On 25 June 2020, Saima Khan, 27, reached New Delhi’s Chanakyapuri Police Station after she was summoned in connection with her the arrest of her father, Mohammed Saleem Khan. When she saw two men sitting on the floor with old clothes and handcuffs, Saima thought they were “prisoners”.
“Saima, it’s me,” she recalls her father saying. Saleem Khan, who would suit up every day, had grown thin and wore old t-shirts.
“I was in shock. He lived a prosperous life. He was travelling all around the world. And he was sitting in a cage.”
Saleem Khan was arrested by Delhi Police on March 11, 2020, in connection with the Northeast Delhi pogrom and the family had no information about his whereabouts in the initial three months. He was initially booked for rioting but later re-arrested in FIR 59 which had charges of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
Along with Saleem Khan, Human rights activist Khalid Saifi, Student leaders Sharjeel Imam, Umar Khalid, Safoora Zargar, Meeran Haider and several others are also incarcerated in the same case. Delhi police accuse them of being the mastermind of violence that killed at least 54 people, mostly Muslims.
Three years on, Saima is still struggling to support her family and her father’s legal expenses. The arrest turned around their life.
“Last year, I was doing three jobs a day to support my family. Then my brother dropped college and took a job,” Saima narrated with a breaking voice. Saleem Khan’s export business almost immediately stopped putting the family in financial dept amidst the lockdown due to Covid-19.
Later, Sahil, her brother, renamed Khan’s company and aimed to build upon the one customer who chose to stick with them. Other customers distanced themselves due to the case.
Saima claims she and her family faced discrimination due to her father’s case. “People would come and call us terrorists. Who gave them the right to do that?” she asks.
They had to change houses several times due to the situation.
Saleem Khan was implicated in the case according to the statement of a protected witness and as per the charge sheet, at the time of the riots, he was present in northeast Delhi and was connected with co-accused persons like Athar Khan and Shadab.
In August and September 2022, Saleem Khan was granted custodial parole due to the death of his brother. The image of him surrounded by dozens of security forces during the brief visit haunts Saima.
“Everyone was taking pictures as if he was some criminal,” she said. The discrimination has forced the family to lie to people that their father is in London.
“We are focusing on our [younger] sister and we don’t want her education to be disrupted. He has told relatives also that he is in London where he used to go very often.”
Saleem Khan was granted bail in two cases and the order in his bail petition in the UAPA case is reserved by a trial court. However, Saima says it will not be justice as he had already been through enough that will affect his remaining years.
“It destroyed him, me and our family,” she added.