Saturday, March 2, 2024

A cab driver from India’s capital who went to jail because he is Muslim

Mohammad Alam

“Don’t worry, everything will be fine soon”, Alam’s wife Bushra said as she walked hurriedly alongside him while he was being taken by the police to be produced in court in December last year. Nine months after his arrest, the 30-year-old cab driver is still in jail. 

Mohammad Alam was arrested in October 2020 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 Hathras in Uttar Pradesh to report on the rape and killing of a Dalit woman which had triggered nationwide outrage and visit the family members of deceased.

Alam was ferrying them to the location. 

Last week, 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, all of them remain in jail due to charges under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

“He will be released whenever Allah wills,” Alam’s wife Bushra told Maktoob, adding that the lawyers have been trying their best. “He has not committed any crime. I am hopeful he will be back, but I don’t know how long it will take. Only Allah knows” she said. 

‘We are being targetted only because we are Muslim’

According to his family, Alam did not know the other accused previously. “On October 5, Atiqur Rahman called Alam asking him to ferry them to Hathras, my husband did not know him then,” Bushra said. 

“He knew about the Hathras gangrape incident as it was making headlines then. But he did not know why the passengers wanted to visit Hathras,” she added. 

Alam’s arrest came as a shock to his family. “It was a normal day. He had completed a few rounds in the morning, as usual. He would usually call me around lunchtime and ask if I had eaten but that day he didn’t call. I kept trying but couldn’t reach him,” Bushra recounted.

According to her, journalist Siddique Kappan had told the police that they would return back if the police didn’t want them to visit Hathras. “They were willing to return, but the officials still took them for interrogation. Why would they do this when they didn’t mind going back?” she asked, adding, “we are being targetted only because we are Muslim.” 

While Alam and the three others were on their way to Hathras, they were arrested by the UP Police and have remained in jail since October 7 last year. 

“We talk every day for 2-5 min,” Bushra said. “Calls are usually recorded. He doesn’t complain or say anything much about the jail conditions. Of course, he’s in a bad state, it’s a jail.”

Bushra and Alam have been married for about a year and a half. “We had many plans for the future. Things had started to go well for us. He had recently got a cab and had started working for Ola. He would leave early and come back home around 10pm, after which we would talk for a while,” Bushra resentfully recounted.

She now lives with her parents and siblings, dependent on them for financial security. “I visit my in-laws and sometimes they visit me. We are all well. But there are financial issues due to the lockdown”, she said. 

Alam hails from Rampur and had shifted to Delhi more than 10 years ago. While in Rampur, he worked as an embroidery craftsman in a local market. In the capital, he started working as a driver for the past 8 years. Anis, his relative, had recently bought him a cab so that it would make his profession easier if he had his own vehicle. However, days later, Alam was arrested. 

‘Deliberate measure to keep them behind bars’

On October 7 last year, two days after they had been arrested under the CrPC, Alam and his passengers were about to be released by the sub-district magistrate at Maant. Hours later, the police charged them with stringent offences under the UAPA, IPC and ITA.

The case was then transferred from the Maant police to the Crime Branch, after which, on October 23, 2020, it was transferred again to the Special Task Force (STF) in Lucknow. 

On April 3 this year, after 180 days had passed since their incarceration and no evidence had been found against them, the four men were entitled to bail by default. But on the same day, the STF filed a charge sheet against 8 accused- Alam, Kappan, Atiqur Rahman and Masood who were arrested on their way to Hathras and Danish – Alam’s relative, Rauf Shareef, national general secretary of the CFI, and CFI activists- Ansar Badruddin and Firoz Khan. Only Danish has been released. 

Advocate Saifan said that the defence lawyers and accused were not given a copy of the charge sheet. “We don’t even know what charges have been filed. We have been waiting since April”.

Referring to the 5000-page charge sheet filed by the STF, he said that the Additional District Judge, Mathura took cognizance of the charge sheet without verification. “After taking cognizance, according to the law, it is mandatory that the charge sheet copy be sent to the defence lawyer or accused, free of charge. They haven’t done this.”

They are citing COVID reasons, he said, adding “They will take remand during COVID, they will arrest during COVID, why don’t they give a copy of the charge sheet? This is a deliberate measure to keep them behind bars for as long as possible.”

The UP Police, in their FIR, had stated the four had connections with the Popular Front of India (PFI) and were allegedly “collecting funds” for creating large-scale “unrest” in the wake of the Hathras gang-rape incident. The PFI is a legal organisation that has not been banned under the UAPA.

They were charged under sections 153A (promoting enmity between groups…), 295A (outraging religious feelings), 124A (sedition), 120B (conspiracy) of IPC and under the IT Act.

Subsequently, they were booked under sections 17, 18 (raising funds for terrorist act) of UAPA alleging that they were trying to incite communal riots and disrupt social harmony in the wake of the Hathras gangrape-murder case. They remain in Mathura jail under these charges.

Rushda Fathima Khan
Rushda Fathima Khan
Rushda Fathima Khan is a journalist based in Bengaluru.
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