Lurking in the cold and dark recesses of the national capital’s memory is the Batla House encounter of 2008, in which two suspected terrorists Atif Ameen and Mohammad Sajid were killed while two other suspects Mohammad Saif and Zeeshan were arrested, while one accused Ariz Khan had managed to escape. The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party had pressed for a judicial inquiry into the encounter, the issue echoed in the Parliament as well. Professors and students at the Jamia Milia University found support in the left-of-centre intelligentsia and staged protests on a national scale until the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) eventually cleared the police of any violations of rights. The broader impact of an incident like this goes beyond the profile of the accused and the procedures of investigation. It impacts the social identity of a community who is then suspected even more of having pan-Islamic leanings that can threaten constitutional equilibriums. The question is, what does the local administration do to repair the reading of such an incident and the way it dents the morale of the neighbourhood where it takes place. The first and lasting interpretation of such an investigation and arrest in the immediate neighbourhood is that the accused have been framed, and through them, the entire social milieu they belonged to is being condemned.
Jafrabad, from where the National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested four young men on Wednesday suspecting they were part of a module of the Islamic State, was no different. The area falls in North East Delhi’s Seelampur constituency. Here, the percentage of Muslims is 44.19 percent compared to 12.66 percent in all of Delhi and the literacy rate is 74.20 percent compared to 81.57 per cent for Delhi. Firstpost hit ground zero to assess the mood among the families and the locals after the Wednesday's arrest.
Fleece and goose leather jackets in greys and blues and browns hang off hooks in slim lanes of Jafrabad, known for its jacket market, with broken drains at random intervals. Hafeez Ahmad Suhail, whose son Mufti Mohammad Suhail was arrested from Amroha in Uttar Pradesh in the wee hours of Wednesday, sat on the edge of a bed, weeping into a floral fleece blanket. He said that he fully cooperated with the police and the investigating authorities who combed through his tiny first-floor house where women and children also live.
He said he is weak and paralysed and wants the police to record and report the truth, even if it goes against his son. But, he said that the investigation authorities should have told them where they came from before raiding their home ruthlessly, not leaving a single piece of cloth untouched. He said his two sons repair inverter batteries and one son supplies emergency lights. Sohail was arrested from Amroha in North West Uttar Pradesh. He had moved to Amroha just two months ago.
Junaid, brother of suspected terror mastermind Sohail, said that the geometric pattern in Sohail’s diary was to study turning coils in inverter batteries and not make bombs.
Sohail’s older brother Junaid, seated next to his father, pulled out a diary and pointed to a hand-drawn geometric pattern used to depict functioning of inverter batteries. He said the family doesn’t manufacture batteries and any technician can say this is a pattern for turning the coils that are used by repair mechanics. Junaid said that the investigating teams took away the circuits used in chargers.
He described Sohail as a God-fearing boy who had been put through madrasa education and someone who didn’t have many friends and mostly spent time at home. An NIA official, who had been directing the activities of the investigating team at every step, has stated that most of those who have been arrested were known to Sohail since before. He is also the alleged voice in the video where intricacies of an IED are being explained. The agency has confirmed that it has recovered a huge cache of explosives, arms and ammunition from the accused.
The mood below Sohail’s house seemed tense. Anxious young men had formed huddles. Ishfaq and Naseem, both of whom work in the jacket market, said that such an incident throws a blanket of doubt over the entire community’s character and intentions.
He said there are people who work hard to earn a living in Faizabad and that they will be unhappy if Jafrabad is treated the same way as Batla House was in the broader discourse on minority rights because that can damage the peace in their locality.
Mohammad Ishaq, an elderly person known to Sohail, referred to him as a 'kaabil bacha (competent child)', one who never fought with anybody. He admitted that the terror speculations are most damaging to the locals, who, as it is, find it hard to find acceptance outside because of their last names and their social class.
A short bike ride away is the home of Rashid Zafar Raq, located right above a garment shop that he owns and runs. Rashid is one of the 11 terror suspects who the NIA arrested in raids in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, on Wednesday.
His sister-in-law told Firstpost that the investigating authorities raided their home for 12 hours, but didn’t find anything from within its chipped pink and green walls. She asked why they dragged her brother-in-law away if nothing was found in the house and also objected to the lack of a search or arrest warrant.
Mahmood, Rashid’s cousin, said that if someone's home is raided without warrants and the investigating authorities don’t feel the need to explain what’s going on, then the people are justified in feeling defenceless against a system. He said they covered Zafar’s face and dragged him out and didn’t let any of the family members leave the premises, even to get food to feed the children in the house.
Vivek Tyagi, SHO from Jafrabad, told Firstpost that he was part of the raids and that the locals are, in fact, unaware of the laws. "The crime rate in Jafrabad, fuelled by gang wars, has come down. It is largely a peaceful area and no unconstitutional measures were taken to conduct the investigation or the raids," said Tyagi, adding that the families can appeal in court against the action taken by the NIA.
Chapter five of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, deals with the arrest of persons. Section 41 is the main section providing for situations when the police may arrest a person without a warrant. Under this, any police officer may without an order from a magistrate and without a warrant, arrest any person who has been concerned in any cognisable offence, or against whom a reasonable complaint has been made or credible information has been received, or a reasonable suspicion exists, of his having been so concerned; or who has in his possession without lawful excuse, the burden of proving which excuse shall lie on such person, any implement of house-breaking; who has been proclaimed as an offender either under this code or by order of the state government.
Unfortunately, after the police leaves the scene, speculations and fear enter the scene and representatives from the local administration are missing to address and explain the goings-on. There’s a void nobody fills and it widens to become a national issue that is debated by big political parties. In all this, where is the local administration?
Dilip Pandey, a Lok Sabha prabhari from the area, who had come to inaugurate a function at the Zakir Hussain Memorial School in Jafrabad on Thursday morning, told Firstpost that he wasn’t aware that such an incident had taken place and that he can’t go beyond the party line to give his personal opinion because it ‘does not matter’.
Abdul Rehman, AAP Counselor from Chauhan Bangar in East Delhi had reached the homes of the accused, to gauge the situation. Alleging that minorities are being targeted, he asked why incidents in Muslim colonies like Batla House, Chauhan Banger, and Jafrabad take place before elections. “Yesterday, Mohammad Azam’s home was raided. The police didn’t find anything but seized the passports of the family members. Why?” he asked. AAP MLA Haji Ishraque refused to comment on the issue. If local leaders fail to reach out to residents, alienation is bound to seep deeper into the psyche.
Minorities seek comfort in territorial bastions and this spatial segregation has elements of both voluntary self-segregation and forced exclusion wherever governments have failed to address unequal access to residential areas.
Jafrabad and Seelampur are also severely drug-torn regions.
In 2016 October, Firstpost had reported on the drug crisis in New Seelampur and the way cannabis and medical drugs were being sold and consumed in the open. Asif Chaudhry, a social worker from the area, had then told Firstpost that entire families are addicted to smack, cannabis and medical drugs, apart from alcohol and tobacco.
Two years on, Chaudhry is sorry to state that the drug crisis has increased. He said that instead of focusing on cutting the supply chain of drugs and using its energy to attack the mafia network, Seelampur’s drug crisis is viewed as the Muslim area’s 'internal crisis' by the local and state administration.
"Communal politics and minority appeasement are the reason why even basic law and order issues acquire a religious lining. This is the reason why Muslims are either all victims or all criminals, there is no middle ground," he said.
There are many Jafrabad-like neighbourhoods in urban India, and callous handling of incidents like these could push them further away from the mainstream.
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Updated Date: Dec 28, 2018 14:44:30 IST