Bushra Alam, 30, has impatiently waited for a 5-minute call from her husband Mohammad Alam, 31, almost every day in the past two years. Alam, who is in Lucknow district jail under Hathras conspiracy case, is only able to exchange a few pleasantries and updates in that little time over the phone.
This is the story of a driver who picked up a ride to Hathras, Uttar Pradesh in October 2020 and has not come back home yet.
A bench of Allahabad High Court on 23 August, had granted bail to Alam in UAPA case, stating that no incriminating article or evidence was recovered from his possession, making him the first of the accused to receive bail but he is not free yet.
“What have I gotten myself into? Please do something so they let me go. When will they release me now?” Alam told Bushra when she met him last on 29 June this year.
Alam was arrested along with three others — journalist Siddique Kappan, Campus Front of India (CFI) office-bearers Atiqur Rahman and Masood Ahmad while they were on their way to report on the rape and killing of a Dalit girl which had triggered nationwide outrage and to visit the family members of the victim.
The Supreme Court on Friday, 9 September also granted bail to Kappan after nearly two years. The bench stated that “every person has the right to free expression.”
“He has been arrested in an ED matter, a complaint in a PMLA case that was filed months ago. That is the reason why despite bail in the UAPA case, he has not been released yet.”Advocate Saifan Shaikh, Alam’s lawyer
Bushra told Maktoob, “When I heard about the bail, I got so much hope, I have thanked the lawyers and God many times. I keep thinking we will finally be together. But now they are taking their time to free him again.”
The lawyer said that the charge sheet in the case extends to over 5,000 pages and has not yet been given to the accused.
Calling it a draconian Act, he noted that section 43D of UAPA, subclause 5, is against giving bail easily. If the prosecution is able to prove the prima facie evidence and the court agrees, then getting bail is extremely difficult. Even though the lawyers have been able to achieve this in Alam’s case, the ED case now stands as a roadblock.
‘He has nothing in his account, nothing to hide’
Bushra repeatedly emphasised one thing: that Alam was not related to the case in any way, nor did he know the other accused from before. “He’s just a cab driver who can travel anywhere and was not aware that this one trip would cost so much,” she said.
Agitated, Bushra pointed out how no proper investigation was done before imposing UAPA and other charges. “Had they found out something, procured any evidence, it would have come forth that there is something he was involved in. The police curated so many stories and kept him in jail for two years.”
Through his cab rides, Alam earns between Rs 200-500 per day, depending upon the rides and locations. Alam has been a driver for 10-12 years in Delhi.
Just like Bushra, Alam’s elder brother Shoaib Khan stated that the ED case would fall flat because “Alam has nothing to hide.”
Khan said, “There were allegations of him hoarding money and buying a new car with it but that is not possible. He is a driver, and during the lockdown, he had very little money, how would he be able to afford a car? The judge had asked for evidence but the police didn’t have anything.”
Bushra and Khan said that the car that he was driving was bought by one of his relatives a few weeks before his arrest. His relative had gotten his permit made and it was decided that some part of his earnings would also be divided between them to pay the remaining instalments for the car.
Khan said that in this day and age of technology, where an Aadhar card can give you the bio-data of a person, “then why could not the state check up on Alam?”
“He has no other job or any other secret bank account, or side business. The police never showed him as a driver from the beginning, they had their own narrative,” added Khan.
Day of the Arrest
5th October 2020 — the day altered the lives of several families and Alam’s was one of them.
Bushra recalled the string of events — He went on his duty and had completed two rides that morning. When he got the private booking to Hathras, he had informed Bushra about it.
As the day went by, Bushra tried calling him many times but to no avail. Panicking, she asked for help from her family. The next day, Alam called her in the afternoon and told her that he along with Kappan and others were arrested at Mathura toll tax and the police was asking a lot of questions.
They were taken to Mant police station and were told that they would be let off the following day, Bushra said. Shortly after, UAPA charges were slapped against them.
“You can’t even imagine how miserable I was, how difficult that time was for me,” said Bushra who added that the TV news made it harder for the family to deal with the situation.
Bushra recalled, “The news coverage around what happened and the arrests was ridiculous. It was horrible and we could not stop crying. They said these people went there to cause riots and called them terrorists.”
The news also claimed that Alam had funding of Rs 2 crores in his bank account which is all fake news, added Bushra. “We were having issues in making our daily ends meet. We had also taken loans from people; the allegations made no sense.”
The lawyer also stated, “The media manipulated the narrative during their arrest. On 4th October, the police had already filed an FIR against unknown persons over social media chatter and outrage who were spoiling the UP-government’s image and they had to justify the FIR so they found their scapegoats.”
