Weeks have passed since, Shifa Ur Rehman, the president of Alumni Association of Jamia Millia Islamia (AAJMI) incarcerated for the Delhi pogrom conspiracy case had called home. Though he recently called his ailing mother in Uttar Pradesh, his wife, Nooreen Fatima, is worried about the coronavirus outbreak in Tihar jail, where Rehman along with Jamia student leaders is lodged in judicial custody.
Shifa Ur Rehman was at the forefront of the protest in Jamia, the epicentre of the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) movement. During the lockdown last year, he was arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) by Delhi police for allegedly being part of the conspiracy that orchestrated the Delhi pogrom.
“It was on the 26th of April 2020, the second day of Ramadan, he was arrested,” recalls Fatima. “When he left for Mavana special cell office, after frequent calls of Delhi special cell, we hoped it was a simple interrogation”. Rahman had left Delhi due to lockdown and shifted to his hometown Satla, UP.
“Shifa called us and informed us that those people are taking him into Delhi”. Later that day, around 1:15 am at night, Delhi police informed Fatima about his arrest. Meeran Haider and Safoora Zargar, two research students from Jamia were already arrested linking them to the Delhi pogrom conspiracy case at that time.
Fatima returned to Delhi to fight the case along with their two children. “He is a good man,” she argues negating the claims of Delhi police. Human rights group decries the investigation into the Delhi pogrom conspiracy case, a guise to stifle dissenters.
‘Jamia is part of his life’
Rehman, a building contractor, spent his whole life around Jamia Millia Islamia, staying close to his alma mater and working for the new students. He was part of the Jamia protest and became a member of the Jamia Coordination Committee, a group of Jamia students and well-wishers that steered the protest sit-in against CAA outside the university.
“He had plans of making a hostel for economically week students of the university,” reveals Fatima. “We still have some of them in our house who stay free of cost. He transformed our ground floor for that”. Although Fatima thought of asking for a small rent due to the current constraints, Rehman stopped her.
“Shifa didn’t allow me even from the jail. He used to pay the fees of some students as he is paying his own children’s fees,” says Fatima with teary eyes.
During the episodes of brutal crackdowns on Jamia students in early December 2019, Rehman rushed to help injured students and release detainees. He was detained by Delhi police outside Chief Minister Aravind Kerjriwal’s house for being part of the demonstration demanding emergency intervention to curb the anti-Muslim violence in Northeast Delhi.
Rehman was handling the donations coming from well-wishers who were moved by the spirits of students. His arrest is based on this financial transaction, according to press reports. Delhi police implicated these funds were used to fuel violence in Delhi.
“AAJMI is an organization, which used to give financial assistance to students for their educational needs. So there will be some amount of money in its account. There is nothing suspicious about it. I don’t understand what is these officers are claiming of its conspiracy,” asks Fatima.
Unlike students who got wide acceptance as victims of a witch hunt by the Hindu nationalist regime, only a few reached out to Fatima with solidarity. “The hiding of his case is no more going to help him. When we talking about the people who illegally get arrested, Shifa also needed to be there.”
“The things which are happening and the absence of Shifa is making me so week. My family members are also covid positive and news is coming out like Umar Khalid and Kappan is get infected from the prison. So I’m afraid by thinking about him. It’s like I’m so stressed in between all of these. Not even able to sleep at nights so I’m taking pills for that”.
After his arrest, Rehman was restricted by the jail authorities to meet even his layer. Later he was granted that in light of a petition filed by himself in the Delhi High Court. Delhi High Court criticized Tihar jail authorities observing that they have “frustrated every attempt” of Shifa ur Rehman to meet his lawyer. Hearing a petition by Rahman, Justice Vibhu Bakhru even observed, “In this country, you cannot simply pick somebody and put him in jail and tell him that you cannot meet even your lawyer.”
“The factor is our identity, the Muslim identity which is leading them to do such cruelties to our people,” says Fatima.
It took several months for the family to hear from Shifa Ur Rehman after the arrest as police turned away request to make calls citing pandemic. “I’m still worried about the other prisoners like Kappan, Umar, Meeran, and Asif. How injustice is happening in the case of Kappan. They are just youngsters and this state is spoiled their life”.
There are about 23 charges including 124 A – sedition, rioting, murder, etc along with UAPA which is filed against him by the Delhi police. The police accused Rehman of allegedly inciting the mobs during the anti-Muslim Delhi pogrom that happened last February. They even implicate AAJMI as one of the funders for the violence.
According to the message from the UN high commission at the beginning of this novel coronavirus, “Political prisoners should be among first released in pandemic response”.
But even after the back of the virus as the strongest second wave, the country still doesn’t have a plan to do so.
A prolonged wait
Last week Rehman completed one year in jail and observes his second Ramadan behind bars. Although the main chargesheet and two supplementary chargesheets are filed by Delhi police, the trial has not begun in the conspiracy case which has several Muslim activists under judicial custody for more than a year.
“I have two kids. The elder is 10-years-old and the younger one is eight. I’m trying to hide the tears from my children. The youngest, Alhan doesn’t know his father is in jail. He is very close to his father and frequently asks about him. I lie to him that he is out of Delhi for business. But I don’t know till when I could deal with him. I don’t want to see their gloomy faces,” says Fatima
“Can anyone give back these years to me or any of the families of these political prisoners?” Fatima brokedown.
Rehman’s family is also struggling with his absence. His mother, a heart patient, is in bad shape after his arrest. “A lot of deaths happened in our family. But he remains in jail. That is the helplessness of a human being in this country. I just want to slap them. They are playing with our people.” says Fatima.
“It’s so hard for me to manage his absence. I lost my parents at my earlier age and he is the only one who is the peace of my mind. It’s been four months since I talked to him. He is weak now. He misses his children. When I came back to Delhi after his arrest, I was not able to open the doors of our home without him. I’m not even able to breathe. But still, I will fight against this injustice,” she adds.