Glaring gaps in Delhi Police investigation into gun attack on riot victim Mohd Nasir AHAN PENKAR AND

Glaring gaps in Delhi Police investigation into gun attack on riot victim Mohd Nasir AHAN PENKAR AND

25 July 2020
Mohammad Nasir Khan, a 33 year old, is a junior assistant at the Delhi Naval Unit of the National Cadet Corps. On 24 February, Nasir, a resident of North Ghonda, in Delhi, lost his left eye to a gunshot when he was attacked during the violence that erupted in the north-east district. He had to undergo reconstructive surgery, and five months after the incident he has still not fully recovered.

SHAHID TANTRAY FOR THE CARAVAN

On 6 July, Mohammad Nasir Khan, a resident of Gali Number 8, in northeast Delhi’s North Ghonda neighbourhood, received a call from the Bhajanpura police station. The official on the line asked Nasir to come to the station the next day. Nasir had suffered a serious gunshot wound to the eye during the carnage that ripped through Delhi’s North East district in the last week of February. During the course of multiple interviews over seven weeks, Nasir told us that it was one of his neighbours, Naresh Tyagi, who shot him during the violence, and that since 12 March, he had been trying to file a complaint against Naresh at the Bhajanpura station. He repeatedly said that not only were the police refusing to register an FIR against his complaint, he was also being threatened regularly by Naresh, his family and associates, not to file the complaint.

On 7 July, Nasir said, he met an assistant sub-inspector Rajeev Sharma, who took down his complaint, asked him a series of questions and heard out Nasir’s allegations against Naresh. The next evening, a constable from the Bhajanpura station, Rohit Kumar, came to Nasir’s house. When Nasir asked him the reason for his visit, Rohit said he had come to hand over a copy of an FIR—number 64 of 2020—related to Nasir’s complaint, and “to take his statement.” Nasir said that Rohit noted Nasir’s statement, and also told him that a chargesheet had already been filed against the FIR. Rohit did not explain how the police had filed a chargesheet without recording the statement of the victim. Nasir had tried to file a complaint with the Delhi Police on at least five different occasions between 12 March and 7 July, including the visit with Sharma. Initially relieved that the police was finally acting on his complaint, Nasir told us that he was stunned when he saw the FIR.

The FIR, a copy of which is with The Caravan, had been filed around 11 pm on 25 February, at the Bhajanpura station. The complainant is a police official, Ashok Kumar, an ASI. The FIR refers to a clash between two groups, who resorted to stone pelting and gunfire. It mentions seven people, including Nasir, who were reportedly injured during the violence, along with their medico legal certificate numbers. Despite a series of questionnaires sent to multiple police officials, the Delhi Police did not provide a straightforward response about why it had neglected to inform Nasir about the FIR for over four months and why no official took his statement during that period despite repeated attempts to lodge a complaint. On 8 July, the Delhi Police wrote to us regarding the FIR, “During investigation, five accused persons have been arrested.” But the police did not tell us how these arrests were made without the victim being questioned till 7 July.

When Nasir asked Rohit the same question, he said that the investigating officer, Rahul Kumar, had spoken to Nasir at the Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital—Nasir had been admitted to the GTB hospital on the night of 24 February in an unconscious state. Nasir and his family strongly refuted this claim and told us that no police official approached them even once during Nasir’s entire stay in the hospital. Nasir was discharged from GTB on 11 March. Rohit then asked Nasir to speak to the investigating officer, who repeated this claim. Nasir told us that he categorically told Rahul that he was lying and no one in his family had any recollection of a police personnel taking down their complaint while at GTB. “I spoke to him”—Rahul—“for the first time on 8 July,” Nasir said. “Would I be running around to get my complaint registered for four months if the police had spoken to me in the hospital? How could they speak to me? I was unconscious for the first three days and they say they lodged the FIR on 25th.” Rahul did not respond to multiple attempts to contact him.