This, Shaikh said, was done to cover up the harsh reality and atrocity committed against the Dalit women in Hathras and to divert attention.
In 2020, Uttar Pradesh also reported the highest number of UAPA cases with 361 arrests in related cases. This number went down in 2021 with 83 cases registered under the draconian law, according to the NCRB report.
In Alam’s case, he stated that it started with sections 151 (Arrest to prevent cognizable offences), 107 (Security for keeping peace in other cases) and 116 (Inquiry as to truth of information) of CrPc, preventive detention to the SDM court on 6 October. They were asked to produce surety but it was not done and the next day.
An FIR was filed under sections 295A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings), 153A (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion), 124A (Sedition) of the Indian Penal Code, 17 (Punishment for raising funds for terrorist act) and 18 (Punishment for conspiracy) of UAPA and 65 (Tampering with computer source documents), 72 (Disclosure of information obtained) and 75 (Offence or contravention committed outside India) of IT Act.
He was then taken in remand to Mathura court. Some days later, they assigned the STF to the case to investigate which removed 72/ITA and added 12B to the charge sheet.
Last year, a Mathura court dropped charges against them relating to apprehensions of breach of peace while stating that the police failed to complete the inquiry against them within the prescribed period of six months. However, they all remained in jail under UAPA.
The Mathura court transferred all UAPA cases to Lucknow, so Alam’s lawyer then withdrew and filed a petition for his bail again.
The police added the allegation that he has committed a crime because of Danish, one of his relatives who were active during the northeast Delhi pogrom. However, the police could not prove anything.
The family believes his Muslim identity has been a huge factor in the case.
“The main reason for his arrest is because he is Muslim and I vehemently believe it. There is nothing else in the case other than that factor which he has been attacked for. Their goal is to dehumanise and harass more Muslims and it is happening openly. Now that it has happened to me, I am bearing the brunt of it,” said Bushra.
She added, “When the Hathras incident took place, so many journalists visited the site, the political leaders too, why did they only choose and arrest my husband and the others days later? Why were only Muslims arrested?”
Tears of a Partner; Silence of a Mother
Bushra and Alam got married on 11 March 2019. His business was not doing well then. The lockdown happened and they had a tough time, but as soon as he started earning again, he was arrested.
“I had no money with me because I was completely dependent on him and he was not here. I would not have survived if it weren’t for my family and in-laws who have helped me financially,” she said. Her family also helped her get in touch with lawyers.
Bushra has not spent any money on herself in the past two years either. She started embroidery at home but could not earn much from it.
Whatever little money she had, she spent it on travelling back and forth from Rampur to Lucknow, or Delhi to Lucknow and to get him food.
“All my focus is that money reaches him in some way. He gets something to eat from home. I still have food and shelter.”
Bushra further noted that in the beginning of his jail time, his health had drastically changed – he became haggard and weak.
Even though he told them very often over their short phone calls, “Don’t worry too much, wait and work patiently,” it got hard for Bushra to keep a grip on herself too.
So, Bushra resorted to offering prayers like she always did. “I have cried so much in the past 2 years; I also got depression and fell sick. The constant crying led to pain in the eyes and now I wear spectacles. But my headaches will only go when he comes back.”
She went on to say, “I don’t forget him for even a minute. I think about him every day. We didn’t even complete two years of our marriage properly.”
Meanwhile, apart from Khan, Alam has four brothers and four sisters.
Khan stated that two years of his life has been robbed from him for no reason and this has visibly impacted all of the family members, especially their mother, Naeem who has become a different person since his arrest.
“Our mother was in shock initially and now has become very quiet. After Alam went to jail, she stopped going anywhere else, meeting or speaking with people. She just isolated herself and started getting sick very often too,” said Khan.
With the news of bail in the UAPA case, Naeem feels some relief. She has become “livelier and is hoping for his return soon,” said Khan.
Bushra stated that ever since Alam heard of the bail, it has become even more difficult for him to pass the days.
The hearing in the PMLA court in the ED matter is on 13 September.
Meanwhile, Ashish Tiwari, Jail Superintendent of Lucknow told Maktoob that they haven’t faced any issues with Alam in the jail.
“When we get the release order, we’ll release him. But he was given bail in one and was detained in another. So, if he gets bail in this case, he will be released, provided he has no other case against him,” he said.
Bushra remembers all her meetings with him in jail and is awaiting the time she gets to live the life she had imagined with Alam.
“Despite being innocent, he has spent more time in jail than he has with me,” Bushra lamented.
(Aliza Noor is a journalist from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh)