu and Muslim communities. Each of these people has been charged with murder, rioting, using deadly weapons and unlawful behaviour among other offences, including sections 147, 149, 149, 153A, 505, 120-B, 34 and 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). 

Police officers stand guard in an alley in a riot-affected area following clashes, New Delhi, February 28, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Incidentally, the late Babbu Khan himself has been named as an accused in this charge sheet. He is accused of the same offences as the 17 other men, except murder. 

The Delhi Police has not responded to queries from The Wire regarding the charges against the late Babbu Khan.

Meanwhile, Farman alleges that he was framed in the murder of Babbu Khan and had nothing to do with any of the offences he is accused of. 

“I was at home during the riots and have no idea what had happened that day. The police have named me in a false case and it is due to this that I spent such a long time in jail,” he said.

‘Arrested without a witness statement’

Farman was granted bail by the Karkardooma District Court on June 22. However he was freed only on July 5 as it took some time to raise the Rs 20,000 for his bail. 

His bail, which was initially opposed by the Special Public Prosecutor, was granted by the court on the argument that other accused listed in the same charge sheet are out of jail. 

Also read: ‘I’m Scared to Tell You I Saved a Muslim’: Hindu Man Who Rescued His Friend in Delhi Riots

“Though the learned Special PP for State has opposed the bail application under consideration, however, he is unable to establish that the role assigned to applicant is not similar to the role attributed to co-accused persons namely Jubair @ Zuber, Iqbal, Dharmender Giri and Shahbuddine, all of whom already stood enlarged on bail by Hon’ble High Court of Delhi vide order(s) dated 09.12.2020, 08.04.2021 and 04.06.2021 respectively. The learned Special PP is further unable to distinguish the role attributed to applicant from several other co-accused persons who have already been enlarged on bail by this Court vide various orders (sic),” said the bail order.

The judge also pointed out that when Farman was arrested on March 20, there was no witness statement against him. Instead, witnesses against Farman approached the police only on April 4, nearly two weeks later. Even then, the judge said in the order, Farman was not actually named by the witnesses. It was only when the witnesses’ statements were recorded two weeks later, on April 15, 2020, that Farman was mentioned by name.

“Though PW [principal witness] Dalip Sharma for the first time approached the police vide his complaint dated 04.03.2020, however, he did not specifically identify the applicant in his aforesaid complaint and instead named/identified the applicant vide his statement recorded under Section 161 Cr.P.C [Code of Criminal Procedure] on 15.04.2020, by which time the arrest of applicant had already been effected in the matter,” said the bail order signed by Judge Vinod Yadav.

Incidentally, the police do not have any CCTV footage of Farman. This is significant because CCTV footage has been the basis of the arrests of many young men after the riots.

Free for the moment

On June 15, The Wire had reported that Farman’s family had had to resort to begging on the streets to feed themselves. Farman had been the only earning member of the seven-member family.

Delhi riots

Security personnel walk past Bhagirathi Vihar area of the riot-affected northeast Delhi, February 26, 2020. Photo: PTI

Although Farman had not been in touch with his family while he was in jail, he had known they would not have had the resources to go to his rescue.

“There was no way we could afford a lawyer to do something about the case. I had given up hope of getting out of jail,” said Farman. “The situation in the jail is horrible. I do not have words to explain how the inmates live. I just want to pray and never go inside ever again. I am going to work hard and earn money.” 

He added: “The case is fake and I am innocent.” 

Also read: ‘I’m Scared to Tell You I Saved a Muslim’: Hindu Man Who Rescued His Friend in Delhi Riots

While he was in jail, Farman’s family had been living in a jhuggi (shanty) in the middle of a small, barren park alongside old Wazirabad road near Northeast Delhi’s Khajuri Khas Pushta. However, they have shifted since then to a small room in a neighbouring area.

Activist Chand-bi who has been helping the family since she became aware of the case, said that Farman’s release had been a happy reunion for the family. 

“We are trying to get a rickshaw for him so he can earn a livelihood,” she said.

While the hearing of the murder case against Farman is yet to start, Farman and his family are happy for the moment. Memories of the violence that took place in Northeast Delhi in February 2020 still give many families the shivers; other families continue to live in a waking nightmare. But Farman has been given a chance to emerge from this nightmare and he intends to make the most of it.

Nikita Jain is a journalist based in Delhi.