Curiously, the FIR states that the complaint was filed after permission was taken from the injured at GTB, but none of the injured came forward to register their statement, so the police acted on their own to file the FIR. Apart from this, there are several other discrepancies in the FIR. The attack on Nasir was life-threatening, but the FIR does not include the offence of attempt to murder. In addition, the sequence of events as narrated by Nasir differs wildly compared to the FIR. The police claimed that they took the injured to the hospital while Nasir’s family has proof that was not the case. Even the location of the attack on Nasir is inaccurate and the police’s version seems to suggest that Nasir was part of the rampaging mobs while eyewitnesses and other evidence contradict this.

It is also pertinent to mention that on 5 July, one day before the police contacted Nasir for the first time, The Caravan had reached out to several officials of Delhi Police with specific queries regarding Nasir’s case and the police’s alleged inaction. The Delhi Police PRO’s response to The Caravan coincided with Rohit’s visit to Nasir’s house on 8 July. On 17 July, Ashok Sharma, the present station house officer of the Bhajanpura station, told us that we should ask Nasir to come to the police station the next day at 8 pm, so that he could listen to Nasir’s grievances. Ashok said he had no knowledge of the case as he had joined the station a few days ago. Another set of queries sent to Delhi Police on 21 July, prompted a series of calls from Rajeev to Nasir on 22 July.

When we first met the 33-year-old Nasir at his house on 3 June, we did not notice a temple next door, which shares a wall with his building. It was only later, when he took us to a balcony that we saw the temple’s dome. Nasir and his family were amused when they noticed our surprise. “This whole neighbourhood is Muslim, this entire lane, and that temple has been here for more than a decade,” Nasir’s father, Abdul Ghalil Khan, told me. On 24 February, as the first clashes, of what came to be referred to as the Delhi riots were being reported from all over the district, North Ghonda was particularly affected. Nasir was attacked that day and his family told us that several parts of their neighbourhood witnessed a night of extreme violence. “We could tell that something was going to happen, but we never thought that something would happen in our locality,” Khan said. “I’ve been here for 20 years … Everyone used to live in peace, it was impossible to think that such a thing could even occur.” Khan added, “It is never going to be safe for us again, no matter where we go.”

As Nasir started talking about that day, he took off his sunglasses to show us his injuries—the gunshot had completely destroyed his left eye, and he still had stiches and traces of plastic surgery on his eye. He is employed with the government as a junior assistant at the Delhi Naval Unit of the National Cadet Corps. “Hopefully, I think I can get my sight back with a transplant,” he told us.

Nasir said that around 2.45 pm on 24 February, he and his sister were on their way back home from Shalimar Bagh, in an Ola taxi. “When we were halfway, I got a call from home and they said don’t come back.” Nasir said they had nowhere else to go and since they were close to home, they decided not to turn back.

At around 3.10 pm, Nasir said they reached a roundabout at the entrance to Khajuri Khas, a locality around three kilometres from North Ghonda. “Khajuri Khas was in flames and there was a police barricade close to the Signature Bridge.” One has to cross the bridge to get to North Ghonda from Khajuri Khas. “The driver knew an alternative route, and took us from there,” Nasir told me. However, as they threaded their way closer home, Nasir said he could see more and more signs of rioting and groups of people engaged in clashes. He said that just before they reached the road that leads to his lane, he asked the driver to stop the car and requested his sister to remove and hide the burqa she was wearing.

Nasir told me that their car was forced to stop by a mob soon after that. “I made up a name and told them I was Hindu. I begged and pleaded with them, I told them that my sister was a patient. And they let us go.” Nasir said that it took them almost seventy minutes to reach home—the hospital is around sixteen kilometres from their residence and the journey usually takes about forty minutes. By around 4 pm, they reached the entrance to their gali and Nasir said that they parked the taxi on the road leading to the gali.  He said that they asked the driver to come with them to their home as it was “not safe for anyone to venture out at that point.”

Soon, the driver started receiving frantic calls from his family members and asked Nasir if he could drop him to his taxi. Nasir said that around 6 pm he left with the driver to help him get out of the neighbourhood. “I think I just had too much faith in my own neighbourhood. I never thought my own neighbours could hurt me.” Nasir said that as he and the driver started making their way out via some of the smaller lanes, “there were riots happening everywhere. By then, I knew I had made a mistake in leaving my house. But I had to get him out, he got us home.” Nasir accompanied the driver till the Gokulpuri flyover, which is around four kilometres from Nasir’s house. He said that he started walking back home but barely 200 metres down the road, he saw that the violence had reached the main road under the flyover. Nasir told us he then saw an acquaintance, who was Hindu, who offered him a lift till Vijay Park, another nearby locality, less than two kilometres from Nasir’s house.

“As I made my way in, I saw mobs of people just running around and wreaking havoc. I knew I couldn’t afford to be caught.” He said that he sneaked his way through the smaller lanes but often doubled back to find safe passage. It took him almost ninety minutes to clear the two kilometres to his neighbourhood. Nasir told us that around 8.45 pm, he was barely two lanes away from his house when he saw that “the crowd was mostly near the police barricade. I don’t think I saw any police, I don’t know what they were doing.” By now it was almost 9 pm and Nasir said that as he reached within fifty meters of his home, he was attacked by a mob.

Nasir said that some men in the group were wearing helmets, and all of them were shouting slogans of “Jai Shri Ram” and using slurs against the Muslim community. He said that he recognised some of the people who were hitting him—they were from neighbouring localities and lanes. Nasir named at least six people from his neighbourhood, all of whom he said actively participated in the violence. “I never thought I could get attacked like this near my own house. I had faith in all these people, all of my neighbours.” One of the men in the mob, whom he did not recognise, told him, “We were going to throw you in detention centres, but now we think you are not worth that either. This entire locality will be cleansed.” Another yelled at him, “We are a Hindu rashtra”—nation—“and will continue to remain one.” He said the men celebrated every time they landed a blow.

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July 2020

“I told them I was a local, and they refused to listen. I tried to remind them that I was a neighbour, and that everyone here knew me.” Nasir said that within minutes, another mob reached there. “This one was much more violent; they had iron rods, hammers and pistols. They started beating me, and at some point, I was pushed to the ground.” Nasir said that was when he got shot by Naresh. According to Nasir, most of the men in the Tyagi family actively participated in the rioting that day. “Naresh, Subhash and Uttam Tyagi, all of them were there. They tortured me and it was Naresh who pulled the trigger.”

The FIR, however, narrates a different version of events. The FIR claims that around 9 pm two groups of protestors, one from Ghonda, supposedly a Hindu crowd, and another from Noor-e-Ilahi, a group of anti-CAA protestors, clashed. As the clashes became violent—the FIR says the groups indulged in stone pelting and fired among themselves—the police used public announcement systems to disperse the crowd and mitigate the violence.  However, at least two eyewitnesses—both chose to stay anonymous—told us that there was no police presence within the area of Ghonda, and no PA system either. Nasir, too, corroborated this. One eyewitness claimed that shops had started shutting at 8pm after they heard about the initial wave of violence near Ghonda. Both eyewitnesses said that the mob of Hindus was walking the streets and shooting people with impunity. One of them said, “They were running around and doing whatever they wanted. If the police was there, do you think anyone would have been shot?”

At least two other eyewitnesses, who also wanted to stay anonymous, confirmed Nasir’s account and said that it was Naresh who shot him close to Nasir’s house. The FIR, however, places Nasir at least 600 metres away in Mohanpuri, Maujpur, suggesting that Nasir was a part of the protest and got injured in the cross-firing between the two clashing groups.

