Lawyers Against Atrocities
Date of Visit: 29th February 2020
Team: Ashutosh, Harjot, Harshita, Nasir and Rahul
Brief Overview of the Situation in Khureji Khas
Since the 14th of January 2020, Khureji Khas in North East Delhi has witnessed peaceful protests against the divisive Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Registry of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR). The people of the locality, especially women, had been congregating day and night at an open site adjacent the Hindustan Petroleum pump on the Patparganj Road. On the 23rd of February 2020, responding to the Bhim Army’s call for a Bharat Bandh, the people of Khureji Khas conducted a sit-in protest on the Patparganj Road. On request from police officials to allow for the flow of vehicular traffic, the protesters complied by first allowing road access to the nearby Vivekananda Yogashram, then vacating half the road by the night of 23rd February and finally the entire road by noon of the following day. Despite returning to the protest site to continue the peaceful protest, heavy police deployment continued in Khureji Khas. On Monday and Tuesday (24th and 25th of February), the Delhi Police were a constant presence at the protest site. Lining the roads, the police intimidated protestors, especially women. Suddenly without provocation, on the morning of 26th February 2020, the police personnel, many of whom did not bear their name tag, stormed into the protest site brandishing and discharging firearms and proceeded to evict the protestors, beating and injuring several in the process. It is reported that during this process, the police were seen destroying CCTV cameras, notably the one in front of the Hindustan Petroleum Pump. The police arrested several protestors, from the protest site and from their homes including Ishrat Jahan, Khalid Saifi, Mohammed Salim, Vikram Pratap, Salim Ansari and Sabhu Ansari among others taking them to the Jagatpuri Police Station. While conducting raids in the locality, police are reported to have discharged their weapons twice at the entrance of the Jama Masjid Road. That evening, when lawyers arrived at Jagatpuri Police Station to enquire about the arrested, the police were verbally and physically abusive towards them. More arrests are reported to have occurred on the night of 26th January 2020 and then over the next two days, with police raiding homes of numerous residents and arbitrarily picking up people, including several minors, from the streets.
Purpose of the Fact Finding
As news reports of targeted violence in North East Delhi including killings, destruction and torching of homes and shops of Muslims, desecration of mosques and shrines and the conspicuous inaction by the police personnel started to reach, little news of police atrocities in Khureji Khas, a locality South of the worst affected areas, emerged. This has left residents of Khureji Khas feeling isolated as they struggle to come to terms with the swelling sense of terror, the arrests of several residents and finally the unknown number of people missing from the area since the 23rd of February. They continue to remain in fear of further police crackdowns on one side and the threat of violent right-wing mobs on the other. A team of lawyers and students was put together by Lawyers Against Atrocities in order to speak to the residents, document their experience and make sense of the events following the crackdown on the peaceful protest in Khureji.
Family of Mohammed Salim
Mohammed Salim, a small-scale textile merchant, is the sole breadwinner of a family of nine. His children are all minors. At 6 pm on 26th February 2020, around 100 police personnel came to the Choupal in Khureji where he resides to arrest him. Picked up from the porch of his house, he was led to the police jeep with his hands fastened behind his back, then taken to Jagatpuri Police Station and later transferred to Mandoli Jail. Incidentally, his name does not appear in the FIR.
Since the beginning of the protests in Khureji, Mohammed Salim and his family have been frequenting the protest site. Shehroon, Mohammad Salim’s wife, had been building support among women of Khureji for the protest. After his arrest, with several young children and no source of income, she is distraught. She felt that he was arrested because he upheld democratic rights for all and struggled for a secular country. She said, “(w)e have all the documents, we won’t suffer during the NRC but many others will. My husband was protesting against what would happen to them and now, they’ve arrested him.” The manner in which he was arrested, with an unusually large number of police personnel storming his home and without indicating the charges against him, has further increased fear among the people.
With Mohammed Salim in jail, his family struggles to make ends meet. They are unsure how they will be able to afford bail if it is granted. Despite this, Shehroon remains determined. When asked whether she’s ready to return to the protests, she replied “until the government rolls back the CAA, NRC and NPR, we have no choice but to protest and we will!” She believes the police is terrorising the people of Khureji to ensure that the protests don’t resume again. “We aren’t afraid of Hindus; we have no problem with any religion. Only the police scare us”. Shehroon’s friend Rani remarked that police have been particularly targeting Shehroon after the arrest of her husband.
