Around 7 am on 14 February, Ayub Malik received a call from Neranjan Kumar, Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI), Hari Nagar Police Station, informing him that his brother, 18-year-old Zeeshan Malik was unwell and admitted to Deen Dayal Upadhayay Hospital and had expressed a wish to meet his family.
Malik’s father, mother and sister rushed to the hospital where they were informed that Malik had passed away.
“My mother fainted upon seeing my brother’s body”, Malik’s sister, Nargis told Maktoob.
Since November, Malik was lodged in Tihar jail for his involvement in stealing cigarette packets. While the police authorities say Malik died due to “illness”, his family alleges custodial murder and cite bruise marks and broken bones as proof.
Malik, a car repairman, lived in JJ Colony, a slum cluster in East Guru Angad Nagar in Preet Vihar. On 20 November 2021, he was taken into custody by Preet Vihar police for his alleged involvement in the theft of a cigarette packet.
The family alleges that they have not been provided with a copy of the FIR or transfer papers to Tihar Jail.
According to Nargis, Malik’s sister, police told them that Malik was feeling unwell, had pain in his chest and a vein in his brain had burst.
Malik is survived by his father (45), mother (41), two brothers and three sisters. Two of Zeeshan’s siblings are handicapped.
National Campaign against Torture (NCAT), an NGO committed to stamping out torture documented 125 police custodial deaths in 2019, with 60% of the victims belonging to poor and marginalized communities. This included 13 from the Dalit community and 15 from the Muslim community.
Malik’s family is now demanding a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
Speaking to Maktoob Media, Zeeshan’s neighbour, Mohammad Afzal, who works in Mussoorie and was home on holiday, said “I gave ghusal to Zeeshan. He had wounds on his ribs and an injury mark on his neck. His shoulder was broken and it seemed as if he was hit with sticks on his shoulder repeatedly. Both his legs and one of his elbows were also broken. There was a mark on his stomach as if they had pierced a rod into his body. He can’t have died due to an illness. They murdered him.”
Ghusal (Ablution), at the time of burial, is done to physically cleanse the body of the deceased.
Maktoob Media has accessed photos and videos of the body of the deceased showing injuries or bruises consistent with Afzal’s description. His eyes were badly bruised and blackened.
“His body looked like he had died 1-2 days earlier. We begged them to return the body. They gave the body in the afternoon of February 17, after doing a postmortem. His body had already started decomposing and smelled bad. I can’t believe they took Zeeshan away from us”, Nargis told Maktoob.
The family and some 100 odd residents of JJ Colony protested on the afternoon of 17 February in front of the Makkar Hospital at Patparganj Road demanding justice for Malik.
It was only after the protest that the police assured them they would “cooperate” with Malik’s family.
A letter (written on a paper with no letterhead) signed by Hira Lal, SHO of Preet Vihar Police Station read, “The staff of PS Preet Vihar, New Delhi will cooperate with the parents of deceased Jishan, S/O of Shri Yakub R/O E-40/144, Jhuggi Radhu Place, New Delhi in getting all the documents of post-mortem, statements, videography etc. as soon as the same is completed by the Dr (doctor) and the magistrate.”
The family has alleged that Zeeshan’s post-mortem report has not yet been handed over to them.
“I went to meet Zeeshan three times in Tihar Jail. On two occasions, I went to deposit rupees 500 in the jail canteen. He was well. The last time I met my son was before the Covid curfew. My son was well and he had not fallen sick in the past two years. They are lying that he died of an illness. They killed my only hope. They murdered my son. No one can return my son to me now. At least punish those who killed him,” said Shona, Malik’s mother, fighting through tears.
Shona works as a domestic worker to help support the family.
“I made my son surrender to the police. I believed he did wrong and should be punished. A few days back, the police said Zeeshan was eligible for bail. We thought he might not have learnt his lesson and should spend some more time in jail and so did not apply for bail immediately. I did not know they would kill my son. The Munshi in the jail killed my son,” added Shona.
Zeeshan was buried in Khureji Kabristan (graveyard) after Maghrib (after sunset) prayers on 17 February.
Maktoob reached out to SHO Hira Lal on a phone call. He said, “Zeeshan died in Tihar Jail and the case is under the jurisdiction of Hari Nagar Police Station.” He refused to answer any further questions. Maktoob tried reaching out to ASI Kumar of Hari Nagar Police Station on a phone call several times but received no response.
Police officers found guilty of custodial deaths often manage to escape punishment, and the victim’s family is seldom provided with financial compensation. In November 2021, a 22-year-old Muslim, Mohammad Altaf, was found dead in a police station in the Kasganj district of Uttar Pradesh. The police claimed suicide but the family suggested a foul play on the part of the police.
Malik’s father, Mohammad Yakub Malik, rides a cycle rickshaw in Preet Vihar area.
“What can I say now? They have ruined my family. For the past six days, I’ve hardly eaten anything. I only think of my baccha [son] and how he was murdered. Help us get justice for him,” said Mohammad Yakub Malik, his eyes numb.
Arbab Ali is an independent journalist based in Delhi. He tweets and posts with @arbabali_jmi