On 27 September, at around 2:30 am, hundreds of policemen rounded up the house of jailed student leader Atikur Rahman in Riyawli Nagla of Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district. They barged in through the roof of the house and opened the gates for the rest of the force to enter.
Panicked by the ambush, Rahman’s brother Mateen attempted to rush to his children sleeping in the house.
We will shoot you if you run — the police shouted, recalls Sanjida Rahman, Atikur Rahman’s wife.
The house was raided as part of a second coordinated crackdown on the Muslim organisation Popular Front of India, investigating “terror links”. Local police teams, Special Task Force and Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) were part of the group coordinating the crackdown.
The next day PFI and affiliated groups, including its student wing outfit Campus Front of India, were banned for five years. Atikur Rahman was the National Treasurer of CFI at the time of his arrest.
Rahman, along with journalist Siddique Kappan, CFI leader Masood Khan and their driver Muhammed Alam were arrested on the way to Hathras to meet the family of a Dalit girl who was raped and killed by the caste Hindus and forcefully cremated by authorities.
On 05 October this year, Atikur Rahman and his co-accused completed two years in prison under India’s stringent terror law — Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act — among other serious sections.
Recently, Kappan and driver Alam have been granted bail in the UAPA case, giving Sanjida a glimmer of hope. She has been worried since Atikur Rahman’s health deteriorated in September. But the raid and subsequent ban of CFI have taken her back to angst.
” Only Allah can help us,” Sanjida told Maktoob. “He is in a wheelchair now. We don’t know if he is getting any proper care.”
On 29 August, his family was informed by the jail authorities that Rahman had been admitted to the King George Medical University (KGMU) hospital in Lucknow and that they should go there to attend to his care. His family found out he is partly paralyzed and disoriented.
Rahman has a long-term cardiac condition, aortic regurgitation. He was bound to have surgery in November 2020, a month after his arrest.
It took several petitions over many months and an ultimatum from the court before Rahman was moved to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) for treatment. Meanwhile, the medical negligence was taking a toll on Rahman’s health.
In November 2021, he underwent long-due surgery. But he was denied relief for aftercare and brought back to Lucknow jail.
He was not allowed to travel for the recommended follow-up and his dietary restrictions and hygiene requirements were not met by the jail, according to The Polisproject report.
To worsen the situation, until this day, jail authorities in Lucknow haven’t allowed Rahman to call Sanjida, a privilege given to all prisoners. It took months to verify her number but even after that the calls didn’t resume, claims Sanjida.
Last month, KGMU hospital ruled out cardiac issues and recommended he consult a neurologist not available in that hospital. However, the jail authorities have taken Rahman back to jail, triggering criticism.
Amnesty International India said Rahman’s arbitrary detention must end.
“It is a travesty for the Indian authorities to keep Atikur Rahman in detention for almost two years on bogus charges solely for peacefully exercising his human rights. It seems the authorities are on a vindictive quest to further crush him by making his life unbearable, including by denying and delaying his medical treatment. Rahman should not have been detained in the first place. His arbitrary detention must end,” said Aakar Patel, chair of Amnesty International India.
Worried by the situation, his family moved to the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court with a plea to send Rahman back to the hospital and immediately released him on bail.
The writ petition was disposed by the High Court on 26 September, directing the petitioner to move to the concerned court “if there is any emergency of medical treatments during the course of incarceration”.
“We are moving to the lower court with the fresh bail application,” Adv Saifan Sheikh, the legal team for Masood Khan, Mohammad Alam and Rahman in the case, told Maktoob.
Raid, ban lower expectations
“When we asked police what was happening, they asked us where was Atikur Rahman,” Sanjida narrated the ordeal.
No proper answer was given by the officers about what was happening. The raid went on until evening but none was detained.
Nobody apart from Atikur Rahman was part of CFI or any other group affiliated with PFI, Rahman’s brother, Mateen told Maktoob.
“The family have been taking care of the case and CFI is not directly involved with it,” he claimed. Mateen was the last person in the family to meet Rahman in jail. Rahman was in a wheelchair, unable to speak properly.
“We mostly looked at each other. I couldn’t hear what he was trying to say in that crowded room,” he added.
Maktoob spoke to former leaders of CFI, who responded that they are assessing the situation. Hours after India declared the ban, the group was disbanded “in accordance with the law”.
Recently, Rahman was taken to a hospital, from where he called the family with someone’s phone. A photograph of him, coming out of a room in a wheelchair was shared to Sanjida a day after he completed two years in jail.
Although none of the CFI leaders has been arrested during the PFI nationwide crackdown, legal experts feel the ban will affect the trial against Rahman.
The 5,000-page police chargesheet against him and others say they were all part of a PFI delegation that was going to Hathras to “incite violence” and disrupt communal harmony.
However, Supreme Court and Allahabad High Court have refuted these allegations in their bail order to Siddique Kappan and Mohammad Alam respectively.
“I only pray to Allah for him. I dont have any other options,”