Several women with Shehroon particularly spoke of police action, including firing in the air, chasing women away from the protest site and misbehaving with them. The police deployed appeared to target women wearing burkas, particularly filmed them and ignored the women wearing sarees or those who looked “Hindu”. The women spoke of how the police turned into monsters when clearing the protest site that day. They spoke of how RSS members had been bringing tractors full of stones to the area. The police appeared to have taken no action against them. They said that “Hindus and Muslims have been living peacefully together in Khureji. There were no problems with other religions. But the police have targeted us (Muslims).” The women are scared for the future of their young children. They want the young men and children returned to them; they want their children safe.
Family of Aftab
Aftab, a seventeen-year-old minor, was arrested on the night of 27th February 2020 when he had left his house to pay some of the family’s bills in the market. His father, Mohammed Yunis, is a hawker who has never gone to the protests at Khureji. His wife however sporadically went to the protest site. Mohammed Yunis remarked that the situation in Khureji became grave after 23rd February 2020. He said that his son has been picked up and charged under provisions of the Arms Act for supposedly firing at police. The police claimed the firing happened at midday between 12:30 and 1:30 pm, a time when their son was home with them. Now, Mohammad Yunis refuses to allow his younger son, Afsar, to leave the house in fear that he too may be arrested. Afsar’s board exams are less than two weeks away. He is unable to study for them following his elder brother’s arrest as the mood in the house is downcast. His family repeatedly and emphatically asked, “humara bachha kab niklega?” (when will our child be released?)
Family of Sabhu Ansari
Aged between 21-22, Sabhu was a volunteer at the protest site who was arrested when the police raided it on 26th February 2020. He had been sleeping at the time, having spent the entire night awake at the protest. His elder brother Fareed said that Sabhu was employed at a car-seat making shop and was earning for his family but had not been to work since the protests began. He stated that the police have given no information regarding Sabhu’s arrest. They’ve received news that Sabhu has faced physical torture under custody but they haven’t been able to meet him. Meanwhile, Sabhu’s mother cries all day long following the arrest of her son. It is learnt that he has now been taken to Tihar Jail but the family is unable to confirm this.
His family spoke out against the spreading of rumours and panic and the ways in which the local police has been complicit in this. They said, “Afwah failaya gaya ki Bajrang Dal ke log aaye hai. Phir log aur bhi darr gaye.” (Rumours were spread that Bajrang Dal members had come. And people became even more afraid). Several neighbours blamed the local beat officer Yograj for spreading fake news. They said, “Yograj ne darr ka mahaul banaya hai.” (Yograj has created a climate of fear in the area.) They said that those taking videos on their phones were threatened with guns.
Family of Vikram Pratap
Vikram, a 26-year-old 3rd year law student, was arrested from his house on 26th February 2020 at 8 pm. The police, however, have recorded the time of arrest as 1 pm. Working with United Against Hate, Vikram Pratap was a volunteer at the protests. His MLC was done soon after arrest and then he was then subjected to beatings by the police in custody. The local beat officer Yograj humiliated Vikram’s father when he tried to meet his son. He told him that his DNA is bad and that, “iska dharam parivartan kara do, isko Pakistan bhej do” (get him converted and send him to Pakistan).
Family of Protestor
Shahana (NAME CHANGED), a mother of three whose grandfather died in the communal violence post Partition, was a regular at the protest along with one of her daughters. She stated that on 26th February 2020 the situation in Khureji took a turn for the worse. On that day at around 2 pm, the police fired outside the entrance of the Jama Masjid road. Children aged between the years 12 to 14 were picked up by the police and then eventually released later in the day. Disputing the claims of the police, she said that there was no stone pelting that day. She went on to say that the only firing done was by the police. Her family reiterated that many children are missing and nobody knows if they are arrested or not. She asked why the police used force even after the protesters had dispersed from the site.
Shahana was firm that to protest was the right of the people and also that their struggle was just. She maintained that the protest was always peaceful and that even during the roadblock, ambulances and emergency vehicles were allowed through. Remarking how the NRC would target the poor, she noted the wide support for the protests, how Sikhs set up a langar and how the Bhim Army also supported them. She found that the Hindus of the locality supported the protests, particularly mentioning how the local doctor, Sharma Ji, would often visit the protests. She asked why Kapil Mishra was still roaming free without consequences. When asked why Shahana frequented the protests, her young daughter who was in tears spoke up, “it is our constitutional right to protest against an unconstitutional law.”