The bullet had ripped through the left side of Nasir’s face. “As soon as the bullet was fired, the crowd dispersed. I was on the ground for a few minutes, but then I managed to get up and make my way to my house.” One of their neighbours, a rickshaw driver, offered to take them to the GTB Hospital, in Dilshad Garden, about six kilometres away. Khan, Nasir’s father, told me that on their way, “the rickshaw was attacked from all sides; people were using sticks, hammers, whatever they could find. But he was just driving the rickshaw so fast that it didn’t matter. I don’t think anyone could have stopped him. There were petrol bombs and desi bombs going off around us. He just charged through everything.”

The FIR, however, claims that the police took the injured to the hospital. Nasir and his family rejected this claim. They shared screenshots of their frantic calls to the police helpline numbers. The family had called at least five times over thirty minutes before their neighbour helped them get Nasir to the hospital.

Nasir was treated at the GTB hospital for several days. “I was unconscious the whole time. I thank god for keeping me alive and getting me out. But I want justice,” Nasir told me. Referring to the FIR stating that none of the victims had come forward with complaints, Nasir asked me, “I was comatose, how was I supposed to go and give my statement? And when I did try to give my statement, they kept shutting me down.” He also had to undergo reconstructive eye surgery and consult with a neurologist. He is still battling constant dizziness and pain, and cannot open his mouth beyond two centimetres.

Nasir blamed the media and social-media platforms for brainwashing the citizens of the area. “There are some young people I recognise from the mob, but I will not name them. They deserve to have a chance to redeem themselves, but the other I will not hesitate.” As we spoke to Nasir, we had moved to his living room. The room leads to the lane outside. As people walked by, it was visible that an interview was going on, and several locals stopped to look.

Nasir said since the violence, he and his family have been constantly intimidated by some of the neighbourhood’s Hindu residents, including the Tyagis. He said the maximum threats were made in the fortnight following the violence. Nasir told us that these people started coming to a juice stall that Khan runs. “When the stall was open right after the riots, and just before the lockdown, they would come and ask ‘How is your son?’ ‘Is his eye okay?’ On occasions, a lot of them would gather near the stall and try to intimidate him.” Nasir said that various members of the Tyagi family would accost him on the street, remind him of his injuries, and say, “Aukaat mein rehna”—stay within you limits. “For the first time, this year during Holi”—on 10 March—“they came outside our house and shouted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai.’”

Nasir said that between the second and third week of March, he was threatened by the Tyagis who told him not to file a police complaint. “They said that they have all the correct political connections and dared us to go forward with the complaint. All of them listed their relatives as a DCP, SHO, something or the other.” Nasir told me that he did not remember the exact date, but on another occasion, Subhash warned him that “if we could do this to you imagine what we can do to your family.”

It should be noted here that on 9 April, Naresh and Uttam Tyagi were arrested by the Delhi Police in the murder of an elderly Muslim man in North Ghonda on 25 February. The arrests were made based on the complaint filed by the elderly man’s son, Sahil Parvez. Parvez, too, had filed his complaint at the police help-desk at the Idgah relief camp, on 19 March. According to an investigation by The Quint, Subhash, Naresh and Uttam are active members of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. Nasir told me that he “knew Sahil’s father. He was a great man who ran an NGO and did so much work for the community here.”

The whole family had lost trust in the police, and said that they received no cooperation from the administration. “I am a government servant and I had some faith in the system, but it is all gone now,” Nasir said. He told us that a few days after getting discharged, he went to the Bhajanpura police station for the first time. “I met a low-ranking police official, who told me that someone will come to my house and speak to me.” He did not know the name of the official. Nasir said that he waited a few days but no one came, so he wrote his first complaint to the police on 18 March. The complaint is addressed to the SHO at the Ghonda police station.

The next day, Nasir said he took a copy of the complaint to the police help-desk set up at the Idgah relief camp, a shelter created by the Delhi government for victims of the violence, in Mustafabad. Nasir told us that an ASI was present there, and attending to complaints by the people. “He misbehaved with me; said that he knew me and kept saying ‘we will see about your complaint’ and then he hid his badge.” Nasir said that a lawyer who was helping people saw this and intervened. “He made the ASI stamp on my complaint, and acknowledge the complaint, and gave a copy of this acknowledgement to me.”

Nasir said over the next four weeks, he called the station to inquire about the progress of his complaint but to no avail. A month later, on 18 April, Nasir sent another complaint to the SHO at the Bhajanpura police station. Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, he told me that he sent it by post. On 20 April, the police station refused to accept the complaint and sent it back. Both these complaints had also been sent to the prime minister, Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, the union home minister, Amit Shah, the National Human Rights Commission, and several senior police officers.

In the month of May, Nasir said he managed to get a hold of the phone number of the then SHO of Bhajanpura, RS Meena. He said that he spoke to Meena on the phone, who told him nothing could be done on account of the COVID-19 lockdown. On 20 May, Nasir went to meet Meena. He said that Meena repeated the same excuse of the lockdown. “When Muslims go to them, they send them away, and when someone else goes, whether they had anything to do with the riots or not, they are entertained. They are just trying to suppress us, they are just breaking us.” He added that when he went to the Bhajanpura station, the police were serving everyone else water and biscuits, and blatantly ignored them. “They sent me back from the police station and told me that no one would be taking any FIRs, and that they have recorded everything.” Meena, too, did not inform Nasir about the FIR number 64. Meena has since been transferred from the Bhajanpura station and could not be traced.

Curiously, Rohit Kumar, the constable, told Nasir that the Tyagi’s had been arrested in another case, when Nasir insisted that the names of the accused should be added in the FIR. Nasir told us that when he questioned Rohit “what’s the relevance of that case with my case, he started weaving tales of this and that.” The Delhi Police PRO also responded in the same vein. The PRO response said, “It is pertinent to mention that the alleged persons have already been arrested in another case vide FIR No. 52/20 PS Jafrabad by Crime Branch.” When Nasir asked Rohit, why section 307—attempt to murder—had not been added in the FIR, Kumar made a notation and said he will get that added. In addition, Rohit had told Nasir that a chargesheet had been filed in the case. Nasir then asked Rohit, “Why are you taking my statement now if the chargesheet has already been filed?” Nasir said that the constable told him that a statement would help Nasir get compensation. The police is yet to provide a copy of the chargesheet to Nasir or us.

On the morning of 5 July, we went back to Nasir’s neighbourhood. The trauma visited upon the neighbourhood during the violence was still visible. Many billboards still bore scorch marks and tears; burnt vehicles and burst stores lay ashen. Equally visible was the locality’s defiance—the neighbourhood’s walls were splashed with anti-CAA murals and slogans.

As we walked around Nasir’s lane, five people, wearing masks, started following us. When we climbed up a roof to capture some shots of the neighbourhood, the five people below started calling out to us. “Nothing happened here in February. It is all a lie. Nobody has shot any bullets over here,” one of them said. When we told them that we had reported the violence during February and had self-recorded footage, they still insisted that there had been no violence in this locality. By the time we climbed down from the roof, the group of five had become around thirty people.

A woman, who identified herself as Kanika, told us that we were biased. “They have arrested 16 innocent men”—referring to the arrests in Parvez’s case—“and it is all because of you.” She added, “It is the Muslims who are targeting the RSS and it is a conspiracy against the RSS.” By now, the crowd had reached around forty people. Some of them shouted that accounts of violence against Muslims “were a conspiracy by the Muslims.” We calmed down the crowd and left.

When we first met Nasir, he took us all around the locality to show us the affected areas. He seemed to be very popular in his colony, and was greeted by several people as we walked the small, narrow lanes of North Ghonda. But Nasir said that on 5 July, after we left, the crowd then moved to his house and started harassing the family, for bringing the media to the locality. That night, Nasir shifted his family of five people to an undisclosed location and came back a day later once the neighbourhood had calmed down. He told us, “Earlier, the religion did not matter so much, but I think things have changed now.”

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