First Person: Bomb blasts and an ‘encounter’

Praful Bidwai at meeting on police excess in Delhi
22 September 2009
In the media
It has been almost a year since police randomly picked up young Muslims from a Muslim ghetto in Delhi full of aspiring students and youngsters from small towns seeking a professional career.
Published at
Hard News

It has been almost a year since police randomly picked up young Muslims from Jamia Nagar, a Muslim ghetto in Delhi full of aspiring students and youngsters from small towns seeking a professional career. Even as the memories run fresh, we got a call from a human rights lawyer saying that a boy has been picked up from Shaheen Bagh of Jamia Nagar. Our first thought -- one more illegal detention!

Soon, we contacted family members of the detained boy, journalists and community leaders. Some rushed to Jamia Nagar police station to enquire about the same. The police did not give a positive response, a clear repetition of what happened last year. Last year, they refused to lodge complaints of 'missing people' - or those picked up arbitrarily by the police with no legal niceties involved. After a prolonged argument the police admitted to have picked up the boys in cases related to auto thefts. Though it was not a case of illegal detention, still, there were many procedural lapses -- the boy was a minor hence was subject to arrest under the guidelines of the Juvenile Justice Act.

One can still recall several cases of illegal detention from the same locality last year after the Delhi bomb blasts. Being an eyewitness, let me share a few incidents. On September 23, 2008, we were having a meeting in Jamia Nagar to discuss the police excess and communal witch hunt after the September 13 Delhi bomb blasts. The meeting was attended by well known lawyers, activists, journalists, academicians and community leaders, including Praful Bidwai, Javed Naqvi, Colin Gonsalves, Harsh Dhobal, Ejaz Aslam and others.

As the meeting was going on, one of us received a call, which cast a spell of fear among the locals: a 17-year-old-boy, Saqib, was gagged by some unknown men, and picked up. Since it was really a case of unknown people being involved, we decided to lodge a police complaint with the local police station. Initially they were reluctant to entertain us, but since senior lawyers, Jamia teachers and journalists were involved, they registered a complaint. We were informed that the Delhi Police special cell had picked him up for questioning. When Supreme Court lawyer Colin Gonzalves and the boy's relatives approached the Special Cell, they had another surprise in store. The cops said -"hand over his brother and take him".

The media was informed. Human rights activists were involved. As the pressure mounted on the cops, they released Saqib late that same evening. It was another day of fasting during Ramzan. Saqib and his brother broke their fast with a samosa and a cup of tea at the Human Rights Law Centre in Jungpura.

But Saqib is not a unique case. People are being picked up indiscriminately everyday and are harassed, some of them reportedly brutally tortured. Like Saqib, there are some victims in the area, but most of them prefer to remain quite to avoid further harassment. Moreover, they fear that who will give a job or house on rent to a 'suspected person'. Today, even after one year of the Delhi bomb blasts and the Batla House 'encounter', residents live in fear.

A feeling of who is next plagues the minds of the people. The youth are still under constant fear and parents are reluctant to let their children live in Jamia Nagar. This has led to many students being called back to their homes, burying their prospects of further studies. Even girls have started feeling insecure after the enquiry report of the Ishrat Jahan encounter which shows that it was an attempt by the police to earn a few brownie points to please Narendra Modi and to terrorise and hound one community.