Family of Protestor
Fatima (NAME CHANGED), around 30-35 years old, spoke of the climate of fear that has spread amongst the residents of Khureji. She said, “…dar hai, kis par bharosa karein, pata nahi.” She spoke of how the arrested youth have been tortured in custody. The police did not allow the family members to meet the arrested properly; the arrested were behind a glass wall and were not allowed to meet their families face to face.
She said, “the people of Khureji have been together. Dr. Sharma and his wife used to come to the protest site daily. Our children haven’t done anything wrong. Yet, today, they are afraid of stepping out in the streets.” She spoke of how her daughter had exams but was afraid to step out. She has been accompanying her to and from the exam centre. Hindus and Muslims want to live together. But it is clear that efforts are being made to build mistrust between the communities, she said, while pointing to news reports.
Shopkeeper at Choupal
Mohammed Qasim (NAME CHANGED) says the police brutally suppressed the protests at Khureji. He had visited Shaheen Bagh several times with his family, most of whom are terrified of the NRC. Qasim says after the 26th, the situation in Khureji worsened with the police dispersing protestors aided by RSS men wearing jeans and in helmets. He spoke of how Khureji has never witnessed communal clashes. The impact of the events of the last couple of weeks are likely to remain, he felt.
Qasim would join the protests if they restart but says the people are afraid. They are scared that there are informers among them. He says business in Khureji has collapsed since the police violence and Tahir Hussain was framed.
Family of arrested who wished to remain unnamed
His son who was active in the protests, was arrested on 28th February 2020 at a mobile shop with 30 others at 3:30 pm but was released later at night after people arrived at the police station and put pressure on the police. His son was brutally beaten and was bleeding from the nose. His son has fled. He believes it will be hard to restart protests but if should such happen, he will rejoin.
We spoke to several other persons in Khureji, besides those recorded above. These persons only spoke to us on the condition of anonymity, refusing for their testimony to be recorded. This indicates a prevailing sense of fear in the locality and distrust of any who is not a known and familiar face. With rumours afloat of the police having a list of 70 to 300 names and videos of protestors many fear that there exist informers in their midst. Many also blame the local beat officer Constable Yograj, who they believe has been spying on residents for some time. As he knows where most people live and the places they frequent, nobody feels safe walking the lanes they have walked for most of their lives.
In the evening fact finding team witnessed an Aman Yatra which appeared to be led by the police and RSS men. They chanted slogans of Hindu Muslim Bhai-Bhai and Bharat Mata Ki Jai. Several residents witnessing the rally remarked with irony how Khureji saw no fights between Hindus and Muslims, but residents irrespective of faith felt fear only of the police.
An overwhelming sense of fear and despondency pervades Khureji Khas. Random arrests and raids and movement of police in strength through the streets and gullies of the locality have made people afraid to walk around, go about their daily routines and even open shops and businesses. Many people have even fled Khureji or have sent their children to stay with relatives outside New Delhi. The FIR filed against the protestors includes a plethora of sections of the IPC and Arms Act. Not all the arrested are even named in the FIR. All this has terrorised the locality into submission and broken the peaceful protests against communally charged and anti-people CAA, NRC and NPR. Khureji Khas, just a short while ago was a thriving and bustling locality where a democratic struggle for peoples’ rights was peacefully underway. Now a pale shadow of its former self, its residents fear to leave their houses, speak to each other in low whispers not knowing who among may be the next to face the ire of the police.
- Immediate release of all those arrested and detained from Khureji since February 26th 2020 and dropping of charges against those arbitrarily picked up.
- Immediate investigation into police action in the area through SIT or an independent magisterial enquiry.
- Withdrawal of police deployment in the area and peaceful resumption of dialogue with the residents.
- Strict action against police personnel found participating in the beatings of peaceful protestors, breaking of CCTV cameras and molesting women in the area. Lawyers Against Atrocities is a collective of lawyers and law students in Delhi working to ensure the state is held accountable for the actions, injustices and atrocities by its agents.