"The right to protest peacefully is an essential feature of our democracy. Recent weeks have shown that the State is wary of people and dissent," says Tara Narula, a lawyer who has pro-vided legal assistance to those detained during anti-CAA protests in the National Capital Region. But what of those who are not the sort of people Narula describes - neither dissenters nor active participants in the agitation? Why do they count among the detainees? And why are they of a particular kind: young, male, Muslim, in the wrong place at the wrong time?
To understand the circumstances under which some of them were detained, Firstpost examined a First Information Report (FIR) in which they feature - this document (reproduced below) was recorded at the Daryaganj Police Station in old Delhi on 21 December, a day after violence broke out in the predominantly Muslim neighbourhood. The FIR takes note of 16 people, 15 of whom are young Muslims. None of the men is named in the document. Lawyers representing the young men claim that almost all of them have spent the last ten days in jail for "simply being near a protest". When the judge asked the investigating officer and public prosecutor to name the sixteenth detainee, they identified him as Chandrashekar Azad.
Details contained within the FIR pertain to the night of 20 December, when the protest occurred, and during which these men were picked up. It accuses the detainees of rioting and damaging public property. It also invokes the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, among others, which imposes punishment of prison time extending up to five years for those held guilty.
The public property in question is a private car that was set ablaze by unknown persons. The report states that it was parked on the road next to the office of the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Daryaganj. The FIR also mentions that "many civilians have got hurt because they fell down" and adds, "many police officials have been hurt because of stone pelting by an angry crowd".
According to a few human rights activists who met some of the detainees (they were later released), the police asked them to chant Jai Shri Ram while in custody. The statement they released also claims two minors who were detained bore "severe injuries.". Following intervention by the Delhi Minorities Commission and lawyers who waited for hours outside the police station, about ten juveniles were re-leased followed by the first set of 18 detainees. However, the 15 men continued to be in jail.
There is no evidence that corroborates police testimony describing these 15 young men as rioting or damaging public property. This is compounded by the fact that the FIR does not even name any of them. It mentions no CCTV footage nor does it offer material evidence to suggest that the men were in possession of materials required to set cars ablaze or injure police officials.
This became evident when its contents were presented before the Tis Hazari sessions court judge during legal proceedings. There is no record of stones or sticks as having been recovered from the detainees. Indeed, an order from the sessions judge on 28 December has noted that the "investigating officer is only banking on statements under section 161 of the Criminal Procedure Code, and that too of the affected policemen". The section pertains to the examination of witnesses by a police officer. Mukesh Tomar, the IO, has appeared in all court hearings, and has testified that "the public property destroyed by the accused are police barricades". A week after rioting occurred, Tomar told the court that the report pertaining to injuries sustained by police officials "is still under process".
Although the police is yet to provide footage of what occurred on the night of 20 December, lawyers representing the accused men have a video recording of one of their clients attempting to hurriedly leave the scene of protests. In my viewing of the video the accused isn't seen carrying a stick or weapons of any other kind. One of the young detainees is Javed (name changed). He moved to Delhi from Bihar a few years ago to work as an embroidery artisan, leaving his family behind. He earns Rs 10,000 a month. Javed has two children; one is four and the other nine months old. His wife has remained home with the children and Javed's ailing father. Meanwhile, his mother has moved to Delhi, gathering documents, dealing with the lawyer and is seen at Tiz Hazari during every bail hearing.
Like Javed, most of the 15 detainees are the only earning members of the family. They are tailors, vegetable sellers, and carpenters. One of those detained is a 63-year-old welder - he was returning home from work when the police picked him up. The rest are in their twenties. "Their absence has placed a huge psychological and economic burden on the families," says research scholar Ayesha Mualla, who has helped the families with paperwork. "Many of them travel long distances to visit them in jails and for the bail hearings".
During the last bail hearing, on 28 December, the judge ordered further investigation so that he may determine if the detainees are eligible for bail - he instructed the police that the "version of the accused persons also needs to be verified". The next hearing is scheduled for 7 January.
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Updated Date: Jan 05, 2020 13:41:14 IST